What’s In Store For Marketers in 2013? The Data Knows!

As seen in: MediaPost Publications

exelate smart dataIt’s that time of year again.

Digital prognosticators beg their data scientists to run predictive algorithms to determine the likelihood of the coming year’s events. With almost zero accountability and no proclivity toward self-serving predictions (wink), I offer my look at the headlines from the year ahead.

1.  Programmatic buying eclipses the 50% mark. Audience buying, BT and RTB have already gone mainstream for marketers. You don’t need a Magic 8 Ball to see that 2013 will be the year that the machines take over for good. The last of the premium publisher holdouts (Turner, ESPN, etc.) will join the fray by creating their own “private markets” and will become exchanges by another name. Fewer lunches at The Breslin, more high-speed media-trading servers!

2. Mobile online video consumption tops PC viewing (and approaches TV). Tablets, smartphones and E-readers are rapidly becoming the go-to devices for streaming video. Faster wiFi, cheaper 4G services and better video-compression solutions are helping drive the “video anywhere” explosion — eliminating the “lean in” experience of a laptop. A recent Nielsen study saw mobile video consumption increase by 25.9% year-over-year, while TV viewing dropped 1.8%, albeit from different bases (TV still has a 1.5x lead). This device gap will erode over the year and we will enter 2014 with a new video champion across the board.

3. Marketers get serious about leveraging their data. First-party data has never had more potential in the digital marketing world. With CRM on board, advanced retargeting and first-party data modeling will all gain steam as marketers look to differentiate their consumer outreach by employing their vast amount of owned data. Offline data companies, which have performed “list modeling” for direct marketers for decades, will scramble to keep up with the rapid pace of data-driven digital marketing advancements. M&A will be their answer.

4. A major magazine publisher goes digital only — with a twist. After years of declining revenue and readership, a top consumer publisher group stops the presses and goes tablet only. Google underwrites the whole endeavor by distributing tablets to current subscribers (filled with Google ads, of course) and finally gets knee-deep in the content business. Shouts of “revolutionary” and “traitor” are bandied about in equal measure by the publisher’s rivals as they secretly wish they were extended the lifeline. Fashion editors are suddenly seen in great numbers descending on SFO and looking for black sedans to take them to Mountain View.

5. The advertising battle lines are redrawn. The digital marketing war among Google-MSN-Yahoo-AOL will seem quaint as “rogue” ad warriors create chaos with new offerings. That little online bookstore, Amazon, along with a rapidly evolving Facebook, will shake up the balance of ad power in a serious way. Ownership of the consumers’ shopping and social life will trump any connection that content can create, while “traditional” digital media scrambles to catch up.

6. The industry determines “Big Data” isn’t Big Enough. After much confusion over how much data is actually “Big,” and who really has enough to be part of the club, a consortium of leading data companies agree that the term has been overused and must be revised. The group agrees the buzzword of 2013 will be “Ginormous Data” after turning down “F’ing Huge,” “Much Bigger than A Breadbox” and “My Brain Hurts” Data. IBM claims that it trademarked “Ginormous Data” in 1968 after a carpool of scientists missed the turn for Armonk and ended up in Woodstock. Lawsuits are settled amicably.

2013 will be a VC-fueled, M&A-frenzied, non-Facebook-IPO kind of year, where at least two new LumaScapes will be introduced (digital fast food delivery companies and the cosmetic surgery app ecosystem are rumored to be on tap) and numerous new conferences will be launched (The Digital Ad Targeting Tech Behavioral Mobile Social Summit in Malibu looks promising). I look forward to a fun-filled year working with you all!

A Note to Our Clients and Partners

eXelate Clients and Partners Worldwide:

I hope you are all safe and sound.

As you most likely know by now, New York City was hit with a devastating storm earlier this week which brought the region to a standstill. Electricity in most of lower Manhattan — the heart of Silicon Alley, and home to eXelate – remains spotty, and most public transit into the city and below 34th Street has been suspended.

