Lotame Learnings Archive

Moving on from Lotame to SpinBack

Two Paths Through the Tangled Japanese Forest
Image by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

As of today, I’ll be leaving the Lotame family to pursue a new endeavor called Spinback.com.

Like all hard decisions, this one was not easy but here’s the story:

When I first started Lotame I was in the midst of building a business called TheCampusAtlas.com with three of my engineering buddies from school. But through a coincidental encounter at Mount Snow I met Andy Monfried who was also in the midst of starting a new business called Lotame. At the time I wasn’t quite sure what to do. We had already launched on 5 schools and had about 10 more on deck. So the question was, do I pick up the dice on Campus Atlas and join Andy’s new business? Or do I ride out the true startup wave with my friends and see where the Campus Atlas could go? Well, after living with and interning for Andy for those 2 months in the summer of my junior year the answer was pretty clear.

When I finished the Lotame internship, I ended up working remotely from Madison while finishing up school and as soon as school was done, and as soon as I was able to actually work, I was in the Lotame office cranking out phone calls, emails and all other sorts of tasks. During my time there, we went from a little office in Maryland with just a few folks and $0 in revenue, to almost 70 employees with offices in Maryland, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, London and quite a few dollars in revenue. I helped create new partnerships, new strategies, and new products, but most importantly, I created new relationships with great people. People that I consider family and people who I would do anything for.

And in all my time at Lotame this was the most important thing I learned from Andy. That no matter what happens in life or on any journey you take, the most important part is the people you are with.

But like any journey, there are crossroads and I am presently at one of those crossroads. I now have the opportunity to start a new business with two friends from school in a space that is just beginning to really innovate: the e-commerce sector. So as of today, I’ll be officially teaming up with two of my Badger friends on a new journey that involves technology, retailers, word of mouth marketing, and crazy amounts of hard work.

One of the things that has been evident my entire life is that purchases are never made in a vacuum. Whenever we look to buy something, whether it is a TV, a plane ticket, a new movie, or even a meal at dinner, we almost always ask trusted friends or family for advice. We ask for their opinion. Better yet, we sometimes get contacted out of the blue by our friends with new recommendations and suggestions. In my opinion, this method of product discovery or information acquisition is the single most important way we learn about new things or new products. And now with new communication mediums like Facebook and Twitter, the velocity by which this information can be shared is exponentially greater. At spinback, our mission will be to help retailers leverage the power of this medium in a trustworthy, efficient and innovative way.

So that’s what I’ll be doing in this next chapter of my life. At the same time, I’ll be rooting for everyone at Lotame. Thanks Andy.

On to the next one…

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Oreos are Good, Especially The Audience Layer

Photo of an Oreo cookie on a white table.

Image via Wikipedia

Doug Weaver wrote a great piece today titled The New Oreo, Part 3: The Audience Layer.

“Anyone mildly plugged into digital advertising in 2010 can’t possibly ignore the noise and energy around audience buying.

There are many people in our industry who can go a lot deeper on this topic than I…”

I’ll attempt to take it a bit “deeper” but will do so around his 4 premises.

  1. It’s a Different Marketplace: “Audience buying is happening, and it is going to happen more”, but today, the market is not transparent. There are many companies out there that can sell your data for a price (and if not tied to media its probably much less), but what value are you getting other than a new, arguably small revenue stream? Are you learning about data strategies for your own organization? Are you learning about audience data collection, segmentation and optimization? If you’re going to invest time and effort in a new partnership, understand how the “data” company can make you smarter and affect your business in a meaningful way. One that adds long term value. Remember what ad networks did to your business?
  2. Create a Trading Desk: “Segregating and centralizing the audience selling activity inside your organization is a good idea. Keep your ‘page sellers’ focused on selling the value of placement. Let your specialists manage the relationships and requests from DSPs and interact with your optimizers.” I would take this one step further..in the opposite direction. Publisher that can take the lead and sell audiences on top of their placement should see increased CPM rates and differentiation from their competitors. If this is where the market is heading, might as well start understanding it now.
  3. Demand See-Through Tags: If a company is tagging your site, you should not only understand who pays the freight, but you should have some visibility into the actual shipment. Simply put, you are entitled for more insights other than just a paycheck.
  4. If You’re a Data Enabler, Get Paid for It: Publishers should absolutely get paid for their data, but they should work to optimize the use of that data by looking at and leveraging the individual behaviors as well as applying that data towards multiple revenue streams. Companies that can offer revenue streams for media and data, using the same data source, can help the publisher over the long haul in establishing a meaningful, multifaceted business.

