Interactive Media Holdings (IMH), which is the holding group that owns MySpace, Vindico, Specific Media and Xumo, announced today that it is rebranding as ‘Viant’. Also, the company has been stitching together the various technologies to create Viant is calling the ‘Enterprise Advertising Cloud’. Whereas IMH was a passive holding company, Viant will be a hands-on operating company overseeing the new Enterprise Advertising Cloud. VAN spoke to Viant’s CEO Tim Vanderhook, and his brother Chris Vanderhook, who acts as COO, to find out what their plans are for the new company.
VAN: Could you provide an overview of what the Enterprise Advertising Cloud will look like?
Chris: I think most people don’t know much about our holding company, Interactive Media Holdings, which owns our operating companies. The subsidiaries are Specific Media, a prominent ad network in the US and across Europe, Vindico in the United States which is the largest ad server, we serve all the ads for Proctor & Gamble, and Coca Cola many other huge brands. Then we acquired MySpace from NewsCorp in 2011 and we have a CTV [connected TV] company called Xumo which we haven’t introduced in the market yet.
Most marketplaces recognise the company via those operating brands, and what we’re announcing today is the creation of a new operating company, Viant. And the product that we’re launching under this is the advertising cloud and a lot of these technologies have been powering the operating brands below us in Specific Media and Vindico. It’s the first ever advertising cloud ever created and we’re really excited about it. But what is an advertising cloud? At a high level, it’s a suite of tools that marketers can use to execute digital media, but with some unique features.
VAN: And what about the constituent parts of the Enterprise Advertising Cloud? What will they look like?
Chris: There are three main components. The first is one that has never been created before and we call it the Identity Management Platform. The IMP is similar to a DMP but differs in one core area. An IMP is built on real people, real names, real email addresses and the devices they use and we’re able to activate first party data that marketers already have in their organisation. This is one of the hot topics – advertisers know who the customer is what they’ve bought in the past and they’re trying to figure out a way to get that data out of their organisation and make it available for their own advertising efforts.
The IMP is the critical component that doesn’t exist in the marketplace today that is enabling marketers to do that. It seamlessly plugs into the organisation and it has a couple of core components that I think are key. Number one it handles onboarding [of CRM, sales and other customer-related data]. In the US, LiveRamp is most notable for this. It turns a name or an email in a database into an actionable device ID where you can message that customer with a personalised message.
We’re matching that against a 1 billion registered user database that our advertiser has so we have our own registered database of about a billion users which came primarily from MySpace but lots of third parties we use too. We’re able to onboard that data, and make it actionable for advertisers. The second component us similar to what a DMP does, but it collects every single touch point that that brand has with each consumer. A touch point is an ad exposure, a web visit , an in-store purchase, a use of your app – anything where that consumer has a touch point with that brand gets logged in that consumer’s touch point in the IMP. That data is logged and stored.
The third piece of the IMP is all about segmentation, companies want to explore the data, they’re trying to create segments that will perform better than what they were doing before. The IMP is really standalone. The fourth thing is data management. We have integrations with over 50 originations other DSPs and DMPs where we’re able to link the third party data, make it actionable and available on a cookie level if that’s what the DMP or DSP need and ship those cookies to another company that the marketer is wishing to use. So the IMP is a really critical layer, a critical component that hasn’t before existed in the space, that we think really synthesizes the online and offline worlds.
The second platform in the advertising cloud is the media execution platform. There are some of these out there today, and we have an open architecture and we’re flexible. When something is integrated in an end to end way, it tends to work better, so we have our own media execution platform as part of the ad cloud. These are the components of the media execution platform that I think are really important, number is one is ad serving. So the ad server is multi device and can deliver ads to smartphones, laptops, tablets, and even to connected TVs. It’s not just video ads, it’s also capable of delivering display and mobile, so you’ve got a multi device multi format third party ad server ready to go. The ad server is still important, as audience based buying is still only a percentage of the average buy. There are still contextually relevant places to buy. For example, I’m a major brand in the US, there’s a reasonable chance that I’m still going to buy CNN, so you need an ad server that’s going to holistically executive a campaign and then centralize all those results back in and that ad server is really critical.
