Interview with Cree Lawson, Founder & CEO, Arrivalist

Cree Lawson
[mnky_team name=”Cree Lawson” position=” Founder & CEO, Arrivalist”][/mnky_team]
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[mnky_testimonial_slider][mnky_testimonial name=”” author_dec=”” position=”Designer”]“CMOs’ Catch-22 is that they want consolidated marketing stacks—where impressions, placements, ad operations, billing and attribution are all tied to the same common units of measurement and attribution.”[/mnky_testimonial][/mnky_testimonial_slider]

On Marketing Technology

MTS: Tell us about your role at Arrivalist and how you got here. (what inspired you to join/start a martech company)

For nearly a decade, measuring offline responses to online advertising has become near and dear to me—it’s a major, painful problem that all marketers need to eventually resolve. To solve this, I always knew that the location of a mobile device would emerge as the linchpin for surfacing mobile marketing’s most relevant and insightful KPIs.

But what I was missing was the right laboratory to use mobile device location as a way to measure media effectiveness. After nearly a decade since founding Travel Ad Network Inc., I became all too familiar with the fact that destination marketing organizations (DMOs) consistently faced perilous funding challenges with their local governments because they lacked a trustworthy performance metric to prove digital media and advertising worked.

I started Arrivalist because I realized it made a lot of sense for me to start with destination marketing as the first breeding ground to perfect the use of mobile device location to measure marketing effectiveness. There was a major need, and I quickly jumped at the opportunity.

In 2011, we launched a platform before ‘location analytics’ as we know it today even existed. Now, my original thesis is being validated every day—we have grown 186% YOY, gained category leadership with DMOs, and expanded into additional markets that can significantly benefit from our matured solutions.

MTS: Given the massive proliferation of marketing technology, how do you see the martech market evolving over the next few years?

–  There are several trends I see taking shape over the next five years in marketing technology: Location analytics and transaction analytics emerging as the primary KPI, replacing the current reliance on clicks or media engagement.

–  Increased ability to deliver marketing messages to known identities across devices; rather than relying on targeting based on cookies.

–  Consolidation of media channels and fewer “long tail” media outlets.

–  Continued automation of marketing will replace cheeks in seats at media sales organizations and agencies.

–  Convergence of attitudinal research (surveys) and behavioral research (analytics) – clients ask us all the time to merge our data with survey data that they have been relying on for the past 20 years.

MTS: What do you see as the single most important technology trend or development that’s going to impact us?

Consolidation of identities across devices, browsers and media. Imagine coordinating a program to deliver the same message to the same individual over all their devices (including TV).

MTS: What’s the biggest challenge that CMOs need to tackle to make marketing technology work?

Objectivity and independence with regard to attribution. Marketers can be prone to relying on ecommerce conversion tracking that gives credit to the impression for any response that follows it; as opposed to incremental approaches that credit the impression for any lift in response that follows impressions compared to response rates from un-exposed users.

Every martech provider has a stake in the attribution game. Finding a partner who is providing unvarnished insights without regard for media-based sales incentives will continue to be a challenge.

MTS: What would be your advice to CMOs when they start planning to invest in Marketing Technologies?

Start with what matters to your company’s bottomline and develop an objective way to measure it. Then build your media programs based on the business outcomes you desire and measure these programs independently or through independent partners that are aligned with your long-term success.

MTS: How do you see People-based marketing and location analytics ecosystem change in next 3 years?

The holy grail for people-based marketing is the ability to tie browsers and devices to fixed, individual identities across all online and offline media, including TV. It’s a foregone conclusion that media titans like Facebook and Google will be able to create this identity targeting. But who will fill the void of reach and frequency that extends beyond social and search, respectively? And who will tie identification into the rapidly emerging landscape of network-enabled devices like wearable computers?

Location analytics, along with transaction analytics, are already emerging as critical KPIs for digital marketers, and these will inevitably supplant current engagement metrics and clicks as the most essential metrics going forward. The largest media companies will increasingly place their bets on one technology or another, most likely through M&A activity. All the traditional research companies like Nielsen, comScore and others will need partners or assets in the location analytics space. We could see the emergence of beacons and wearable devices as location data providers as well.

MTS: Do you think all marketing technologies, as a combination, can still solve challenges in data management, customer experience and attribution?

CMOs’ Catch-22 is that they want consolidated marketing stacks—where impressions, placements, ad operations, billing and attribution are all tied to the same common units of measurement and attribution. And yet if they choose one marketing stack and buy all your media from one vendor, you have much less need for agencies and CMOs. Boards can’t justify spending big portions of their marketing budgets to support one or two media buys.

MTS: A lot of martech companies are preparing for an IPO. What are the factors that CEO considers before filing an IPO?

A clear path to executing on the opportunity outlined in the prospectus. We’ve seen some really rocky IPOs lately. Firms quickly establish themselves as being worthy of investor’s trust (or not) and that will be reflected in the firms’ valuation for years to come.