(Disclosure: The post can also be found at Lotame Learnings. Lotame is my current employer)

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When it comes to Online Advertising, Keep It Simple Stupid

When things get so complicated the best thing you can do is go back to the basics.

In today’s world of online advertising, the “basics” are changing so it’s important to understand what those changes are and how they affect a marketer’s business.

I wrote a piece that was featured in today’s iMedia Connection that discusses this very point.

Excerpt from the article:

We are at the cusp of a new age of online advertising. As news ways of thinking about the ecosystem emerge, so too are there new ways for advertising campaign deployment. Math now seems as equally important as creativity. Technology now seems as important as artistic ability. This evolving trend has spawned new companies and has required older companies to change their very DNA, and with that, their name or classification.

The entire piece is here.

Things used to be much simpler…

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The “Macrotization” of Ad Serving, Ad Exchanges, and Demand Side Platforms

The online advertising industry at large is sprinting towards maximizing efficiency. Overall, the working theory is that smart aggregation and assembly of various technology providers will create a unique solution for display advertising, and one that combines audience targeting, procurement, arbitrage and media trade. However, if, as Randall Rothenberg, CEO of IAB, states: “technology succeeds in driving the cost of reaching the perfect audience down to zero” in his latest post titled “Is Marketing a Strategic Resource or a Procured Commodity?” then the industry might be fumbling towards false ecstasy, with “the same low costs, the same perfect efficiency, for doing the same exact thing.”

Allow me to explain. With all of the aggregation and consolidation of publishers, networks, and exchanges, in many instances, an overlap occurs with publisher inventory. Think about a typical web publisher in today’s ecosystem. Think about how many ad networks that publisher works with. Now think about how many ad exchanges those ad networks work with. Then think about how many Demand Side Platforms those ad exchanges work with. The result? The tail wags the dog: when you bid on an impression, in all likely hood, you are bidding on yourself, for the same piece of inventory. This overlap and inconsistency in many cases results in decreased efficiency.

Here at Lotame we call this concept “Macrotization” wherein you try and optimize results at the macro level but have built algorithms and processes that can’t ultimately be supported by the disparate supporting systems and components. Many of the components in these new advertising platforms don’t necessarily complement each other, even though it may seem as if they do, and complementary buzzwords often connect ephemeral dots that don’t belong. In time, the foundation for macrotization will settle, but for now, tremors still abound.

The truth is, there are few companies out there that successfully manage all pieces of the “macrotization” process. Those that can will deliver true efficiencies for their clients because they can seamlessly connect and control all pieces in the value chain—from audience identification through media delivery and resulting insights—in a completely transparent manner.

(Disclosure: The post can also be found at Lotame Learnings. Lotame is my current employer)

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From the Industrial Revolution to the Knowledge Era – Next Up: The Data Renaissance

1913 photograph Ford company, USA

Image via Wikipedia

The world will never be the same. Our society used to build machines and parts, in factories and in assembly lines. Today, our society builds computer programs and data bases, on laptops and in many cases, from anywhere around the world. People and businesses are becoming more efficient. They are working smarter, not harder, because they are beginning to leverage the most valuable employee of all: Data.

Take for example the airline industry. Consider all those times you got bumped off of a flight, rescheduled, canceled, or offered money to take a different flight. We’ve all been there and it always happens for a reason. This reason is that airlines try to prevent the loss of business and in doing so, they look at dozens of consumer driven behaviors such as how long you travel for, how many weekend flights you take, how many return flights you take, how many flights you take during the week, if you are a frequent flier, and the list goes on. All of these individual data points are used to inform a business decision. The decision is objective. The decision is data driven.

