Tech Bytes with Scott Swanson, CEO of Aki Technologies

Modern customers act differently across various digital channels. 2016 was the year of the mobile, and 2017 is most likely to be no different either, thanks to the proliferation of AI and newly added definitions of mobile customer experience. According to this report, with over $25 billion in spending in the US alone, mobile internet advertising now accounts for a 3rd of all internet ad spend. In spite of this, most marketers continue to fall short in deciphering customer needs and creating micro-moments throughout the journey. Aki Technologies, the first ad platform built for mobile moments,  announced in April that it has created a Strategic Accounts division, appointing Polly Lieberman as SVP of Strategic Accounts and Cristi Basch as VP of Strategic Accounts. This new division will be dedicated to serving the growing number of brands and agencies that are making “moments” a key pillar in their marketing strategies.

Scott Swanson CEO, Aki Technologies
Scott Swanson,
CEO, Aki Technologies

MTS spoke to Scott Swanson, CEO at Aki Technologies to know more about the changing dynamics of mobile advertising and the necessity to deliver “Mobile Moments”.

MTS: Scott, tell us about your role at Aki and how you got here?

Scott Swanson (Scott): I’ve worked in digital advertising my entire career and have always found the opportunity for making advertising work in a new, digital medium to be a fascinating challenge. In 2010, I founded a company called Mobile Theory, whose goal it was to see if we could convince brand advertisers to spend in mobile. At the time, it was primarily ‘ringtone’-type advertisers who spent in mobile…that wasn’t very long ago! Well, of course, we and many others successfully got the brands to migrate their budgets to mobile and Mobile Theory was acquired by Opera Mediaworks in 2012. I served as President of Opera’s advertising sales & operations division but I felt like there was more to do to solve the most important problems of this industry.

Primarily, brands had come to mobile but weren’t taking what a person was doing or feeling into account when delivering them an ad on a mobile device. I felt like there was a ton of opportunity to help solve this problem, and so we decided to launch Aki Technologies to help.

MTS: Help us define – “Mobile Moments” and “User Experience”. How is User Experience related to Mobile Moments?

Scott: A person engaged with his or her smartphone might be watching a video, engaging on social, getting directions, reading news, checking the weather, shopping… the possibilities are endless. While the versatility and convenience are great for consumers, it poses a challenge for advertisers—if you’re approaching your audience at a time when they’re not in the right mindset for your message, you’re wasting your investment, maybe even creating a negative impression.

Mobile moments solve this by providing a framework from which to better understand and approach consumers. By analyzing the full range of mobile data signals, moments tell advertisers more than simply whether a person is within their target segment or at a relevant location. Instead, brands can interpret an individual’s mindset to determine if this is, indeed, a productive time to connect. Mobile moments give brands greater emotional intelligence, so they can approach consumers with greater empathy, drive stronger engagement and ultimately eliminate friction in the user experience.

MTS: What are the Three Tiers of Optimization as mentioned by Aki?

ScottAt Aki, we look at optimization from three angles. First, we examine the full range of mobile data signals—everything from location, to session length, context/apps, demographics, even external factors like weather, as well as CRM and third-party data—to interpret the type of experience or moment a consumer is having. This helps us understand if the consumer is in the right mindset for an advertisement from a particular brand. Then we drill down to determine what type of ad format is most likely to drive the intended result—for example if the consumer is in a ‘lean-back’ moment, our data has shown they are more likely to respond to a rich media ad.

The third tier is creative—what type of message, imagery, etc. is most likely to drive a response. These optimizations are fueled by data we’ve gained through our own moment insights and targeting and powered by machine learning. It’s a process that happens instantly and, as a result, allows us to consistently exceed expectations on campaign KPIs.

MTS: What are the key metrics in Mobile Advertising that helps marketers to decipher user behavior?

ScottIn the early days of mobile, there was a lot of emphasis on the same metrics the industry leans on in digital, like click-through, engagement, and video completion rates. Today, it’s exciting to see more brands and agencies recognize that mobile’s impact isn’t limited to on-screen engagement; for example, there’s a tremendous opportunity to drive in-store conversions. This brings us back to the versatility of mobile—as an advertiser, you can achieve a really broad range of objectives on devices but the challenge comes in crafting campaign strategies that influence the desired metrics. This is where moment targeting and optimization really delivers.

Driving performance in the right direction begins with reaching your audience while they’re in the mindset that correlates to a particular response.

MTS: Audience Segmentation and Predictive Analytics are keys to building creative mobile-centric marketing & advertising campaigns. Enlighten our readers with some examples from Aki’s own digital experiences.