The second component of the media execution platform which is really critical is quality verification and viewability measurement i.e. was your ad actually seen? Having that data point built into the cloud is really critical. If the ad wasn’t seen then it can’t be responsible for a sale.
The third part is the one I’m most excited about, as it’s the first ever to market ‘people-based DSP’. When you start thinking about a data management platform or an identity management platform, what we’re really doing is creating a single view of that prospect from that marketer’s perspective. Sometimes though when you go to ship those cookies to a third party DSP, that singular view is lost in translation when it goes from one company to another. This allows that singular view to stay in focus and it’s a people based DSP meaning it’s not a third party cookie on a desktop that we’re trying to model to find out which mobile device it is, we actually know it’s Tim Vanderhook on his desktop, or on the mobile and we can do reaching frequency across device perfectly to that consumer. The people-based DSP I believe will be game-changing, it’s also multi-format, so it has video and display and does cross-device linkage meaning we have the same user logged in on different devices and we’re able to proceed in that manner. Something that the ad industry doesn’t have today and that we’re really excited about.
The third component of the ad cloud is the data analytics platform. What that really means is overload of data. The DA platform comes with hundreds of pre-packaged reports that deliver analysis back to the customer. We do analysis on their own customers, campaign analysis what’s not working from a media perspective. Cross channel analysis how are consumers using multiple devices, plus the in-store component which is so critical. I may get an ad on my mobile phone, then go online to visit the website, but I walk in the store and buy. This ad cloud is the only one in the marketplace that can deliver back those results, to capture manage and process all that data in one single cloud and tell the marketer what’s working and what’s not.
We’re seeing massive ROI on marketers who’ve adopted our cloud platform. We’ve been in beta for about six months with about ten customers. They’re live and already running, not just for presentation. On average, we’re seeing between 10 to 20 times increase in ROI than when the marketer was using a certain point solution before. So if they were using a certain DMP or DSP or two different companies, what we’re seeing is a huge ten to twenty time multiple of what the ROI was before and that is almost the same jump in ROI myself and Chris saw when search was introduced to the online advertising marketplace, or when behavioural targeting or targeting intent based users was introduced. This new idea of people-based, cross device and measuring in store when everything is in sync and all on one platform, what you’re seeing is that the ability to influence customers to buy is much greater than when all systems are separate and disparate. That’s really the big news and we’re really excited about it. We have taken the concept of creating the first ever ad cloud, one does what so many other companies do, and combined it all in a single unified platform. It’s fantastic.
VAN: Would you compare this to other ad tech stacks like Doubleclick, Adobe or AOL with some more offline functionality bolted on? I.e. is this another stack, but with a few points of differentiation?
Tim: I don’t believe there is anything like it in the marketplace. Doubleclick have a DSP and a third party ad server but their systems aren’t people based. So in the US, retail transactions, in-store sales account for 94 percent of transactions. E-commerce only represents six percent and Doubleclick only gives you visibility for six percent. Also Doubleclick is a cookie based system and uses pixels and cookies it is not a people based system, so it can do multi format and multi device but it can’t link the same person behind those devices. That is a hugely critical factor when doing reach and frequency executing campaigns. I need to know if I’ve shown this person this ad already, if we’re going beyond the frequency cap that sells the product it’s just a waste. Doubleclick is cookie based and we’re people based.
Probably the closest to us is what Atlas is doing on Facebook. They are just an ad server today. They don’t have a people based DSP, you can’t buy inventory on the open web leveraging that ad server, it’s simply a people based ad server but it doesn’t do video serving just display ads. It not ready for mobile yet, just desktop.
Now that we have come out into the marketplace, the entire market is going to know what to do, and that’s the advantage of being a first mover. There isn’t a multi-screen, multi-device people based platform and the in-store sales measurement is so critical to this because 94 percent of the sales are still coming from store. If you’re optimizing media budgets without taking into account 94 percent of the revenue, you can imagine how false some of those budgets can be.
VAN: So how do you link an ad exposure to an offline sale?