But what happens when we can make decisions using even more data points? Much more data points? Literally, hundreds of thousands if not millions of data points, and did I mention, in real time?

Welcome to the Data Renaissance. Thanks to increasingly efficient and scalable technologies like solid state drives, mobile devices, and cloud computing, the possibilities of data analysis are endless. I mean, just think about how much time we either spend online or connected to a mobile device. This has tremendous implications from travel, health and fitness, to finance, education, and media and the best part is, we haven’t even scratched the surface.

Like I said before, the implications here are huge. Many companies recognize the need to have these comprehensive data sets while having ways of analyzing that data. The digital media and online advertising industry in particular are both in a unique place since their very foundations are dependent upon these high growth technologies; digital devices and the Internet. In this space, companies are racing to a holy grail of advertising where they can leverage millions of individual consumer behaviors to inform brand engagement opportunities and purchasing decisions. Unlike the airline industry, online advertisers can leverage millions of data points instead of those “dozen,” and if done correctly, the consumer experience will be better than it’s ever been before. Everything will matter. Everything will be relevant. We will all become more enlightened and informed to things that interest the most because these new technologies are launching us into the very early, but still uncharted, data renaissance.

(Disclosure: The post can also be found at Lotame Learnings. Lotame is my current employer)

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The Maturation of Data Intelligence

With all of the latest advances in digital media, we are still in the infancy stage when it comes to data intelligence and informative decision making. Consider what is currently happening in the display advertising space. Data and media are continuing to diverge as two separate commodities. On one hand there are data exchanges making cookie files or user information available for purchase. On the other hand, there are media exchanges that make media available for purchase letting businesses use primary or secondary cookie files from other sources to make the ad decision.

This new divergence between data and media, coupled with the notion that bigger is better when it comes to data, makes for an interesting dynamic in today’s industry. Companies are looking to build their own, large cookie pools. In some cases, these are companies with no real technology or mathematical expertise. The natural assumption is that by having large data sets, it would allow for informative ad decision making and that assumption is absolutely warranted. But again, we are only in the infancy stage when it comes to data intelligence and information decision making so it is important to understand all layers involved while pursuing the “data” path.

There is an entire meta-layer between data and media, and that layer is around delivery and optimization. It’s the ability to marry delivery, performance, and backend metrics with data collection and custom audiences. Without this connection, data is meaningless. Imagine for a second you spent $5,000 on the latest and greatest Flat Screen High Definition TV, $600 on the latest Blue Ray DVD drive, but decided to use old audio/video composite cables instead of investing the extra $150 on some good HDMI cables. Your investments in the television and the Blue Ray drive aren’t even close to maximized unless an additional investment is made in the “connection.”

This is unquestionably one of the most important, yet most overlooked aspects of today’s ecosystem. Data is only as valuable as the intelligence or “connection” behind it. In the coming months, the companies that are positioned to efficiently collect and segment data and, more importantly, are able to tie that data in a meaningful way to media through enhanced delivery and optimization techniques, will see an increase in sales, margins, and ROI. By valuing audiences and media separately, there is also a new arbitrage opportunity available to those that truly understand the three aspects of data, media, and delivery.

At the end of the day, companies will need to make smart investments on technology vendors and third party solutions in order to help achieve their goals. As the economy continues to shake out, as costs and expenses continue to be cut, and as resources continue to be reallocated, it is all that more critical for companies to make sound investments that contribute to increased efficiency and productivity. In order to do this, companies will continue to turn towards “data” in order to make informative decisions, to both business and literal ad serving.

(Disclosure: The post can also be found at Lotame Learnings. Lotame is my current employer)

Missing the Mark on Social Media

(This post can also be found on the Lotame Learnings Blog)

A recent study came out by Knowledge Networks titled: “Internet users turn to social media to seek one another, not brands or products.” Without even looking at the numbers, I think it’s safe to bet that it is in fact true that “Internet users turn to social media to seek one another, not brands or products.” There are two parts to every statistical experiment: 1) The design and 2) the analysis. In the case of this study, it is a bit troubling to see how biased the experiment is without even reading past the title. What do you think the results would be if I put out a report titled: “Music lovers turn to radio to seek music, not brands or products”, or “Movie lovers turn to movie theaters to seek great new movies, not brands or products.”

