Category Archives: Lotame Learnings

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)