After the safety of our employees, our clients are always our first priority. Rest assured, due to the diligent work of the eXelate Team, both our partners on the data buying and data sales sides have experienced only minimal service interruptions.

And, we are happy to say that as of last night, we are 100% fully operational. Data ingestion and delivery is at full capacity and all client interfaces are functional. Our tech and client service teams across the globe did a stellar job in keeping things humming.

However, because our NYC HQ is still without power and phone service, the best way to reach anyone on the eXelate team is via email; we will do our best to respond as soon as possible. We expect to be back in the office and up to full speed on Monday. In the meantime, we appreciate your patience and consideration as our team works to continue to provide impeccable service under trying conditions.

If there is anything we can help with over the next few days, from data service questions to a place to “plug in” once we get power, please do not hesitate to contact your client services rep or me directly at markz@exelate.com.

As always, we truly appreciate your partnership and look forward to continuing to grow our relationship in the coming months.

Best regards and here’s to a speedy recovery,


Nielsen Launches TV Targeting Data: eXelate Powers Changing Channels to Reach Consumers

Yesterday Nielsen announced the launch of their new TV data product for online advertisers, and we here at eXelate couldn’t be more excited. Beyond the fact that it is the first time that a company with the prestige of Nielsen has endeavored to connect TV viewing behaviors with online purchase activity, it also marks another significant step toward a “fully connected” consumer across multiple media.

Advertisers who have grown to trust Nielsen’s expertise in not just telling them “who” and “how many” are watching but also “why” can now take that knowledge and make it actionable in a whole new media for the first time. Imagine being able to deliver a consistent message from screen to screen – eliminating consumer confusion, mixed-messages and delivery hiccups. We are just about there.

The way most advertisers look to create multi-platform awareness between TV and online activity is still disjointed due to both the lack of consistent data and the channels by which to make that data actionable. Nielsen’s launch of TV data through the eXelate platform tackles both of those challenges – benefiting brands and, yes, consumers. Why consumers? Because more relevant advertising can also mean less advertising…something that all of us who have skipped a commercial or two on our DVR (gasp!) will think is a welcome development.

Just as there was a “golden age” of TV, I believe we are entering the “golden age of consumer-brand interaction,” powered by data, and delivering benefits for all of the players involved. Uncle Miltie never had it so good!

Audience Data Quality Control – 4 Tips to Help Marketers Navigate Third Party Data Providers

In the last three years, integrating audience data to improve the targeting for online ad campaigns has become an industry standard. Unfortunately, not all audience data is created (and sourced) equally.

On July 27th, in an article about Google and 3rd party data, Laurie Sullivan interviewed Colette Dill-Lerner, the VP of Internet Marketing at leading direct marketing company Guthy-Renker, who said that when she reviewed data files, she found nearly 50% of their gender data was wrong. In essence, the data used provided as much value as a coin toss.

In the same way that a few spammers hurt the entire email marketing industry, providers of inaccurate data hurt the data targeting industry.

So how can marketers ensure that they’re getting quality data to enhance targeting for their online advertising campaigns? Here are a few tips for conducting your own audience data quality control:

  • Buy data which has been verified by an independent 3rd Party. In 1914, the Audit Bureau of Circulations was established to verify magazine circulations by advertisers, agencies and publishers in order to end deceptive pricing practices in the magazine industry. Today, most advertising vehicles have their reach/frequency/circulation data verified by an external body. So why isn’t audience data verified? The same companies which verify online traffic data also have the tools to verify audience data to ensure that the gender data is correct. Seek certification when you can.
  • Buy data from a data provider which purchased the data directly from the source. With the growth in audience data usage, more and more vendors have started incorporating audience data into their offerings. To ensure the quality of the data they purchase, agencies and marketers should buy data either directly from the source OR from a data provider who purchased the data directly from the source. This way, there will always be someone accountable for the data. You shouldn’t have to be a detective to sniff out a source.
  • Buy data from a provider with enough range, volume and activity to support your campaign goals and enough of a track record to vet the data. When buying audience data, the audience segment you think will perform best is not always the one which actually performs best. The best results come from testing and analyzing campaign performance, and optimizing the data segments as the campaign progresses. That’s why it’s important to purchase audience data from a provider with a broad enough range of data segments to enable testing and analysis, and enough scale to reach your campaign goals. Plus, a long history of successfully performing campaigns at scale provides feedback to ensure that segments are regularly vetted and put to the test in the real world.
  • Make sure that your verification methods match the data capture and targeting methods. If you are buying data that is derived at a household level and your campaign goals are targeting at an individual level, you have a data/performance mismatch that will not only result in poor verification scores, but also poor campaign performance. Ensure that your measurement criteria match with how the data was sourced and what your targeting efforts are trying to accomplish. A great place to start to understand data definitions is the IAB’s Data Lexicon, a detailed primer on the who, what and where of data sourcing. Additionally, it is critical to “test your tester” – dig deep into the methodology and check that it too complies with industry standards. As accuracy standards still aren’t “standard”, incompatibility between data collection and verification processes are rampant, and can unfortunately provide both false positives and negatives.

Audience targeting data is driving huge gains in campaign ROI. But, as its use proliferates, agencies and marketers need to take the necessary quality control measures to ensure their data sources are transparent, the data product is regularly vetted at scale and that campaign goals and performance metrics are aligned.

Occupy eXelate (Jobs)

In light of the big “day of action” by Occupy Wall Street on Tuesday, I thought it was an appropriate time to talk about a common theme of the protests: jobs. Over and over again we hear the chants of “jobs for the 99%.”

However, the positions of the protesters stand in stark contrast to the reality that my company and many ad tech start-ups face in NYC every day – too many jobs and not enough great people to fill them.

Currently at eXelate we have over 10 positions that have been challenging to fill at various levels of experience. And, in speaking with colleagues at other start-ups, they are experiencing the same issue. Meanwhile, recruiters are raking in the dough hand over fist to squeeze round pegs into square holes, while young, smart people are marching for more opportunity. Where is the disconnect?

I don’t profess to be an economist (though I did play one on TV), but in my opinion, the real factors that are making it hard to find folks to fill key tech roles in NYC boils down to:

  1. Education. We aren’t training either undergrads or MBAs to be competitive in the new economy. Grades as opposed to practical application and theory as opposed to practice are still the focus of an educational system that continues to train our young people as though they will all work at GE. The days of large multi-nationals driving domestic growth are over. Innovation is the key to our future. We need to educate our young people to take ownership, not orders; to think out of the box, not how to pack it better.
  2. Expectations. Now I am going to sound like my Dad (I guess I am a Dad so it is OK), but the concepts of “10th-place-gets-a trophy-T-Ball”, reality television as an easy path to riches, and the glamorization of any job that isn’t in an office (Mad Men excluded) have created the unrealistic expectation of what “rewarding” employment means. Interestingly enough however, I think that life in a start-up is one of the best ways to really experience the excitement of the highs and lows in life in an environment that tends to be much more inclusive (and yes, even coddling) than most large firms can offer. Sending this message loud and clear to our candidate pool can help slowly make an image change.
  3. Risk Taking. Start-ups fail…often. And start-ups in ad tech are no exception. Although there is uncertainty in any job, in any era, the recent recession seems to have created a generation fearful of taking risks when it comes to their future. This hurts the ability of an industry growing as quickly as ours to sustain that growth. We need to do a better job communicating the benefits of creative destruction for prospective employees and not penalizing those who have been part of a “failed enterprise.” They most likely learned far more than those who have only seen success.

