National STEAM Day is a time to step back and reflect on the impact and importance of a well-rounded education of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. I spoke with two of Valassis’ own — Engineering Manager Karen Phan and Senior Director of Program Management Perry Tancredi — to learn more about how STEAM education can better inform our digital and omnichannel marketing approaches.
Matthew Tilley: Why would a company like Valassis promote STEAM-focused education?
Perry Tancredi: Delivering marketing messages that connect with their intended audience and satisfy varied performance metrics can be complex. Valassis’ team of dedicated data scientists collaborates with engineering teams to help design and tune our systems to reach our customers’ goals effectively and efficiently. We process more than 100 billion ad requests and analyze 14 terabytes of feedback data from bidders each day, so a small change to ad-bidding processes or how to reach a target audience can have significant consequences.
Our engineers need to design and maintain systems to help us reach the right user at the right time in the right location with the right placement. It takes creative thinking and problem-solving abilities to do well. At our volume, scaling systems effectively requires more than just adding hardware — it means developing new solutions for solving novel problems. Exposure to STEAM education gives our technical teams the experience and confidence to design and engineer creatively.
Karen Phan: The industry as a whole, and Valassis engineering especially, has embraced automated digital ad-buying decisions. Taking a strategic approach to digital marketing leverages external signals from online channels (e.g., publishers’ sites) and offline signals (e.g., point-of-sale data), but these are only a small sample of the signals we use. Valassis engineering relies on the critical thinking and creativity of data science and software engineers who can build and implement complex algorithms to process this data and use it to drive optimal buying decisions.
MT: In your opinion, how will STEAM skill sets enrich marketing in the future?
KP: STEAM skill sets will enrich marketing by responding to customers’ changing needs as the digital world evolves. We’re using an increasing number of channels to connect our users with our products. With each new channel that comes online, our product team, data science analysis team, engineering team, and other departments work in conjunction to inform a well-rounded product.
For example, Valassis recently debuted our Connected TV (CTV) products, and everyone knows this channel exploded in growth this year. To keep up with the market, we knew Valassis needed a better understanding of CTV and the marketing of over-the-top and live sports marketing. This was a highly collaborative project that leveraged the problem-solving skills that are enriched by a STEAM education.
Not only did this project involve data modeling (math and engineering), but it also necessitated understanding our clients’ wants and behaviors (the arts). We updated our internal user interfaces and geared our configurations toward delivering better video advertising (user experience and design — arts again!). As this channel becomes essential to our customers, we will continue to educate ourselves and adapt our processes and algorithms to meet the changing needs.
MT: What is the role of STEAM education in enabling effective advertising in the future?
PT: As the advertising landscape evolves — especially concerning consumer data privacy regulations — it becomes more challenging to target the right audience members while respecting their privacy. Our employees are consumers, too, and we all value our privacy. Because of that, we design systems that we would be comfortable using ourselves.
Our traditional clients are brick-and-mortar retailers that rely on foot traffic. These stores have felt the pandemic’s effects with decreased in-person visitors, so we’ve had to get creative to help them continue to reach their customers and deliver products. Creative offerings, such as advertisements that let consumers add a product directly to a shopping cart or print ads with QR codes that come with redeemable online discounts, have helped our customers survive these challenging circumstances.
Data science and analysis will always be integral to an omnichannel marketing strategy, but there is so much data available that needs to be analyzed. Also, continuing to deliver relevant ads and offers in a way that maintains consumer data privacy is an evolving proposition. Valassis partners with Duke University’s data science department to bring in interns to work with us on solving these and other problems; we also host an annual “Data Science Research Day” that features interns presenting their projects.
One benefit of STEAM education is how it emphasizes the synthesis and presentation of ideas. Our best improvements come from the people closest to our systems; their ability to present fully formed and adaptable concepts is critical to bringing these ideas to life.
STEAM education often brings people with different experiences and strengths to work together, which we think is critical. At Valassis, we host several hackathons that anyone in the company can attend to develop business ideas that also help the community. We encourage our team members to sync up with co-workers from different departments and locations, which has fostered better communication and collaboration and reinforced the idea that people at Valassis should feel empowered to cultivate change from within.
Learning and experiencing art is an invaluable element of a successful omnichannel marketing strategy. Most directly, it contributes to a strategic approach to digital marketing by enabling the design of attention-grabbing creative that delivers its intended message to its intended audience and drives action. As people interact with the world and technology differently, marketing will also evolve. Having a workforce that understands and appreciates the different ways we all process information will be critical to successful campaigns. A STEAM education, in conjunction with other creative endeavors, pushes our boundaries and enables us to adjust our approach and seek solutions from fresh perspectives when we face seemingly straightforward technical problems.
MT: What STEAM skills do you think will play a vital role in omnichannel marketing?
KP: Curiosity is a big one for me, personally. The desire to explore other technologies, marketing channels, and user behaviors yields successful products that keep up with how consumers behave. It drives evolution and keeps Valassis innovative and competitive.
Problem identification and solving are skills that enable us to deliver a great story to our customers — one that meets their needs without gaps in functionality. From an internal perspective, problem-solving skills help our teams take an agile approach to solving internal process deficiencies.
To learn more about what drives Valassis’ success for our clients, visit the technology page on our website (https://valassis.com/our-technology/) and read about the Valassis Consumer Graph™ and Illumis™.