One martech vendor's journey to a product and brand overhaul

As it transitions from Autopilot to Ortto, Aussie founder of the customer data and journey management vendor details the product overhaul that led to a company rebrand

Solving the challenge of a single customer record that can be harnessed for event-based and personalised marketing, with tools to visualise and analyse the full customer journey, has led Australian tech vendor, Autopilot, to a new platform play and brand overhaul.  

Autopilot officially rebranded to Ortto at the end of March. As co-founder and CEO, Michael Sharkey, told CMO, the name change was in response to significant growth, expanding capabilities and alignment with its new vision. It also comes off the back of $35 million in investment funding from a number of big hitters, including Blackbird Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and Rembrandt Venture partners.

Autopilot was initially founded in 2015 and built its credentials with marketing clients through its API-based customer journey building application. Today, it boasts of 11,000 customers in 190 countries and double-digit, month-on-month growth.

Having spotted the opportunity to go much further, Sharkey and his co-founder and CTO, Chris Sharkey, returned to Sydney from San Francisco in 2018 to focus on R&D of a new product. Unveiled in mid-2021, the result is a unified customer journey platform for online businesses, underpinned by artificial intelligence (AI). The pitch is a more accessible customer journey solution that brings together the promise of a customer data platform (CDP), customer journey visualisation and customer journey analytics in one place.

As Sharkey explained, the vendor’s business model remains grounded in the belief that the relationship between brands and customer is predominantly moving online. And Autopilot’s initial view was in fact to offer a product that helped business consolidate customer data, send campaigns and grow their businesses from that online-first view.

“It was a hard proposition to get into the market back then, as we were basically saying every tool and product you’re using, you should switch out to this, because if you have a single view of your customer, you can do more with personalisation, communication and so on,” Sharkey said.  

Michael SharkeyCredit: Ortto
Michael Sharkey

“The customer feedback was they just wanted Autopilot to orchestrate the customer journey visually, plugging into existing marketing tools. These were commonly Marketo, Zendesk and Salesforce. Our customers were people that didn’t want to make pay millions and make a career-defining decision to buy Marketo on or another big platform.”

As a result, Autopilot found success in being a self-serve, easy-to-use product, available to purchase via credit card. Yet Sharkey said the team clearly identified two other major challenges for its clients that have only grown since those early days. The big one is unifying customer data and the shift of customer records beyond CRM and into event-based marketing tools.

“People were trying to jam that journey data into many other places, such as Salesforce, Segment, data warehouses and so on. And each department was looking at something different– if you’re in support, you’d look at Zendesk, sales would look at CRM, product marketers might look at Mixpanel or Amplitude product analytics,” he explained.  

“That means teams are looking at the customer record through very different lenses. The reason was each system had data about the customer they needed. But to truly go personal, you have to have a lens beyond marketing and across the entire customer journey. Customers told us they had problems understanding the customer profile this way.

“We thought we could make it affordable and build a CDP that gave them a view of the customer in an event-based world and right across the journey by connecting to these data sources. The ladder was allowing them to have customer journey analytics in one place and report from across the customer journey, so they truly understood that relationship.”

It sounds ambitious, but this is what Sharkey’s team has been working to build. He declined to limit the new-look Ortto platform to the category of customer data platform (CDP), arguing for a combined approach to marketing automation, customer journey mapping and customer data record connection and analytics.  

“Businesses invest a lot of money into a middleware CDP or data warehouse. But often these don’t make data available to an entire organisation,” Sharkey continued. “Many have to still put in a Trello ticket to the data guy to write SQL to pull a CSV file out of the data centre so they can send something out in Marketo. As tech vendors, we’re still expecting people to query a database.

“The challenge was how to take a very complex problem, which is event-based data and flat-file, object and relational data, and make it work seamlessly together in a way so anyone can ask questions of the data without understanding SQL. Then it was about being able to visualise it.

“We also believe the future of data is building isolated neural nets for AI. If you get data right, and structured correctly, there’s lots of practical AI you can use for targeting and who to talk to. We can structure their data for the future world where things will be largely driven by AI.”  

In a sign of prospective demand, Sharkey said his team showed the new-and-improved product to an Australian health fund, who was ready sign on before they had finished key aspects of what would be on offer.

“They need our solutions as it’s a real problem for them: They can’t visualise data or understand member behaviour,” he said.

Tackling the business rebrand

Having got to this significant product launch milestone, it was time for a rebrand and repositioning of Autopilot itself.

“While Autopilot was a great generic name, and what everyone knew us for… we always felt brand wasn’t our strong point, it was an afterthought,” Sharkey said. “Our focus was more on building a product to solve problems. But we know customers want to get beyond a brand. Having a generic brand in crowded market and one where people increasingly have affinity to tech brands meant we needed another name deserving of our products and us taking on these three very hard problems.”

Ortto pays homage to Autopilot’s roots while also being trade marketable and distinctive. Ortto engaged Christopher Doyle & Co (CD&Co) for the rebrand with the aim of new design system that embodied the spirit of connection.

“CD&Co helped us crystalise our core brand idea that became our North Star. Once this core idea, ‘Remarkably connected’, came together, everything else flowed,” said director of marketing, Claire Brown. “It’s a visual representation of the customer journey, of the connections that our platform makes for our customers, and the connections our customers make with theirs.

“We defined our brand blueprint, including a new mission, vision, values and looked at a brand name that would nod to our past while representing our future, a wordmark that has connection at its heart, and a design system that represented the customer journey and path that fuels these connections between our customers and their customers.”

Two concepts were initially tested. “The design system that stood out encapsulated the customer journey with its various stages and motion, bringing the customer journey to life,” Brown continued. “The colour palette was a journey. Again, we wanted to nod to our past with the blue and build a palette that was vibrant and energetic, but that still felt really professional.

“We actually had the design system before the colours were finalised, so we were playing with complementary colours that would help bring the energy of that customer journey to life.”

Creative, Ortto and CD&Co then employed an illustrator to build custom illustrations and icons to flow through product and marketing. For Sharkey, the brand also reflects business maturity.

“People looking at using this [product] see a company that’s grown up and is a serious contender in the mid-market and enterprise with a solution that can solve big problems,” he said. “The rebrand is about hitting the reset button, saying we are about so much more. Because now what we can deliver on is exceeding expectations.”  

To communicate the name change and rebrand, Ortto has engaged in organic activity, email, social and content to customers, partners and wider audiences. It’s also conducted paid activity across search, social, display, affiliate and native.

“We have a lot more to come, including a podcast with key thought leaders in this space, the launch of our partner program, a huge content and SEO focus with live streams and online events,” Brown said.

Sharkey recognised the biggest challenge is educating the market that Ortto exists, and flagged partnerships and direct sales as another critical element in the company’s next phase of growth. Key partners include ecommerce agencies and B2B, SaaS-led agencies.

“Partners can tell that story and help with the transformation a lot of these companies need to make,” he said.

“This isn’t something you can’t just pitched through self-service. It hasn’t stopped large brands from signing up, but where before we might have dealt with just a marketing manager or ops, you could be dealing with CEO or CIO now. The stakeholders have increased. That’s exciting for us, and it’s great being a critical part of the strategy.”

A particular customer sweet spot for Ortto is ecommerce and B2C organisations who have “never really had a single view of the customer”.

“Shopify or 1980s ERP might still be the database of their customer,” Sharkey commented. “Through Covid, many of these businesses realised they needed to have a relationship and record of customer beyond these skewed touchpoints.”

Brown said a strong brand strategy communicated internally is helping everyone to confidently stay on the same page. “We hope longer term to see this translate to better recruitment outcomes,” she said.  

“Externally, we are looking at things like website traffic and onsite conversion to see if our new positioning is translating to sign ups. We are looking at sign ups and how qualified those leads are. That quality piece is really important as we’re already seeing that the new branding has helped us capture the attention of some bigger businesses and more businesses in that SaaS/B2C space.

“Our freemium tier has built in growth loops — every email and capture widget has Ortto branding with a link back to our site which we track with UTMs. Using our own platform, we have a dashboard that shows the key metrics this delivers, so we’ll be able to quickly tell whether the new brand and wordmark is capturing more attention than the old. We have granular metrics on all the campaigns we run using Ortto. So we can see if the transition from our previous brand to new has led to a change in performance.”

Longer term measures of success include new business, customer lifetime value, net retention and ASP. Ortto also plans to do an external brand awareness and perception study annually.

Sharkey himself saw better connection internally with staff and externally with customers as the ultimate measure of brand impact.

“Brand reputation and referrals are longer term measures we can use. But outside of that, it’s about saying to the work we are Ortto, this is what we are about now, this is what we can do and take a look,” he added.  

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