Tackling AI and Breaking Through to the Next Frontier, VR
When I first read Kayla’s article, I was blown away by her achievements in the complicated AI space that she shared so casually as if they were everyday norms for marketers. I had to read it twice. And then I had to call her. As I listened to Kayla go deeper into what she was doing with AI, she modestly mentioned that Hill City has the most advanced shop experience on Facebook Messenger and they received 27,000 Wear Tester applications since they launched Hill City just a short 42 days ago.
Wait, what? I was there at launch, as had waited patiently for months to reveal Eric Toda’s big secret through his CMO Moves podcast. I went back and re-watched the fun BTS videos we made to refresh my memory on what he was then teasing could happen when you “give Digital a green light”. He was hoping for 1000 people to sign up for Hill City’s Wear Tester program by interacting with the chatbots on Facebook and Twitter. 42 days later, they have 27,000 Wear Tester applications.
Meet Kayla, the mastermind behind the application of AI to drive this growth. And don’t miss her video below where she takes us through the AI-powered shopper experience live on Facebook Messenger, filmed just yesterday from her laptop so we could share it with you!
Tell us about your current role and responsibilities. Why did you choose to join your current company?
I ensure Hill City acquires, converts, and retains customers through all marketing channels as the Head of Growth. What’s unique about creating a new company – as opposed to plugging into one that’s existing – is the opportunity to build from scratch. There is no existing framework, no puzzle to plug into. My team is consistently in a “test and learn” mindset, where we leverage data and customer insights to both build brand love and product loyalty. This ability to build, dream big, and create what doesn’t yet exist continues to draw me to work every day.
What current developments in marketing are most inspiring to you? How will they affect the future of marketing?
With consumers being the most connected than they’ve been in history, with limitless options and information at their fingertips, it’s fascinating to see the ways in which people are policing their own attention spans. With consumption-limitation updates like that of iPhone’s “Screen Time”, Instagram’s “All Caught Up”, or Netflix’s “Are You Still There” people are reclaiming power over where – and for how long – they give their attention. As Marketers, this means our messages need to be more engaging, timely, and actionable than ever before. This challenge for attention inspires me to problem solve, keeping the customer’s experience and desires at the core of what we create.
What are you working on now that’s innovative?
I’m extremely proud of the Artificial Intelligence we’ve built for Hill City. Currently on Facebook Messenger and Twitter DM – the most complete and well-functioning Shop experiences built on each platform, respectively – customers from any location can interact with our brand on a 1:1 level. Whether to shop new collections or re-order their favorites, apply for our Wear Tester brand ambassador program, give feedback to our design team or get customer service – this AI enables a team of 20 people have personal assistant-like conversations with thousands of customers at any time. As we refine and build our AI, I’m excited for the next frontier: VR. As a marketer, I’m interested to build experiences that bring an online-only brand to life no matter where you are. Rather than physical locations in a handful of geographies, that reach only a subset of customers, I aspire to put the retail store experience in the palm of your hand.
Tell us about your career path and how you ended up where you are right now. What big learning moments have you had in your journey? Did you have any notable mentors?
My career began at Nike in Global Digital Marketing, where I worked with the MLB and NCAA to drive the Baseball and Training business. While there, my now boss for the second time – Eric Toda – joined the team; his mentorship was and remains a catalyst in my career. His persistent encouragement to push boundaries and break past comfort zones propelled me to my next adventure at Twitter. For four years, I developed Twitter’s Retail & Performance partnerships business alongside some of the country’s largest and most notable brands. Most recently, Eric brought me the opportunity to join him again on a new adventure: Hill City. In May I started as the Head of Growth, merging my retail and tech experience in building a data-driven, technology-empowered acquisition program.
Tell us about your teams. How do you pick and develop the talent on your team? How do you ensure there is collaboration?
Most anyone can learn analytics or storytelling; what I can’t teach is the gritty desire to build, create, and experiment. When adding to my teams, I look for people with a bias to yes – who don’t know every answer, but know how to get the right people and resources to create a desired outcome. As a leader, I expect this same action-oriented, solutions-focused attitude form myself and never ask anything of anyone that I too wouldn’t dof; there is no task too big or too small, especially when you’re a start-up. When a team collectively and individually knows their strengths – and most importantly, their weaknesses – we are able to be vulnerable in our limitations, support each other through challenges, and work collaboratively to utilize each person’s strength.
What one thing do you need from your CMO to help you be successful?
I don’t believe any leader can provide one asset or quality that enables their organization and employees. That said, here are my top three: Trust and belief. I do my best work with any colleague when we’ve established mutual trust and a foundational belief that each of us is committed to bringing our best selves and intentions to the table. Thirdly, affirmations are exceptionally important. Affirmations that my work is on the right track, or an affirmation that I’m way off. Either way, consistent open communication and feedback help me do my best work.
What advice would you give to marketers who are just starting their careers?
Find your champions: A select few people will take you under their wing, champion your work, and help you get where you want to go. Once you make it where you want to go, and along the way, be that champion for someone else. Set end goals, but be flexible in how you get there: Your career will take twists and turns that you wouldn't have dreamed of. Enjoy the ride, pursue the opportunities that feel right in your gut, and treat every career move as a chance to create new skills that move you toward your ultimate goal.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I believe plans should always be fluid and malleable; have a clear goal in-mind and be flexible in how you get there. As a natural-born leader, I envision myself leading a company that’s purpose improves and betters people’s lives. On a daily, monthly, and annual basis I envision myself aspiring to be better than I was yesterday; more well-rounded, fulfilled, and happy. If I’m focused on building my life in that way, the right opportunities manifest themselves.
Favorite place to vacation? Anywhere I can go with no wifi and limited cell service.
If you were a superhero, what would your special skill be? Super-strength to smash the patriarchy.
Name something that most people don't know about you. My side passion is baking – sometimes it turns out great, sometimes I tried.
If you weren’t a marketer, what would you be? CEO. (Arguably, though, I’d still be in the business of marketing.)
What's the best thing you've read/listened to/watched recently? I read at least one book per month, a mix of fiction and non-fiction. My favorites recently are "The Power" by Naomi Alderman and The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle.