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Chief Parking Data Officer: Todd Tucker, FLASH

Chief Parking Data Officer Interview: Todd Tucker, FLASH

This interview is part of our series “The Rise of the Chief Parking Data Officer” profiling parking industry innovators with the vision, strategy, and leadership to create connectivity within their organizations using data. Want to be featured? Send Sarah an email.

The man. The myth. The legend. Readers, today we’re talking to Todd Tucker.

Hey there, Sarah.

I’m really excited for this interview.

Same. Thanks for the opportunity. You should know that I talk really fast.

All good. I type really fast. It’s one of my two advanced skills, with the other being parallel parking.

That’s appropriate!

Then let’s back right into this interview!

As Senior Vice President of Market Development and General Counsel at FLASH – and previously in leadership roles at Arrive, Towne Park, and ABM – you’ve got extensive experience and are widely recognized as an expert in parking, technology, and data.

I’ve been in the business for 26 years now. It’s so funny to watch the timeline that’s transpired over the last 26 years. Many things have changed in many ways.

I imagine, for sure. Can we dive into that?

Well, there was a dark period where no one gave two sh*ts about data. You travel 26 years back in time – man, even ten years – and the pervasive business model in parking and transportation is extremely non-customer-centric.

We didn’t know much about the customer back then.

Right. Every car was anonymous. It just drove in and out. It was all very commodity-based. Very general, no specificity about anything. 

It’s been incredibly fun to watch operators build brands for themselves when the industry has rested on commoditization for so long.

Now we’re thinking about how we can use the data that we collect about the customer so we know who they are and what their parking habits look like. Then their identity starts to firm up.

It feels like the parking industry’s interest in data has ramped up recently.

Fast forward 26 years and you’ve got the digital permutation of all of these old ways of conducting business. Now everyone’s realizing that there’s data that you have the ability to acquire and take action on. So we’re all data data data, all the time. 

Data never came up in convos before and today operators are specifically asking for it.

But, you know, half the time those of us on the other end have to ask twenty probing questions in response. Someone told them to ask for data but they don’t know what they’re asking for.

That seems like significant progression for the industry, though: operators knowing that there’s value in data and that if they’re not capturing it, they’re missing out.

Oh, 100%. Not saying that all operators don’t know what’s going on. What I’m saying is that here isn’t much transparency around data.

Transparency is what the industry needs in order to take that raw material and make something meaningful with it.

But it’s an above-board convo now between operators and data partners.

It’s a convo that’s happening.

The way it goes really depends on where the operator’s at, whether they’re ready to enter a real partnership in that respect, one where they allow a partner access to their systems and what’s going on in their facilities and trust them with the data that they dig up there.

Some people actually see value and they know there’s something they can extract from this type of partnership.

Other people are terrified that you’re gonna do something with their data that will get them sued.

They’re afraid of getting sued over data?

There are all of these different requirements and rules that are starting to become commonplace to penalize people for improperly using customer data.

In general, it’s pretty easy to summarize by saying “if you’re selling the data to someone else” or “if you’re using the data for a purpose that isn’t related to why you acquired it to begin with”, you’re at risk. 

Like, you can’t collect data in a parking facility and sell it to Subway.

Eat fresh, Todd.

There’s almost a sense of overemphasis on this stuff. Everyones worried about class action lawsuits. To my knowledge there hasn’t been anything like that yet. 

What I’m taking a long time to say is that there’s a lot of untapped potential here and a lot of overambitious folks who are avoiding tapping that potential because their legal team advised them not to. 

But there are plenty of ways you can share it in environments that still allow you to unlock all of that good without crossing a line into the bad.

Maybe people are letting those low-hanging fruit opportunities just hang there because they don’t know what to do with the customer data once they get it.

True, yeah. For us at FLASH, we’re trying to create the easiest way for people to begin and end a transaction. The question for us is, “what is the simplest way that people can engage with us that isn’t anonymous?”.

We don’t believe that people necessarily need to download apps and create accounts anymore. You pull into a lot or garage, you scan a code, you transact with Google Pay, and, boom, you’re off.

Great side effect of providing different easy ways to transact is that you learn all of this stuff about the customer depending on what they voluntarily opt into.

Now you have a rich pool of data you can use.

You can reach out to these customers legally to create loyalty programs, within the accessible bounds of what’s allowed to happen with the application of that data.

That’s the direct relationship between customer data and retention.

What else is FLASH doing to collect and apply customer data?

What we spend a lot of time doing is working with large platforms like Google Maps, Apple Maps, and Apple Pay with us being the connective tissue – the ones in the middle that are securely sharing data across those lines. 

Google Maps and Apple Maps have info on who is using the phone that they push to us so we understand the customer better.

And we’re pushing info about customers back and forth across many these different layers and iterations and have unlocked all kinds of value by doing that.

It’s valuable for the transportation ecosystem as a whole to be more efficient and work better.

It’s extremely interesting to me to hear about what FLASH is doing with these massive partnerships. Was that always part of your vision, back when you were at Arrive?

Arrive was trying to create an inflection point when the industry started doing things differently.

What we were doing differently at the time was creating many more customer touchpoints, like payments on demand, and trying to integrate into other people’s user experiences and user interfaces. OEMs, for example. 

We wanted to be omnipresent and get mass penetration. Access to every spot everywhere. We were diversifying our offerings and product set accordingly.

With Arrive, your focus pivoted from B2C to B2B.

As you know, four or five years ago, we were pretty much just a consumer online reservations platform (ParkWhiz). Today most of what the Digital team does is being a technology service provider, not a B2C platform.

We’re much more interested in implementing our technology into other people’s experiences, like I mentioned with OEMs.

Because Ford or Honda are gonna have so many more customers than I could ever get spending millions of dollars trying to get people to download the app. We can move faster this way.

You can process more transactions and access more customer data.

Everybody is running on our rails now. That’s something we can say to investors.

And that was by design. We want to look at the world and say we are a part, and sometimes a big part, of parking transactions occurring around the country.

I think your mission resonates with us Ocra because we’re out to create connectivity within the parking industry through integrations and the open flow of data.

Data is too opaque. There are too many disconnected technologies. How can any of us be expected to work with that, you know?

We need to build the integrations to make the data go up and down. The biggest brands in the world think this way. It’s our mindset that puts us in a really unique position. 

Seriously, think about it. There are massive companies, some of the biggest ones on the planet, that have all of these resources and still decline to think this way.

If you had to isolate one or two things that parking operators should be doing to grow their business right now, what would they be?

Let’s talk about marketing and what operators can do there. 

I think it’s interesting – and you know this term as a marketer – that some operators are starting to understand the “top of the funnel”. It’s a very broad and well-understood concept in e-commerce but not all that common in the parking asset owner’s space. 

I think that the notion of utilizing marketing at the top of the funnel to bring customers in as high up and as early as you can is important.

Because if you know how to do that, then from the moment someone pulls into a parking lot, within seconds of starting their journey, you know everything you need to know about them as a customer.

How can operators go about executing effective top-of-funnel marketing?

I would say the most impactful top of funnel opportunities that exist are customer demand channels.

Customers have their preferences. They have the apps they like to use and ways they like to transact.

And the demand channel is the one funneling dollars into getting people to adopt and use and keep using their tech, not the operator.

How many demand channels do you think operators should be leveraging?

Honestly, as many as possible. The grand majority of operators don’t know who their customers are or where they’re coming in from. 

If ten operators tell you that they know how many of their customers are searching for parking on Google Maps vs. the Ford Motor Company app vs. ParkWhiz, nine of them are straight-up lying.

It’s an issue that operators aren’t focused on understanding the breadth and depth and reach of all of the channels that exist out there and how deep and wide the top of the funnel really is.

Totally. It’s a basic principle of marketing. People have different ways of researching and buying products and they consume information in a variety of ways. You can’t rely on just one channel to capture everybody.

Operators have to participate in as many demand channels as they can and allow the top of the funnel to be as expansive as possible. The bigger that funnel is, the more customers fall into it.

I certainly wouldn’t want to limit myself to one population of customers. Some of them come in through channel X and some in through channel Y.

And there’s a whole slew of them that will come in through channel Z once I start to tap it.

There are so many places customers can originate from.

Yep. You need to find them where they’re at. It’s about being present.

Anybody out there who has any particular touchpoint with parking and transportation is creating their own journey. How do you connect with them? Can you do it yourself? 

Probably not. You’ll need to do it through some third party. And that doesn’t mean partnering with just Arrive and FLASH.

You need multiple partners in order to tackle the top of the funnel.

Make as many wide deep funnels you possibly can. Capture as many people as you possibly can. That’s growth.

Taking this all back to customer data… you’re not gonna have the full picture of the customer if you’re only capturing certain subsets of all of the customers that are actually out there. Your data isn’t as valuable.

Todd, I heard that you’re a chess pro. Is it true that you’re a huge nerd?

I was a pretty nerdy little kid. Huge bookworm. Mainly I spent my time playing video games, programming, and getting beat up. 

In high school I was in the chess club. Was I great? Not really, no, but I had an affinity for it. I was always a decent player and could hold my own. 

Here’s where the story kinda takes a detour, but it comes back around, I promise. So fast forward to my thirties, I got into competitive fighting: MMA. 

Five years now, plus five orthopedic surgeries all over my body, and I’m a true amateur fighter. Broken bones, torn tendons, ruptured retinas, cracked sternums, you name it.

But I love it. I was a nerdy little kid who was never very athletic and now I’ve found something that I’m good at and have committed to it.

That’s badass. Can I say “badass” in an interview with you?

Absolutely. I think competing, or even trying to compete, at anything is badass. Being committed is badass.

I like when people really get into something and fight their way through. That teaches us something. It makes us better.

Better and more badass.

I got hurt a couple of years ago. I had surgery and tried to compete too soon and then had to have another surgery as a result. It took a long time to get over. 

If you know anything about fighting or people who fight, it goes beyond athleticism. It’s how I get all of my stress out, how I overcome my own internal demons. It’s a coping mechanism.

And then all of a sudden you had to sit on the couch…

Yeah, for a year. What do I do, right? So I decided that if I can’t fight with my body, I’m gonna fight with my mind.

Hence chess!

Exactly. Got a coach and started doing competitions. I’m a 1300 chess player, which is upper intermediate. I’m still trying to get better through practice and competing.

One of my idols is Magnus Carlsen. He’s a grandmaster from Norway. #1 in the world. Highest ranking of all time in the history of mankind. Check out the documentary on Netflix. The story of that young lady in “Queen’s Gambit” is actually his story.

You’re an interesting dude, Todd. Any other tidbits for our audience?

Hm. Well, I have a lot of tattoos all over my body.

Same. They keep accumulating. I don’t even know where they come from anymore.

It happens.

If Todd Tucker were a chess piece, what piece would he be?

I’d be a rook. I wouldn’t put myself at queen level by any means. I think a rook is a good strong choice.

It’s the second strongest piece on the board and it has a good degree of mobility. They work well as a team and they win games.

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