The reason marketers are so concerned with “Social Media” is because they realize that this is where users spend most of their time. This is where they “seek one another” to connect, engage, and share (in many cases about brands and products). According to a report from The Nielsen company, which, was distributed at San Francisco Ad tech:

“The Internet remains a place of continuing innovation, with users finding new ways to integrate online usage into their daily lives,” said Charles Buchwalter, SVP, Research and Analytics, Nielsen Online. “In recent years the Internet has changed dramatically as people seek more personalized relationships online. In particular, time spent on social networks and video sites has increased astronomically. Advertisers are starting to positively re-assess the value of the online experience and create more meaningful relationships with consumers.

And this data cannot be ignored.

Some major highlights from the Global Online Media Landscape report (pdf) regarding online video and social networks:

  • The number of American users frequenting online video destinations has climbed 339% since 2003. The unique audience for online video surpassed that of email in November 2007.

  • Time spent on video sites has shot up almost 2,000% over the same period.
  • In the past year, unique viewers of online video grew 10%, the number of streams grew 41%, the streams per user grew 27% and the total minutes engaged with online video grew 71%.
  • There are 87% more online social media users now than in 2003, with 883% more time devoted to those sites.
  • In the past year, time spent on social networking sites has surged 73%.
  • In February 2009, social network usage exceeded web-based e-mail usage for the first time:

It is a marketer’s job to penetrate the most popular mediums, and make their brands or products visible in the most efficient fashion. In today’s world, Social Media is the most popular medium and it is stillgrowing. So indeed, while users go to Social Media to “seek more personalized relationships“, it will still be a marketer’s job to try and penetrate this medium in efficient and meaningful ways. If a marketer can be successful in creating brand affinities with products in social media (which Lotame has had much success in doing – one example), then everyone wins as the consumer is able to find relevancy and the marketers are able to reach their target audience.

The Value of Data (Social Data for Online Advertising)

Data is King. If you don’t believe me, consider this:

  • Rental car companies and insurers are refusing service to people with poor credit scores because data mining tells them that credit scores correlate with a higher likelihood of having an accident.
  • Nowadays when a flight is canceled, airlines will skip over their frequent fliers and give the next open seat to the mine-identified customer whose continued business is most at risk. Instead of following a first-come, first-serve rule, companies will condition their behavior on literally dozens of consumer-specific factors.
  • The “No Child Left Behind” Act, which requires schools to adopt teaching methods supported by rigorous data analysis, is causing teachers to spend up to 45 percent of class time training kids to pass standardized tests. Super Crunching is even shifting some teachers toward class lessons where every word is scripted and statistically vetted.

(An excerpt from Super Crunchers, by Ian Ayers. Great video of him below – bottom of post. Worth a watch.)

The data validates the fact that data is King.

In the world of Online Advertising, marketers, web publishers and technologists alike are beginning to realize that data is hugely valuable. In the past, advertisements were served to websites based on the content of the website. Today, advertisements are served to websites based on data that is informing the ad server to show that advertisement. As a result of this paradigm shift, the digital media community is beginning to realize that media and data are separate commodities. Where you see your advertisement is very different than how or why that advertisement is there in the first place.

Being able to leverage the power of this online data is great — but what does it really mean? Let’s take a look at the type of data that is available for digital marketers.

There are two types of data we should look at.

  1. Singular Data Points
  2. Multi-Variable Data Points

A “Singular Data Point” is a piece of data that is very cut and dry. It is a binary 1 or 0, “yes” or “no.” For example, if I recently went to an e-commerce travel site, configured a flight for 2 people from NYC to LA, and clicked “view price”, then you could make the argument that I am very interested in flying in the near future. The instant I click the “view price” button, a single data point can be obtained classifying me as “someone interested in domestic travel.” This may hold a ton of value for marketers at the bottom of the advertising funnel (see diagram below) who are looking to convert on a very specific type of user for a very specific product, and has been, still is, and will remain extremely valuable. Some examples of “Singular Data Points” include: Purchase Intent or In-Market Data, Age & Gender and Household Income.

