An interview with Soraya Darabi of Zady
She began her career as the manager of digital partnerships and social media at The New York Times. Later she served as product lead for drop.io, a real-time sharing and collaboration service, which was acquired by Facebook. She also helped to create Foodspotting, a dish discovery app, which was named as app of the year by Wired magazine and Apple.
I asked her about social data mining, psychographic profiles, and the advice she would give to startups at the LeWeb conference in Paris.
You’re an e-commerce expert. Do you think that brands could benefit from social data mining and big data in order to personalize the journey of the visitors on e-commerce sites?
Brands should be analytics-focused and data-focused, especially e-commerce companies. I just said on the stage at LeWeb, if you’re not analytics-focused and you’re an e-commerce company, sooner or later you’re going to be in trouble. It’s really important not to just mine the data but to be aware of the data.
You should be able to answer questions like where your customers coming from. What are they doing once they reach your site?
Understanding what data is, what it means, and using the right analytics platforms is fundamental for brands.
But at the same time, while we use platforms like Google Analytics or Kissmetrics to understand who our users are and where they are coming from, and we make sure to optimize our website for conversions, we still must take a step back and make sure that the product market fit is there first and foremost. We must make decisions based on vision and analytics together.
How should brands and e-commerce sites use (psychographic) data about their consumers?
It’s been about seven years since Facebook launched very hefty psychographic information about their users. I’m actually surprised that more advancements haven’t been made in terms of analytics marketing since the advent of these intense demographic profiles.
At the same time, it’s important not to get too heavily focused on psychographic information.
You know it’s possible for a publishing house to target people who say they like the book, The Catcher in the Rye, on Facebook. And that makes sense. You want to reach people who genuinely like to read, but at the same time, you don’t want to get too focused on who your users are because then it’s self-selecting.
You already think your users like to read The Catcher in the Rye, and therefore you target them.
What’s far more interesting is allowing your company to not market for a six- to nine-month period to track who is coming to your site organically and to discover why are they visiting you. And then you can work backward.
For example, if you find that the people coming to your site most often like to read The New York Times, then you’ll also be able to tell what other publications they are likely to read and could consider advertising on those platforms. Those are the kind of smart decisions that analytics allows us to make. But in the beginning, you need to have a fresh slate and to understand your organic community.
So you believe that brands could benefit from the psychographic information, but they need to use it carefully.
Yes. You have to be very careful and very smart, and you must never infringe on your community’s privacy. Most important thing for a brand is to be smart about the data you receive but to not overstep your bounds.
Let’s change topics a bit. What would you suggest to a Hungarian startup? How should it reach out to its first customers and gather traction?
First of all, I love speaking to Hungarian startups because my grandmother was Hungarian, and I have visited the country many times and love it.
I would say the first thing to do to generate awareness is to begin networking authentically with local bloggers and journalists in Budapest and in the outside areas of Hungary. The next thing to do is to create social media profiles for yourself and your business if you haven’t already and to become a thought leader in the category of your brand.
So if you’re a sustainable energy company, you should be posting articles about environmental issues. If you’re an e-commerce company, you should be posting articles and expressing your own beliefs and trends in commerce and fashion. And so on.
Media companies should be speaking to other journalists online and engaging with them. Social media is free marketing, but it also takes the most bandwidth, so you have to allocate the right amount of time to both creating your product and marketing your product.
Hungary is a small market, if you’d like to have a real impact, you’ll have to internationalize. How would you try to reach prestigious mediums like The New York Times or TechCrunch with a small Hungarian startup?
TechCrunch has a European post, and there are a lot of startups they write about, some of which are in Eastern Europe. So if you’d like your startup to be written about, I recommend enrolling in a European incubator. Maybe you decide to apply for a program in London, maybe you decide to pitch a demo day at TechCrunch Europe.
Whatever you do, just try to be visible. And traveling is fine. It’s expensive, but it’s a worthy investment to meet founders and investors all over Europe. It’s a beautiful community both online and offline.
As a very last thing, could you share your vision for the near future?
I believe mobile will make a big comeback. Mobile was kind of quiet, but it’s about to come back in a significant way.
I think people are as engaged with iOS applications and Android applications as ever. And we’re going to start seeing really interesting companies converge online in industries that haven’t been tapped by conversions yet. We will see very interesting advancements in health care, in e-commerce, in media, and education, but the most important trends to begin watching are simply in consumerships.
At Zady we have a firm belief that millennials and young people want to vote with their dollars and spend money only on brands that actually are mission-driven and have a conscience and have thoughtful opinions to say. So a big trend that we’re seeing is brands becoming more thoughtful.