We have one of the best teams in ad tech at eXelate, and we are always looking for great people who are looking to break new ground. As one of our newest team members noted when asked why she joined: “I didn’t want to be a cog in the machine. I wanted to be a part of a team that could get things done from day one.”

If you are interested in being more than a “cog in the machine” – take a shot at joining our team by contacting us directly. You can view all of our openings here.

Predictions for 2012: Data is Everywhere!

From election campaign results to Olympic medal tallies, 2012 is going to be all about data.

Even though a foreboding sense of “data fatigue” seemed to be emerging at the end of 2011, from my analytically-biased point of view, data will once again be on the tip of everyone’s tongue in the coming year. Not, however, as the buzzword  “flavor of the moment”, but as a key component in all digital ad activity.  A few key predictions for 2012:

1. Data becomes the “lead” as opposed to the “follower” in digital media buys.

Data has been the media planner’s best friend for a number of years, helping them decide where to invest their client’s media budget based on the relevant data presented by each publisher’s/network’s sales teams. But as media planners become more and more conversant in data, we’re going to see original, proactive campaign plans based on both structured and dynamic audience composition targets. Media selection will become a secondary consideration.  And, although  pre-constructed “audiences” will still be important, particularly those based on robust branded data sets (such as Nielsen PRIZM clusters), custom segmentation based on performance criteria will lead the way for both DR and branding campaigns.

2. Cookie cutter data will lose traction vs. customized segmentation.

Per the above, advances in the quality of planning as well as innovations in data and audience modeling – based on the combination of first and third party data assets – will drive a new era in digital data targeting. The days of “one size fits all” data will slowly begin to fade.

3. Audience targeting breaks free of the PC.

As data targeting has focused on PC-based advertising to date, 2012 will see the process introduced to other venues, namely mobile devices and addressable TV. As mobile application companies and ad networks seek to accelerate their revenue and create more aggressive business models next year, data will be one of the first places they look. Addressable TV companies will start to come of age as well, as “test budgets” morph into real dollars as data-based audience targeting scales in the coming year.

4. Group buying becomes more refined.

As group buying matures in 2012, the “spray and pray” versions of daily deals and buying groups will have no choice but to implement better, more refined tactics to maintain sales and customers. The group buying companies that will survive 2012 will do so by integrating Geographical, Vertical and Audience driven targeting into their marketing operations in order to compete with declining uptake. As with the early days of online advertising, targeting will be the key for their survival as the novelty of group buying wears off.

5. The digital personnel crunch gets worse.

Online advertising is becoming  further entwined with the hardcore data analytics world, and the demand for smart, ad-savvy mathematicians is growing exponentially. MediaMath’s Joe Zawadzki nailed it – Mad Men are becoming Math Men, and we are short A Few Good Men.  NYC, the hub of the advertising world, will quickly lose traction unless local schools spit out more quants. The new Cornell-Technion partnership can’t come fast enough!

6. The election will be won and lost online.

If social media was a critical component of the Obama victory in 2008, particularly in swing states like Indiana and Florida, it will be even more critical in 2012. Audience targeting, obsessive community building, targeted tweets and rich candidate video experiences will define the 2012 election. The candidate that can deliver the correct mix of these ingredients will take home the big prize.

From politics to ecommerce, it’s clear that in 2012 data may not make the same headlines it did in 2011, but it will be a key part of every story.

Yahoo = Data. Bartz Leaves, Fingers Point, and the (Misguided) Advice Begins

In the flurry of analysis that has followed the inevitable departure of Carol Bartz from Yahoo, most of the pundits cited Bartz’s lack of media experience as the ultimate nail in her coffin. The prevailing sentiment is that Yahoo is a “media company” and needs a “media person” at the helm in order to appeal to advertisers and “right the ship”.

This would be a great analysis – if it was 2006.