These are data points that explicitly and intuitively describe certain consumer attributes. They are more or less declared characteristics or definitions of a consumer.

“Multi-Variable Data Points” however, tell a very different story. Imagine for example that someone, who happens to be female, 24 years old, and makes $40k/year, went to a social network, checked her inbox, wrote on a friends profile page about last night’s TV show, left that site to read and comment on an article about the New York Giants, uploaded a video about comedy, checked the price of a flight from NYC to LA, and finally, viewed another friend’s photo album who happened to have just returned from a trip to LA. What does this social data say about that user? Nothing? Is it completely arbitrary and meaningless? In fact, it’s exactly quite the opposite. Being able to leverage “dozens of consumer-specific factors” in real time gives a marketer the capability of executing and deploying various tactics such as:

  • Influencer outreach strategies
  • Creative optimization for advertising units
  • Deeper visibility into brand engagement opportunities
  • Custom optimization for various and wide ranging back end performance metrics
  • Statistical data analysis and research
  • Comprehensive search strategies
  • Informative and cost effective media buys

Moreover, this social data presents huge opportunities for marketers looking to reach consumers at the top of the advertising funnel, but still has applications toward the bottom of the funnel as well.

Today, there is much debate around the value of social data vs. purchase intent data. How and when it should be used? How much should each cost? How should it be sold?

If we look at social data and purchase intent data as it might be applied in the advertising funnel, it would probably look something like this:

slide1

Now let’s consider social data and purchase intent data in terms of value vs. time. If we consider our previous example, we can make the argument that purchase intent data is hugely valuable for a short period of time. If I am looking to book a flight within 2 weeks, that does not necessarily mean I would like to travel a year from now. For a travel related company, that 2 week data point is again, hugely valuable.

Now if we consider our social data example, by demonstrating undeclared and implicit behavior over an extended period of time, we can make the argument that this data has tremendous value indefinitely. If we were to graph social data vs. purchase intent data on a value vs. time graph in today’s environment, the graph might look something like this.

slide2

But as companies become even more sophisticated, develop better applications of technologies and data mining, then someone’s day to day behavior might prove even more valuable in the future. This is certainly true when it comes to “creative optimization.” It is the idea that a creative ad unit showed to a consumer will be directly linked to their “social data” and that the consumer GENERATES OR INFLUENCES some form of content, message, conversation, or engagement. “Consumer Creative” – or “Social Creative” is the next leap of value to marketers, and as we evolve in the creative evolution of social media/data, the value vs. time graph will probably look something like this.

slide3

At the end of the day, having the ability to make educated decisions using comprehensive data sets is what will differentiate businesses from their competitors. It will give the forward looking organizations a way to stay relevant, efficient, and strong, while other companies continue to use outdated and inefficient methodologies.

And as these technologies evolve, become more sophisticated, and create incremental value for marketers, web publishers and consumers, the “data” companies will have a responsibility to uphold the privacy rights of all parties involved. These safety and privacy measures will become, and are already, inherent features of the technologies, because with the power of data comes the responsibility to collect and use the data in ways that provide appropriate protections for user privacy. Responsible industry members will continue to develop practices and policies that can work for marketers, publishers and consumers in this arena (we are one of those companies).

Nevertheless, if companies and marketers want to make the best decisions possible for their clients, they should consult the data for the answers and throw the guess work away. In our world of digital media, find your exact target audience and save money on wasted impressions or eyeballs. It’s all about the data, as well as harnessing the power of consumer driven information.

Co-Authors:

Andy Monfried – CEO/Founder of Lotame

Dan Reich – Business Development of Lotame

(This post can also be found at Lotame Learnings and at the personal blog of Andy Monfried)

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Spend Smart Money with the Smartest Companies in Social Media

(Disclaimer: I currently work for Lotame Solutions).

