First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Laurent Quatrefages: I suppose we live in the same exact situation as millions of households do. The daily routines have changed to a great extent, and we need to make more efforts to take care of our dear ones, and those who are isolated. We spend some valuable time together, but our social lives have dimmed. I’m optimistic by nature, so it helps. We keep our sense of humor, crack jokes, and make the most out of this situation. I try to show more directly kindness, empathy and respect even when I get upset! Things can only get better in 2021!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Swaven.
Laurent Quatrefages: I have been in the e-commerce business since back in the 2000s, I was one of the few that founded Criteo. I sold some of the first personalized and dynamic digital content systems to large mainstream brands.
Then I met Sébastien, my associate and co-founder and we shared, we still share one strong point of view: there is a broken link between what brands do to build audiences and capture attention, and their business – the way they monetize their audience into shoppers.
Many still fail to capture this “moment of intention”, when you must provide a clear and simple path to purchase to your client. For a brand, this is such an important event; this is when they get their return. Of course, you can use statistical and correlation models, but without Swaven, you miss insights, you are passive, you let things happen, good or bad.
At Swaven, we say that we are where commerce begins. Like having a client on a shop doorstep, what will happen?
So we founded this company in 2013, introducing a “where-to-buy” button on brand and e-commerce sites, leveraging the emergence of mobility and geolocation. Today, Swaven is a brand commerce platform, based on captured raw (and big) data, tracking which digital assets are performing, which categories and products are moving, showing a “ShopRank” – i.e. retailers chosen by shoppers, at the product level.
As a brand, you can tell how much business you have directed to your retailers, every day, every hour, against a defined marketing investment.
How does Swaven innovate?
Laurent Quatrefages: We listen first to our clients, the consumer brands. We see what we can do with technology, and how that translates into a strong “wow” effect for analytical, e-commerce and e-retail people. We are a commerce company, so our currency is revenue, not clicks.
For example, we know that many of our clients activate their audience on social media and inline videos. We have integrated our technology into these assets. We also have a unique way to retarget abandoners from e-commerce sites and direct them to nearby physical outlets.
Now we innovate also on methodology, to let our clients direct more revenues to their preferred retailers, understand the dynamics of their product portfolio and brands, and get more conversions out of their campaigns. The traffic on our platform is a source of unique insights – real-time – and brands can take actions upstream – on their media mix – or downstream, to optimize their distribution mix. There is a huge opportunity to work on this data and train models.
In the future, we also believe there are interesting ways to create stronger links with physical retail networks to get more transaction data. That’s a bit off the chart, it would require some investment, but as consumer brands will move from 2 or 3% of digital sales to over 15% (and some like l’Oréal will go way above that), we think this is a huge opportunity for us.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Laurent Quatrefages: Well, the pandemic had an effect on our clients, moving more of their business online overnight. And many retailers have had to boost their click and collect operations offering more options, showing which products are effectively available, or not. We also witness a swift change in the shopper buying patterns. The shopper selects the outlet where he/she is certain to find the product.
What I’m telling you is supported by the surge of traffic we have seen on our platform. Some categories went through the roof in terms of traffic – like hair dying products. We have also seen huge peaks of demand for some products like a suntan cream in the UK, and that was sold out! We could see these phenomena in all major European countries, in the US, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, with variations according to the local pandemic policies.
So under these circumstances, some clients took notice, more than before, of the value that we could bring. To sum up, so far we do not experience a direct downturn, because we are close to where revenue is generated, and we are tying digital and physical operations. This is where our clients continue to invest, even if some of them have cut their marketing expenditure.
We are more worried about the effects of the pandemic on the business of our clients because at one stage it will translate into lower activity. In these trying times, they might maintain their investment in Walled Gardens (i.e. Google, FB, AMZN) and cut out the independent solutions. We are watchful.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Laurent Quatrefages: Two weeks before the first Lockdown in France, we decided to turn the company into working from home mode. It was not difficult to do so in terms of collaborative tools and organization as we have been always accepting our team members to work remotely when needed. The difficulty rose when we had to drastically reduce the access to our office even for those who were expressing their willingness to come to the office and socialize. For them, we had to set limits, and it’s never easy to limit individual freedom.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Laurent Quatrefages: We have launched emotional coaching programs to help our team members manage their emotions rather than being led by them. This is in progress, but it seems to be positive according to the initial feedback I received so far. We will be adding more coaching programs like dietetic, sport, relaxation.
But the favorite tool we use to fight stress and anxiety is humor, and we have a great sense of it, here at Swaven.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Laurent Quatrefages: I like competition, and I respect my competitors! They keep us on our toes. We must make a difference and create a preference. Competition on cost is a failure; competition on value is the name of the game. It starts with the attention we put on our client’s performance – we learn a lot from this, it is sustained by our model where we grow when our customers succeed. It is maintained when we capture deep market trends and provide actionable solutions. We move fast, and try to take our competition “à contrepied”.
Your final thoughts?
Laurent Quatrefages: Emerging Brands are now born on the internet, and this is also where mainstream consumer brands engage their audiences. So there will be an epic battle, with winners and losers. Yet, the business for mainstream brands is multi-distributed with physical outlets where their shoppers can experience their products and universe.
To monitor their marketing investments, they will have to own strategic data on their conversion funnels. Maybe they will let FB, GOOGL, AMZN control that, and capture their marketing and e-commerce budgets along the way, maybe not.
We bet that the integration of digital marketing with offline and online commerce will become a prevalent topic of attention for our clients, and the more we can do to model this particular step, the better it will be for Swaven.