Inside Poppin’s data-driven quest to redecorate corporate cubes

“Work happy.”

Poppin’s catchphrase was originally an appeal to overlooked office drones sitting in colorless cubicles, unaware of how their uninspiring environs affected their lives.

It doesn’t have to be this way, Poppin challenged them, a pretty, white stapler could change everything.

That was in 2009, when Poppin launched as Staples for the design-deprived. Today, the New York-based company aims to transform individual consumers into workplace evangelists. Their first step: building a database of onsite activity, CRM data, campaign data and integrating it all via data management platform (DMP) technology.

We asked CMO Michael Chauliac how they’re using data to introduce their company to happy workers most likely to become brand loyalists.


Launching data first

Coming from a multinational retailer like Victoria’s Secret, where he was vice president of digital marketing, Chauliac is accustomed to having reams of data at his fingertips.

“At Victoria’s Secret we’d have several million customers that are coming in each and every day,” he said. Running tests with meaningful results was therefore a relatively quick exercise.

Poppin has a smaller base of higher-value visitors to focus on, so Chauliac says they’re much more thoughtful about on-site testing and what data they’ll collect. Tests have to be meaningful and actionable, and must yield results in a short enough period.

Tests “can’t take a month and a half,” he said.

And, rather than following customers through the entire purchase cycle, Chauliac focuses on first-touch outreach that gets customers through the door.

So where did he start? It began with a very simple question.


What’s your favorite color?

As ice-breakers go, “What’s your favorite color?” couldn’t be more basic. But for Poppin, still laying the foundation of its data compendium, it’s the first piece of data they collect from new visitors to the site.

“Color is huge for us,” said Chauliac, who understands that color is not only the foundation of Poppin’s marketing message, but its point of differentiation. Customizing inventory based on preferences or brand colors is a critical way to communicate its value proposition.

As customers shop, Poppin collects various signals — including their favorite color — into anonymous user profiles within a DMP. The technology then triggers a personalized homepage for each customer. (For instance: Inventory is displayed in that color scheme.)

Using third-party data, Poppin does the same in display advertising.

In doing so, Chauliac says the site makes it easier for the customer to visualize their brand name on Poppin supplies.

“If we can do that naturally,” he said, “as a way to tell you Poppin’s real vision, we almost don’t need to do or say anything else. The pitch is there.”

In the future, Chauliac hopes the DMP will integrate enough data to personalize that page predictively.

“It’s not really difficult to imagine that every single one of our customers who come in, we [will] already know who they are, what they’re favorite color is, what their brand color is.” And, he added, whether they’re a B2B or B2C customer, what their role is and more. “This will allow us to continually personalize the customer journey.”


Brick-and-mortar gets customers through the door; online keeps them there

Chauliac sees Poppin’s brick-and-mortar partners — Staples, Urban Outfitters, Container Store — as much as points-of-entry for the brand as points-of-sale. “It’s our biggest source of offline advertising. Fixtures, signage, branding, it’s all there,” he said.

Typically, customers in stores are B2C: individuals shopping for themselves. But, Chauliac believes, they quickly become B2B regulars. In fact, shortly after launching in stores, sales on went up.

“They talk about Poppin in their company,” he said. “Or sometimes they happen to be the HR person, office manager or marketer.” Soon enough, they’re ordering again — hopefully for the entire organization. And they’re doing it online.

The data bears this out.

To find these lucrative prospects, Chauliac’s team sometimes gets into the CRM data on a line-by-line level, looking for likely links between an individual who, for example, bought $60 worth of supplies and soon after spent $3,000. It’s likely that the second purchase was for a business.

“We spend a ton of time mining the data,” Chauliac said. In addition to first-party data collected on site, the company integrates data from retargeting efforts, paid search and social campaigns.

“We ask, ‘What does a business customer look like? What does an individual look like? What does an individual that became a business customer look like?’”


Building better data, getting insights faster

As Poppin’s data integration becomes more robust, it’s less often relying on those needle-in-a-haystack methods.

“That’s where the DMP should be quick to do that,” Chauliac said. “Once you’ve built the right audiences, you can find those pockets of people who will respond well. First, the company uses DMP technology to create custom B2B segments, then finds lookalikes using third-party data providers.

“We’ve built some really good profiles for each and every one of them. And everything we do digitally aims to talk to each and every one of them differently.”

It may take Poppin some time to progress to targeting second- and third-touch messages, but its data-first approach already has them halfway down the road.

“We really need to build the database for our future advertising, to help us execute the ideas and things we want to build.”

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