The online media landscape has changed so rapidly in the last few years, that even those knee-deep in the business don’t get the extent to which data and data enabling technologies have altered the display landscape. Merely calling for a new “media centric” head of Yahoo misses out on the key fundamental which is going on in the sector – that advertising decisions are increasingly being driven by data-fed, machine-learning-driven technologies. Media “brands” still remain important, but are rapidly ceding ground to performance focused display solutions. Analysts outside of the space have missed the boat on this concept and their cries of “hire a media guy!” are the equivalent of saying we need someone who took Econ 101 to get the country out of the recession. It’s a part of, but not even close to, the full solution.

Yahoo needs a data guy (or gal) to run the show. Yahoo is a massive data machine, which, next to Google, arguably captures more data than anyone else on the planet. If Bartz had one glaring miss during her short tenure, it was failing to see the data goldmine Yahoo was sitting on, and leveraging already outstanding in-house tools (RightMedia (!)) to take advantage of this. The company certainly has the technical chops, reach and resources to build a data juggernaut.

There is still time to change course, for sure. But the new captain needs to be more than media. They need to be a seasoned “data skipper” as well.

eXelate Data Segments….Now ComScore verified!

eXelate is excited to announce today that we are the first data marketplace to have their data verified by Comscore, one of the web’s premier measurement firms. We have always felt our data was a notch above the rest of the online data that was out there and now we have the third party “seal of approval” to prove it. As the online ad world gets increasingly confusing for advertisers, our partnership with Comscore offers advertisers the confidence that the audience they are targeting is the audience they want. Simply put, we were the first data marketplace to commit to an external evaluation and now we are the first to be able to say “you get what you pay for with eXelate audience data”!

WWCTD? (What Would Coach Taylor Do?)- 5 lessons start-ups can learn from Friday Night Lights

If you haven’t had a chance to check out the outstanding TV series Friday Night Lights you should “rush” to do so before it is relegated to the Netflix queue of cancelled shows. By far one for the best programs on television, each episode plays like a 2 hour movie complete with rich characters, complex, intertwining plot lines and action packed sports finales accompanied by swelling music and exceptional camera work. The centerpiece of the show, the small-town Taylor family, is headed up by high school football coach Eric Taylor.  Taylor (played by Kyle Chandler) is a straight shooting, yet sympathetic  “football evangelical” who has to balance the challenge of building a strong group of well-rounded young men growing up in less than ideal conditions with winning football games. Taylor (per some excellent script work by the show’s writers) seems to always be able to do both, while maintaining an incredible amount of integrity. He wins and he wins with his morals intact.

There are good number of parallels between Taylor’s East Dillon Lions and a tech start-up, and I have found that there us much to learn from the Coach. A few bits of wisdom:

“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”

The team’s mantra. There are many distractions in a start-up. Making sure that you stay focused on your key goal, and doing so with the greatest level of personal commitment possible is essential for start-up success.

“Don’t quit on me. Don’t quit on yourself”

Coach Taylor’s famous quote hits home with many in the start-up world. Building a business is hard. There are many more downs than ups. Embedding a sense of shared success (and sacrifice) helps the team avoid the attraction of  seeking seemingly greener pastures when times get tough.

Treat everyone like they could score the winning touchdown.

Because they can. From the most senior sales executive to the entry-level account manager, everyone on the team has the ability to become a star.

Don’t dwell on your losses . . . or your wins.

Like football teams, start-ups tend to make too much of big losses as well as big wins. Unless the lost deal or missed deadline will cripple the company, it is best to analyze, learn from the mistake and move on. Dwelling on it can have the same psychological impact that losing streak in sports has – a downward spiral in self-confidence that will begin to show to your partners, prospects, and competitors. The same thing goes on the “wins” side. You are only as god as your next game (or deal). Celebrate the victory, study what you did well and try to replicate it again. Don’t assume that things will be smooth sailing because of one great win, because there is always another team out there looking to break their (or your) streak.

Come clean with your mistakes.

