Accenture’s digital commerce operations lead on the partnership between commerce and creativity, the importance of digital marketing and how the integration between the physical and digital will be a big part of the future
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Today we’re chatting to Cristian Vega, Accenture Costa Rica’s digital commerce operations lead. Once a computer science student, Cristian worked at avVenta, a provider of digital production services to leading brands and agencies across multiple industries, which was bought out by Accenture in 2012. Since then, he’s been heading up the commerce side of the business on a global scale. With a pandemic under his belt and plenty of learning curves and adoptions of new technologies, he shares what has shaped the commerce industry over the last year, how it will fare in the future and what blending digital marketing, commerce and creativity can achieve.
LBB> You’ve been at Accenture since they acquired avVenta and in January 2021 were promoted to digital commerce operations lead…tell us more about your day-to-day role.
Cristian> I look after digital commerce operations for Accenture; that means that we focus on running diverse commerce experiences for our clients across channels. Today, people buy and sell in totally new ways. They desire relevant, always-on experiences that can stay in tune with their changing preferences and needs — with interactions that “feel” simple and seamless regardless of the channel or technology.
A lot of what we do on a day to day, is navigate those necessities across the different markets that our clients are bringing and we're helping them shape what is the right model and help them run those operations to ensure that they have profitable growth to ensure that they optimise their operations.
My team helps clients execute digital commerce programs by balancing the complex and simple in a unified approach that maximises digital sales and profitability, how they interface with customers and ways of operating commerce from start to finish.
Every day is different. I love the fact that every day I'm chatting in the morning with clients in Australia and Singapore or Brazil, Europe, North America. We have amazing talent all over the world working together navigating this as a group.
LBB> Working in an ever-evolving sector must’ve been some feat during the past year with Covid changing and shaping the way that consumers have interacted with commerce. What have your experiences been?
Cristian> Commerce has been shifting, or I mean consumers behaviour was already shifted to digital channels for some time. But what's happened with the pandemic is that necessity accelerated pace and we needed to advance in just a matter of months. The reality is that we, as consumers were not prepared for the explosion of channels at the same time that the companies regardless of if there were brands or retailers, were not necessarily prepared to match that. It's not just the explosion of channels but you have consumers constantly changing their behaviours and are pretty different also depending on the regions.
Then you have many technology providers now advancing and evolving and trying to be a part of that. Also, it's a lot of change for the main providers in market so it's like traditional retailers are right now, moving more to behave as marketplaces, and you have big giants and some of the digital retailers that moved to also have physical spaces - and you have the inclusion of new channels like virtual reality, augmented reality, digital experience so it's a lot of things changing pretty fast. That's basically what we love about the work that we're doing with Accenture because what we do is help clients navigate that complexity and simplicity and how to truly create personalised and relevant experience for the final consumer.
In terms of how my plans changed, I didn’t imagine myself running a global business while having my daughter doing e-learning at home — with my wife and I taking turns playing dinosaurs and ponies in between conference calls. No matter how challenging it has been at times, this journey has brought some of our best moments together as a family.
LBB> From your perspective, how can commerce and creativity work together to help clients?
Cristian> As companies are shifting to digital commerce experiences, they need to ensure their brands are adequately represented within the digital shelf. Product discoverability and visibility are more challenging than ever in today’s crowded market, especially when you think about how consumers are behaving right now, they're just going to a marketplace and they're just typing products based on their personality.
That's making a greater need for creativity to be a key part of that process and to define what truly is the way that we're going to represent a brand across channels. Especially when you think about a world that is soon to be cookie-less, and that's going to be a big change. That means that it's going to be even more important that you have your brand well represented and the messages that you're putting in front of the potential consumers are going to be more powerful.
Consistency is especially critical in environments where consumer behaviour falls outside the traditional norms: when product discoverability doesn’t happen naturally, such as in marketplaces and social media, or searches are being done for product functionality over brand because it’s not positioned properly. At Accenture, we help brands create and run transformed experiences for the new commerce journey while ensuring they are deployed consistently across channels, fulfilled by data-driven creativity, and delivered and personalised at scale.
LBB> Tell me about any campaigns that you believe have shown this blend?
Cristian> Accenture has delivered impressive marketing and commerce experiences for diverse clients across industries. Personally, the work for Kimberly-Clark/Huggies related to their baby and child-care business, and the new purpose-centred experience for Harley-Davidson are two that we’re very proud of.
LBB> I know you have a background in digital marketing so how do you see digital marketing, commerce and creativity coming together and is there any way to differentiate them all or do they just blend into one after a while.