MTS: What Start-ups are you watching/keen on right now?

The hyper local space is booming, and I see digital marketers paying increasingly serious attention to measurement and attribution services—especially in the travel industry.

That’s why we’re closely watching various technologies and companies in areas that focus on transforming, enriching and even visualizing large data sets. All these capabilities are essential to the value we provide our clients. Going forward, their needs will only become even more sophisticated.

MTS: What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2017?

We use a variety of tools and partners to support marketing’s far-reaching and continuously expanding responsibilities. This includes a content management system to manage our website; email service provider (ESP) to nurture clients and prospects; social platforms to extend our message to relevant networks; and more advanced tools such as Insightly or Mixpanel to help us analyze customer habits and activate strategic programs from their behaviors.

MTS: Could you tell us about a standout digital campaign? (Who was your target audience and how did you measure success)?

Ad Age recently covered a campaign that we’re really proud of with the city of Asheville in North Carolina. By working with Arrivalist, Marla Tambellini, VP-marketing and deputy director for the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, was able to determine which vendors and media partners are most effective when delivering messages to potential visitors to their city. Prior to partnering with us, it was nearly impossible for Marla and her team to be able to make these kinds of strategic decisions because they lacked proper, holistic data.

Our main approach was to help Asheville track which markets visitors come from, plus which specific ads and platforms influenced a consumer’s final decision to visit. The ultimate measurement of success we tracked was ‘arrivals’: the number of people that end up visiting Asheville as a result of ongoing media exposures via Rocket Fuel, Google, and other paid channels.

The location analytics insights we surfaced helped Marla make strategic vendor decisions as well as open up new potential opportunities to run media in different markets.

MTS: How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader?

AI is widely lauded and will obviously have a profound impact. But what’s often overlooked is the level of refinement needed to extract the most value out of your input variables.

With major opportunities at stake with AI, marketing executives need to remain acutely cognizant of garbage in/garbage out results. At Arrivalist, we focus on creating the most well-informed and accurate media-driven insights. Combined with AI, there’s no stopping what digital marketers can achieve. Our data, boosted by AI can help digital marketers build even more powerful models and insights to develop and optimize better media programs.


MTS: One word that best describes how you work.

Curious. I’m always questioning, always exploring, and always trying to discover something new. I’m fond of saying that in adtech, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

MTS: What apps/software/tools you love using for your daily life?

I’ve been using this app called Mobile Day—it’s a great way to keep up with all my meetings and appointments. And I’m always watching my score on Lumosity during commutes.

MTS: What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

I refuse to buy shoes with laces. Its pre-enlightenment technology and wastes my time. Time to move on, shoe world!

MTS: What are you currently reading? (What do you read/watch, and how do you consume information?)

YouTube is a treasure trove of easily accessible statistics, economics and mathematics videos. For example, I recently watched this YouTube from the World Science Festival called The Illusion of Certainty: Risk, Probability, and Chance. That’s where my leisure ‘lean-back’ viewing time goes. And beyond The New Yorker, most of my reading time goes into trying to understand my two and five year old sons.

MTS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

From Cross Country in college: You’re faster than 90% of the field. The hard part is working out harder than the other 10%.

MTS: Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

I take a lot of pride in listening intently to a client’s stated and observed needs and using them, not directly, but to figure out the thinking behind them and plan to meet future needs.

For instance, industry insiders told me that the product we have in market now would have been too expensive for the clients we were planning to take it to. But we built it knowing that there would be a growing need for attribution and accountability in the industry. Traditional survey methodologies and data just weren’t convincing stakeholders that ads influenced visits and we knew that the marketplace could afford the price of cutting-edge ad tech if they needed it to justify their existence.

MTS: Tag the one person whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Jeff Bezos. He was already the Father of eCommerce but he didn’t stop there. He reinvented distributed data storage and is now—in my mind—the leading pioneer of home computing with Alexa. He’s an underappreciated entrepreneur—arguably more impactful than Steve Jobs.

Cree Lawson is a new media pioneer with a focus on early-stage vertical media companies and emerging digital advertising technologies. Cree is best known for starting Travel Ad Network Inc. (TAN)–one of the leading Vertical Ad Networks–with less than $500,000 in investment and turning it into the largest travel information audience in the world. Prior to founding Travel Ad Network, Lawson served in a variety of Management, Sales, Business Development and Marketing roles at Random House, the Associated Press, Gannett, Time Warner Trade Publisher and two Internet start-ups.


Arrivalist is a Location-Change Attribution Analytics platform that measures the way media moves us. Formed in 2012 by Cree Lawson, the company’s patent-pending technology is used by Destination Marketers across the country, including California, Virginia, Kansas, New Orleans, Louisiana; Palm Beaches, Florida; and more. The company analyzes big data to evaluate which media exposures motivate consumers to travel to new destinations, yielding powerful new insights as to how — in aggregate — media displays influence travel behaviors.

[mnky_heading title=”About the MarTech Interview Series” link=”|||”]

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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