Even the best of Coaches (or CEOs) make mistakes. Whether it is calling the wrong play on the field or building a product that flops, it is critical to admit your mistakes openly to the team, acknowledging how you will change and move on. Doing so earns respect and encourages the same type of behavior amongst the rest of your leadership team – which is critical in small businesses that are human capital-intensive.

Whether it’s “Lombardi” on Broadway, or the movie “Rudy”, the use of sports to draw performance analogies to many of life’s endeavors has always been around. And, there is no lack of Business “self help” books that I am sure can provide more directed and specific start-up advice. But for a dose of small business wisdom that goes down smooth as a West Texas breeze, you can learn a lot from a little football show on Friday nights.

Neil Armstrong was a Data Guy

Armstrong Loved Data

I read an extremely disappointing article this weekend about the slow dissolution of the U.S. Astronaut corps that is occurring with the de-funding of the manned spaceflight program at NASA. In a nutshell, the article stated that the best and brightest members of our space program were slowly being “let go” as their prospects of ever getting into space dwindled.

Call me a geek, but the fact that for the first time since I was born, there are no significant plans to put men in space for the next few decades, by the only country that has landed a man on the moon, is downright depressing. Ever since I was a kid, launching rockets in my backyard, using endless reams of my Dad’s used printer paper to draw new spaceships and debating the speed of the Millennium Falcon vs. the USS Enterprise, the thought of conquering space was an inspiration that gave a vision of the world in which there were no limits. And, like the U.S. Hockey victory in Lake Placid, it also helped calm my fears that we would not wake up in the “Red Dawn” world the media was hyping during the 80’s Second Cold War.

But, beyond my own personal “spaceboy” dreams and “Rah-rah USA” enthusiasm, there is a deeper, more disturbing impact that I believe the lack of enthusiasm for human spaceflight in this country will have.  Namely, a continued, marked decline in math and science interest among the next generation of future business leaders. It has become increasingly clear that analytics skills and data driven decision making are becoming core to almost every industry. From advertising to ecology, data is playing a role in how things are built, distributed, marketed, and maintained. Whether it is an ipod or the environment, math and science make it work.

Politicians and economists will posit that the investment in human spaceflight doesn’t yield the “bottom line” impact of other scientific endeavors. And initially on paper, they may seem right. But they aren’t factoring a huge variable that is somewhat intangible, but that those of us in the ad business know as “branding”.  In the same way that a Coke is “more” than brown, carbonated, sugar water, the impact of human space exploration goes well beyond the technical advancements in computing, medicine and aeronautics that the space program has created.

Put quite simply, astronauts are the physical embodiment of what great science and math education can lead to. Only one in 20M kids can become an astronaut in this country, but the vision and inspiration that these few men and women provide have filled the math and science programs in top Universities and driven entrepreneurs to build companies that have massive impacts on our life.  It’s not just conjecture. Maybe you have heard of a few guys that started a little search company, or that fellow who runs that small software concern. All self-proclaimed “space nerds” growing up.  Where will the next generation of business tech leaders get their inspiration? Videogames? Somehow I don’t see Halo inspiring anyone to do much other than blow up mutants.

The manned program is a small investment (NASA’s overall budget makes up less than .6% of the U.S. budget) with a huge impact. It has not only helped keep math and science on young people’s minds, but also been instrumental in creating a generation of tech entrepreneurs who have been one of the few bright lights in our recent economic malaise. Ignoring the ripple effect of the manned program is akin to shutting off this bright light and dampening the intellectual enthusiasm of tomorrow’s crop of dreamers – whether or not they make it into space.

So, the next time you leverage that young analytics guru to help optimize a campaign or enhance the algorithm in your SEO strategy to help drive new customers, thank an Astronaut. You may not have an opportunity to do either for very long.

NOTE: A much better written (and somewhat spiritual) treatise on this subject can be found in the book  The Dream of Spaceflight: Essays on the Near Edge of Infinity by Wyn Wachorst. I highly recommend it.