Cristian> I think that more than blend, they need to work together and now more than ever. Consumers are always in a shopping mindset: ready to purchase at any time, in any channel, and in any way they want. That means that businesses need to optimize an integrated marketing and sales approach to present meaningful, consistent experiences and messages that drive demand across channels. Gathering data and insight to understand the customer’s complex journey and personalising the experience accordingly is critical to convert to sales.
For us, it's the integration of that creativity, the right message in the marketing commerce part of the business, but also how are you taking care of the supply chain, the final delivery model after consumer support and that's powerful. The beauty of Accenture that we truly can enable that end to end for clients across the different regions where we start.
LBB> How much does data and analytics play a role in this part of the process?
Cristian> Everything that we do is data driven. There's a lot of involvement with data, AI driven and machine learning. We have a set of tools that are driven by SynOps, our main core innovation platform, that we use in collaboration with the top technology providers in the market to ensure that we're delivering the right experiences.
We did a study and it was fascinating to see that a lot of people are willing to give their data, if it is to better serve them. But what they're not happy to do is to provide data just to get creepy experiences, and that's why this the fact that we're going to be moving into a cookie-less world is making sense. Sometimes that retargeting experience that you were getting, like when you’re talking with a friend about a place and from one day to the other, you're receiving a bunch of messages about hotel or hotel location itself, it's not necessarily what you're looking for, but there are a lot of people that truly like that.
I think that in the future it’s more likely that we will be honest with consumers about the reason that we are using data is to better serve and to give them control about what is the data that they do truly want to share.
LBB> With that in mind, tell us more about what technologies you use in your role?
Cristian> Accenture brings together technology and human ingenuity to create and respond to change. You need to provide the right information at the right time – and technology needs to help.
Accenture’s SynOps platform helps to orchestrate these activities, providing highly automated content production and distribution across channels, along with AI-powered insights and machine learning to personalise at scale. We have deep ecosystem partnerships with the top commerce technology providers in the market and proprietary assets and accelerators that we integrate according to our clients' needs and opportunities.
LBB> Tell me more about relationship with Adobe. I know you worked with Adobe Sensai a few years ago.
Cristian> Adobe has been a close partner for many years. Together, we have been working on numerous projects to design, build, and run experiences that make people’s lives better, more productive, and more meaningful, using Adobe Experience Cloud at the core.
Related to design tools and technology, we have been using Adobe Sensei for personalized content production and intelligent asset management at scale. Adobe’s AI and machine learning technology, including auto-tagging, brand compliance, and intelligent asset cropping, allows us to reduce parts of the production process — critical to accelerating speed to market and enabling our teams to focus on more exciting aspects of the process. We have also been using Adobe XD to build robust design systems, improving speed and efficiency for our teams across industries — as well as in specific processes, such as prototyping.
In 2019, Accenture Operations ran a Designathon in collaboration with Adobe, for our Operations Design Center of Excellence around the globe to use Adobe’s technologies to solve business challenges in three key verticals—telecommunications, travel, and retail. The event attracted more than 300 designers and technicians and produced 40 ready-for-market prototypes.
LBB> When the world starts to open up what do you think the impact on the commerce sector will be?
Cristian> Customers across age groups and income levels have been establishing new shopping habits. At the same time, traditional marketplaces and retailers have been evolving their business models: traditional tech shops opening physical stores and retail giants launching new online marketplaces. So, it’s more complicated than ever to predict for the mid- to long-term.
It’s no longer about these types of “Hollywood” campaigns. In Asia, for example, a lot of commerce hinges on the ability to furnish user-created content. It’s truly about getting the right information at the right time.
At the end of the day, what I think is going to be the norm is for integration between both physical and digital. There are great examples of this in the fashion industry; they're starting to use big personalities and use more augmented reality, but that's not taking away the experiences that they're trying to create.
What will remain constant is customers will continue to prioritise personalisation, flexibility, trust, convenience, and relevance (across channels). Companies have a massive opportunity to innovate and differentiate products and services on the basis of being responsible and purpose-led.
LBB> Lastly, what have been important moments for you professionally over the years?
Cristian> I joined Accenture, in 2012, as part of an acquisition of avVenta. Since then, it's being such a fantastic journey full of career-shaping experiences. Every day I have the luxury to work with an extraordinary group of people from all over the world on meaningful projects.
Earlier this year, Accenture was named a leader in commerce services by Forrester. I am genuinely proud of this milestone, as it reflects the exceptional work our global teams have been doing within the matter and what that means for our clients’ business. It reflects our intent to be not just “a” provider but “the” provider to the industry.
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