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NBC Sports & Wendy’s Discuss Digital Transformation

While on location at Acquia Engage 2018 in Austin, Texas, Gabriella and I discovered a common ground between sports media and a fast food brand outside of the enthusiasm their consumers share regarding their product. For both, Acquia is the platform that helps them ascend in their market and meet the demands each unique brand requires of their digital experience platform.  

Our final two customer interviews from the event are with Eric Black, SVP & CTO at NBC Sports Group and Playmaker Media and Michael Mancuso, Head of Digital Analytics at Wendy’s. Below, each shared unique insight on the digital transformation in their respective markets and their individualized use cases for the Acquia platform in all of its elements. 

Eric Black, SVP & CTO at NBC Sports Group and Playmaker Media

When I think about the digital transformation of the sports media world, I think of an area that has taken the ability to share content with the consumer and accelerated it way beyond what other markets are capable of. For Eric Black and his team, the way in which they have been able to support the consumption of content through their channels is nothing short of astounding and a use case for the Acquia platform like no other. He and I discussed this and the state of digital transformation in the sports media world in our interview below. 

Through the use of Acquia Lightning and Acquia Cloud, Eric and his team powered over 30,000 events in 2018. Three of the most significant events, the Winter Olympics, Super Bowl and FIFA World Cup accounted for 4.37 billion minutes of video or 8,314 years of live viewing alone. The nature of sporting events also creates a unique demand for scalability from a platform, a tall order Eric emphasizes Acquia meets quite well. “Acquia really does provide burst capacity for our scale so when you’re talking about events the size of the world cup or the Olympics, it really does require a platform that can take a lot of punishment in terms of just burst traffic so you know some of the things that we work on in thinking like Rio Olympics, Usain Bolt would run, it’s 7 seconds, so how do you have a platform that can scale from literally zero to one million plus users in that short of a time table. Really I think when we’re looking at technology partners across the entire stack, you really need to find someone that’s up for that challenge and a lot of people never see scale quite like that in that burst capacity.”

We also know in other fields like digital marketing and eCommerce, technology is disrupting technology as the variety and number of devices folks use to consume content and engage with a brand are growing exponentially and the platforms serving up that content need to match pace. It’s no surprise this is changing the sports media landscape as well. A handful of leagues are embracing the second screen as a way to further engage sports fans through various devices that complement the sports experience they are consuming on their TVs. In my second question to Eric, he references devices as a way to measure the evolution of sports media in meeting the fan where they are digitally. “I’ve been around for a bunch of Olympics but as we kind of look at those as tick marks as to where technology is you look at the kind of birth of a tablet in the Vancouver Olympics some time ago and now to the rise of connected devices and Roku and Apple TV and Fire, I think what we’re doing is we’re still evolving and getting data into play and multiple camera angles into play and how do you go beyond the broadcast to make it really more of an enhanced experience so we’re complementing what we’re putting on our linear services.”

My last question for Eric was focused on what he thought the next significant technology trend would be in sports. In speaking with him and watching him speak at Acquia Engage for the second consecutive year, I knew he was a great person to ask this question of because his commentary on the evolution of digital transformation in sports would be from his first-hand experience. His answer though, touches on something quite familiar to the rest of us immersed in the digital world along with him. “I really do think it’s around data. How do we apply machine learning and AI against data models so I can have a more cohesive one-to-one relationship with my consumer? When I look at someone who’s potentially coming for the Tokyo Olympics, are you an equestrian fan and how do I figure that out before you get there and once I do figure that out, how do I hyper serve you data and video around the events that you’re interested in as opposed to something maybe you’re not interested in so learning more about you as a consumer so that you’re getting to that content that you want faster.”

Michael Mancuso, Head of Digital Analytics at Wendy’s

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few years, you know Wendy’s has flipped the script on what a fast food company can be. They've essentially reinvigorated and modernized the Wendy's brand of the 80's that served up fresh, never frozen burgers with a side of sass, having coined the now iconic slogan ‘Where’s the Beef?’. When we got to sit down with Michael Mancuso, I was very excited to get the inside scoop on how they’ve been able to carve out their niche within a highly competitive brand landscape and how Acquia has helped them maintain a consistent level of entertainment and authentic engagement throughout their digital channels. 