Chris: There are a few different methods, if you walk into a store and pay by a means other than cash, the retailer keeps track of your name, zip code of the store, and then they work with offline data companies to expand that profile like Experian. The retailer will then match that data with us on some data point, like email, name, and phone number. There are several different data matches we can use to find the same consumer. As long as we have that same consumer in our database and the retailer has it too, we have a data match.
Tim: At its simplest form it comes down to your identity as a consumer. That’s pretty consistent throughout your life, email lasts a long time, phone numbers last, addresses. Really what it comes down to is that you can say I showed a Starbucks ad to Tim on this mobile phone yesterday. He walked into Starbucks and made a purchase, the ad cloud is working with the POS system to do a background and then the marketing department knows that spend worked.
Vincent: How do you anonymise the data?
Chris: Facebook uses a similar process, it’s called MD5 haching. It looks at a combination of characters that’s completely anonymous and gives you a unique code similar to cookie IDs. But if the store has the same code as we do, then we can match the customer. It follows all the privacy guidelines. Every country is different, German laws are different to other places. One of the big advantages we have as an organisation. We think we’ve raised the bar for consumer privacy. Here’s what I mean, in the current environment, consumers have no idea what’s happening behind the scenes, all the organisations that are dropping cookies, selling data to third parties that is completely not transparent to consumers etc.
When you’re dealing with the world of PII you do need consent from consumers so there must be an opt-in, registration-based website that says hey we’re going to take your data and use it for personalised advertising. This is an opt-in driven process rather than an opt-out process which is the current ecosystem. So I think for consumers it raises the bar for them because you give clear notice on what you’re doing and the consumer has the choice to say yes or no.
VAN: So, if you were dealing with my dad when he’s using cash for example, would you still be able to track him?
Tim: If he’d never opt in he’d be just off the grid. He wouldn’t be in our database so we wouldn’t be able to match with them. Typically, marketers never get a 100 percent match, there’s still cash and other things that affect that. We don’t have a 100 per cent of society that are in our database. That’s the point of saying that it’s an opt-in mechanism.
VAN: What’s happening with MySpace? Is it a data repository or is it going to be relaunched?
Chris: We bought it in 2011, we spent 2 years revamping the platform. We relaunched it in June 2013 and MySpace has been one of the quietly but fastest growing sites in the US in 2014. Multi-platform numbers on MySpace have been 50.6 million unique users from Comscore. A lot of the social aspects to the site are still there but we tried to focus it more on the entertainment and music aspects of MySpace and it has been doing really well. We have a lot of different people who come and upload their music but also a lot of companies are uploading video content we’ve been really successful of helping to promote that on the platform, getting a lot of video usage. There’s a little bit of an element of Youtube, people uploading content and people watch it, it’s happening on MySpace but it’s happening more specifically on the youth and music oriented demographic, but it’s doing really well and we’re really happy with it.
VAN: Vindico have always been keen to stress that they’re s separate and independent entity from Specific Media and MySpace. Are you bringing them closer together now?
Tim: We’re branding the holding company and we’re turning it into an operating company and Vi is now the parent corp and it is a technology company. The other brands still serve their purpose and they still live on their own of course underneath the parent company. The parent company before was called Interactive Media Holdings but it didn’t actually do anything. Now it’s doing something. It’s launching an ad cloud. There is a separation between Vindico and Specific Media, Vindico services advertisers for their ad serving business. Specific Media is completely different, it packages up media campaigns and solutions for marketers or their agencies. There’s still that same separation between the entities.
VAN: Will your subsidary brands (MySpace, Vindico, Specific Media and Xumo) continue in their current guise or will they be rolled into the Enterprise Advertising Cloud?
Chris: No, they’ll still live on their own and I think they’ll just get stronger by maintaining a degree of independence. However, you’ll start to see other news – Specific Media will start to use capabilities in the IMP, it’s going to power Specific Media’s cross-device capabilities. Vindico’s business, you see Facebook is launching Atlas, more of a people based ad server approach. Vindico has about 350 customers in the US, the world’s largest brand, they would like to get into the people-based game as well because they have a huge retail footprint and they want to measure their digital advertising investment impact in store. You’ll start to see Vindico customers can tap into the IMP as well.