How to Prepare for the Next Era of Marketing: Lessons from Twilio CMO, Sara Varni

Personalized campaigns and service require customer data plus tools to leverage that information. Sara Varni, Twilio CMO, explains how businesses can do this.

By Katrina Wong

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital services exponentially by forcing consumers off the streets and onto the internet. People now carry out activities previously done in-person—whether it's shopping for groceries, seeing the doctor, or viewing real estate—virtually.

This increased reliance on digital services has also made the virtual customer experience more critical for businesses. Communications like a timely email nudge about a product you looked at or an SMS reminder for an order that's on its way can deepen the customer relationship and generate sales.

You might assume such interactions between customer and company are table stakes by now for modern businesses. Sadly, even these basic levels of customer engagement are still out of reach for many companies.

Delivering personalized marketing campaigns and customer service requires lots of customer data, as well as the tools to leverage that information. To find out how businesses can achieve this, we hosted a fireside chat with Sara Varni, CMO of Twilio.

Having spent a decade at Salesforce before joining Twilio, she has witnessed firsthand how software and technology can transform businesses and the consumer experience.

You can watch the entire recording here or get a summary of the highlights below.

Takeaway 1: The building blocks of customer engagement

Data and communications are the two building blocks for intelligent customer engagement. Having up-to-date information about your customers helps create personalized and relevant interactions, which leads to engagement.

Until recently, many companies didn't have such customer data, so they didn't understand customers' browsing behavior or buying preferences. Once they did, they lacked the tools to bring together the two building blocks—data and communications—to create a view of the customer journey across touchpoints and act on it.

By combining the power of Segment's Customer Data Platform (CDP) and Twilio's Customer Engagement Platform (CEP), companies can finally provide personalized customer engagement across channels based on real-time data. Doing this is top of mind for most organizations. In our recent State of Customer Engagement Report, 95% of business leaders said they expect to maintain or increase their organization's investment in customer engagement after the pandemic.


Takeaway 2: First-party data

Consumers and regulators are much more aware now of how companies are collecting and using customer data. As a result, the "wild west of data" is over, according to Sara. Companies like Google and Apple are prioritizing customer trust, and regulators are restricting the use of third-party data—customer information obtained from other parties.

Because of these developments, companies need to reduce their dependence on third-party data sources, like cookies, and turn to first-party data—customer information collected from their own channels and platforms. They also need to be more transparent about the data they collect and for what purposes.


A shift to first-party data doesn't have to be bad for business. When you collect and organize such data with a CDP, you'll see improvements in your bottom line with increased sales and reduced costs. The information your teams work with is more reliable and relevant to your customers, leading to higher conversions and more efficient operations.

Sara gives the example of a large auto insurance carrier in the U.S. that has standardized their first-party data with Segment. Their customer support reps can now proactively recommend additional policies and plans during customer interactions because they can access all the customer's data in a single view. On average, this helped decrease their reply time from their customer portal by 40%.

Takeaway 3: Increased ROI and trust

When surveyed for our 2030, Today report, 75.6% of business leaders said they expect at least a 5-10x ROI from a CDP that leverages their first-party data.

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When you have accurate, quality customer data, Sara says you can "earn the right to talk to your customers" with interactions that don't feel interruptive or intrusive. Such communications build authentic relationships and trust, which ultimately lead to sales and increased revenue.

Domino’s created a single view of their customers from their first-party data using Segment. That setup allowed them to personalize their messaging in Google ad campaigns, which decreased their cost per acquisition (CPA) by 65% and increased their return on ad spend (ROAS) by 700%.

Takeaway 4: Omnichannel

A recent Twilio report showed that nearly every in-person interaction involves a digital one, too. Most companies also expect to add an average of four new channels just this year. This trend of increasing channels means an omnichannel marketing approach—providing a seamless customer experience across all your channels and platforms—will become even more essential in the future.

To provide an omnichannel customer experience, reliable and accurate data prepared by a CDP is critical. A CDP turns your data into a real-time view of your customer's interactions with your brand across all touchpoints.

This view helps your teams personalize their campaigns and communications without worrying about inaccurate data and makes personalizing experiences across multiple channels far less of a jigsaw puzzle. They'll be able to deliver the right message at the right time to the right person on the appropriate channel—whether that's email, text, or voice.

Takeaway 5: Pandemic carryovers

Transparent communication from companies is no longer a nice-to-have. Especially when there's a problem with a customer's product or experience, organizations need to communicate early and often, prioritizing people over profits.

Delta has done a great job with this, as Sara experienced recently on her first flight in a year. They sent helpful emails about what to expect when traveling during a pandemic and even informed passengers in advance of the inconvenience of their flight not having Wi-Fi.

Retail innovation will also continue post-pandemic. Digital channels will complement brick-and-mortar stores with services like digital personal shoppers or booking appointments online for shop visits.

Marketing's next era is a return to its fundamentals

Many marketers lost sight of the field's fundamentals, lured by potential conversions from ubiquitous data collection, third-party cookies, and multi-channel messaging blasts.

But to deliver the promises of marketing's next era—a personalized experience, consistency across channels, relevant communications—they need to revisit marketing's original principles. Build trust, know your customer, and deliver value for both the client and your company. First-party data lets you do all three when you manage it with a CDP and CEP.

The state of personalization 2023

The State of Personalization 2023

Our annual look at how attitudes, preferences, and experiences with personalization have evolved over the past year.

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