Let’s face it, the “Social Media” buzz word has been used a bit much these days doing two things:

  1. Validating its importance and relevance in an evolving communications landscape. As the usage statistics for these social sites and platforms continue to grow, the constant referencing of the term “social media” or “social web” will only continue to rise (Warning: The web is becoming social).
  2. Making it extremely difficult for marketers to navigate through the hundreds of “Social Media” marketing solutions. It’s not that there are not too many “social media sites/platforms”, but too many social media marketing solutions. For example, Facebook is a social media site with, as of now, a relatively weak marketing solution given their decision to remain extremely focused on increasing the overall user experience. Lotame and the other companies mentioned in this list do not have social media sites (most mentioned), they have social media marketing solutions. Until the Facebooks and Twitters of the world figure out a coherent marketing solution for advertisers, marketers will continue to need help.

After being immersed in the “Social Media” industry for over a year now and speaking to a wide variety of industry professionals, I’d like to present my list of who I think are the Kings of Social Media marketing (not to be confused with social media sites or platforms). These are companies that have established a necessary product or service capable of delivering cost effective and successful marketing campaigns within “Social Media”, regardless of company size, revenue, public visibility or public relations, funding and support.

(In no particular order…after 1)

1.

Lotame‘s technology called Crowd Control gives marketers, agencies and advertisers the ability to not only reach users that fit their target profile, but also arms marketers with the ability to reach the Influencers. These are the users that are most engaged with the social media platform or website. Additionally, Crowd Control allows agencies to build their own custom audience around specific brands or products, and expose those users to a campaign based on a set amount of time (think 30 second tv commercial) instead of traditional ad serving impressions.

2.buddymedialogo

Buddy Media builds custom branded applications that can be integrated within social media platforms. Instead of trying to monetize the space around a social media site, buddy media creates an environment where users engage with the brand itself. Using their technology called BuddyBrain, Buddy Media can track usage statistics for their clients demonstrating how valuable it is to integrate a brand with a social media application.

3.

AdNectar takes the viral approach to a new level by building light, integrated social campaigns. AdNectar enables marketers with the ability to create their own e-gifts that can be inserted directly into the conversation. Once the brand becomes a part of the conversation, brand awareness increases exponentially as users spread the word by sharing the gifts among their friends.

4.

BzzAgent takes on the word-of-mouth marketing approach. Users voluntarily sign up as BzzAgents in their Frogpond and get first access to new products they demonstrate an interest in.  Since the product is meaningful and relevant to the individual, they are inclined to spread the word amongst their friends. In exchange for getting a first look at new products, the marketers get completed surveys around the product or brand.

5.

LinkedIn POLLS:  LinkedIn has a feature called LinkedIn Polls. This feature is powerful as it enables marketers to ask, in real time, survey questions to a very specific type of audience either based on occupation or their social graph. Since users very specifically declare attributes about their professional life, marketers looking to reach decision makers or executives can do so in an easy interface.

6.

Spongecell takes the traditional IAB ad unit and turns it into a social asset. By integrating social components such as “add to calendar”, “email to friend”, “add to Facebook”, Spongecell helps marketers take a standard creative asset and turn it into a potentially viral element.

7.

OggifFinogi makes User Generated Content available within standard, but flashy and engaging ad units. By dynamically inserting videos into the ad unit, marketers can easily and cost effectively build rich media creatives that can be served as standard IAB ad units. Furthermore, these ad units can open up whereas the user is exposed to a marketer’s micro site or video commercial without having to leave the publishing site.

8.

Clearspring enables marketers to build and virally spread their lightweight widgets across the internet. Marketers can build their widgets through their program called WidgetMedia, and additionally spread and track distribution with their program/product called LaunchPad.

9.

Amplify provides a way for marketers to track the buzz and conversation between users across social media. Although there are many solutions out there that look at keywords and context, Amplify takes it a step further offering sentiment around a particular product or brand.

There are many other great social media marketing solutions out there. What kind of experiences have you had with social media marketing in general?

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