For them, it’s the resistance to become what others have done in being a ‘technology company first' that has led them instead to prioritize surprise and delight. "For us having savvy is essential but we view ourselves more often than not as an entertainment company and a lot of what we push through our different channels are ways to delight users that may be unconventional. You'll see that in social, you'll see that with the mixtape we drop, you'll also see that on our website. If you go to our 404 page we actually get to play the retro BurgerTime game. We try to hide things throughout, our goal is to surprise and delight and where we'd always found a challenge pre-working with Acquia was we have this very fun personality in our company that we can project, we have a challenge being able to extend that to our website to our apps in a meaningful way.  

With Acquia, and more importantly personalization in general, well that's where we can start to shine with our digital transformation. Wendy's is fun and a lot of our restaurants are like home for our regulars. You go in, you get to know the folks behind the counter, the crew members get to know you, you have that sense of they know what you want before you get there and when there's a new product, if they think you'll like it they'll suggest it to you. What we're building with Lyft is, in essence, the ability to extend that to our digital ordering channels, so if you come in and you are the biggest Baconator fan or our salads really get you excited, you'll have an experience curated to your individual tastes. You'll find opportunities to explore the menu in new ways that aren't even possible necessarily in the analog side of our business so for us digital can really be distilled into surprising and delighting and giving our customers an experience keeps them coming back." 

During the Innovation Showcase, Michael and Dries Buytaert of Acquia took to the stage to discuss the Wendy's strategy and show a demo of how they orchestrate their highly entertaining personalization through the use of Acquia Lift. When I was watching the demo I couldn’t help but think of Wendy’s massive consumer base and the creativity open to them in terms of targeting the various personas within. I asked Michael what the thought process looked like in those campaigns while keeping the personality of the brand intact.  “One of the most exciting things about joining the Wendy’s team when I did was wow, a tenth of the population visits Wendys.com at least once every year, in many cases far more often than that and then as I started to really dig into that data I discovered well, with a lot of data also comes a really interesting challenge. We index with the population across every main dimension so we’re in a world where we could literally be searching for a needle in a stack of needles, it’s a heck of a challenge so a lot of what we do is communicate on a broad spectrum. We have folks that engage with us through TV, through radio, through social, through Twitch, through Google or YouTube. There are so many different channels and I look at it as a form of progressive maturity with data. We can get to the channels, we can start to personalize experiences in those channels and bring those personalized experiences into our products but for us, it really centers around making sure that we are identifying those unique customer segments in the data and giving them a unique message that’s valuable.”

For the last piece of our discussion, I touched on how much I had learned about their innovative use of technology by the Wendy's digital team so I asked Michael what new technology or strategy was most attractive to him and he was excited to deploy. His answer was an excellent metaphor for the direction technology should go to achieve ultimate adoption. "Every time I am asked about my favorite technology I tend to stump people because I really like the faucet. Think about it, the kitchen faucet is ubiquitous. You walk up to it, you touch it, it gives you water. You don’t think about where the water comes from or how it works, you know that it works. Anytime technology can turn into something that is the ubiquitous experience you end up with true adoption but also it has to provide value to get that mature. I am looking at the proliferation of voice technologies and deep learning to help drive engines to improve those and then I reflect on Wendy’s right now, you talk to us when you place an order, what is the future look like when you communicate with us and how can we extend that to different channels, not just their voice and chat but there’s so many areas where the knowledge of how folks are engaging can help shape and influence new channels that we don’t know about yet.”

Laura Myers

Laura Myers

A digital business, marketing and social media enthusiast, Laura thrives on asking unique, insightful questions to ignite conversation. At an event or remotely, she enjoys any opportunity to connect with like-minded people in the industry.