ScottAt Aki, we spend a lot of time analyzing the mobile experience to understand which variables have the greatest impact on ad performance, and we’ve zeroed in on ‘ad receptivity’ as a really critical but typically neglected factor to mobile success.  When it comes to the device experience, a person might be more receptive to an ad at one moment than another; they might be more receptive to an ad for a specific product or brand at a given moment; they might be more likely to engage with a specific type of ad format. This means that audience segmentation, while naturally essential to a campaign strategy, isn’t enough to ensure ad impact and drive efficiency.

We use predictive analytics, applying machine learning to the deep insight we’ve gained enabling moment-targeted campaigns,  to help advertisers gauge which moments represent the strongest levels of receptivity, and understand how that receptivity plays out in terms of creative and response. This additional level of insight goes a long way in eliminating wasted impressions and friction in the user experience.

MTS: Brand Safety and Audience enhancement are benchmark mobile advertising metrics. How does Aki help customers acquire audience enhancement for maximum ROI in a brand-safe ecosystem?

ScottThe vast majority of Aki’s clients are interested in branding, and require brand-safe environments for their advertising to run in. First, we run all ads exclusively in-app, and there are safeguards built in to running in-app only. Apple and Google have high content standards for apps to be included in their app stores.

In addition, we conduct a weekly review of the apps we work with to audit content and traffic guidelines we have in place with the publishers we partner with.

MTS: We hear a lot about “Real-Time” data analysis for mobile retargeting and engagement. Scott, help our readers understand what should they expect when a mobile advertising platform promises to deliver mobile targeting and insights?

ScottToday, there’s no shortage of technology that can help you reach your audience segment in or geographical areas, during certain times of the day, with different ad formats, so it may be tempting to imagine that the window to differentiate in mobile targeting has closed. But a lot of this is really device-centric.

What was missing—and, as such, really limiting the opportunity for impact and ROI in mobile ads—was a platform that took all of this data and interpreted it in a way that offered a higher level of insight on the consumer.

That’s what got us into moment targeting in the first place. We wanted to use data in a way that made advertisers smarter and more effective at building connections, to raise the bar on the consumer experience. Along the way, we’ve had the opportunity to gain a ton of insight on the variables in consumer response across different moments, for different verticals and audience segments.

But, the learning doesn’t stop, and that is perhaps the most important expectation of a mobile targeting solution—it’s not just what can it do today to improve performance, but also how it evolves in time with consumer behavior. Mobile advertising is a long game, and the advertisers who understand that are the ones who are going to  succeed.

MTS: How do you see mobile targeting technology evolving further with AI and Machine Learning?

ScottFor all the complexity of AI and machine learning, the benefit is simple: It helps advertisers extract more value out of data. The ability to process more information, faster; to recognize patterns in consumer behavior; to speed up the optimization process for campaigns while also continually optimizing itself—all of this offers a meaningful competitive edge in a tough, complex landscape.

Of course, as more advertisers embrace one or another AI-powered solution, the advantage belongs to the advertiser with the most relevant data and the technology that is most effective at processing that data to predict receptivity. At Aki Technologies, we’re working hard to deliver on both counts.

MTS: How deep is Aki into programmatic? How do you see the impact of programmatic in mobile advertising on Mobile Moments?

ScottThere’s a common critique of programmatic that says, essentially, the intense degree of automation works against the opportunity to build meaningful emotional connections in advertising. Mobile moment targeting offers a really consumer-centric approach to advertising, bridging the gap between data and empathy in a way that addresses programmatic’s shortcomings. It’s a natural and advantageous match.

MTSAd Blocking and Customer Experience – why do you think customers install ad blockers despite being offered top-end CX?

ScottToday, control is a major theme in user experience—we’re empowered to customize what apps display on our screen, what content providers we engage with, when and how we engage with them—so it’s not surprising that ad blocking has become popular. It is another really effective means of taking control of the mobile (and desktop) experience. But, that’s only part of the story here.The other part is that the customer experience is not consistently “top-end” in mobile.

There are countless websites that are luring audiences in with click bait and serving clunky, click-optimizing experiences to drive revenue. Even the savviest mobile consumers sometimes get trapped in this “desperate web” and that experience can poison the well for sites and brands that operate on a higher level of integrity.

Ad blockers offer a band-aid for the problem, but the real solution comes from advertisers and sites working together to raise the bar on experience.

MTS: Can AI/ML help advertisers and publishers overcome the Ad Blocking challenges? Trends and Future Insights

ScottYes, and it all comes back to making smarter decisions with data. Right now consumers are frustrated because they know what their mobile device is capable of, they understand at least the fundamentals of advertising, and yet they’re still getting ad experiences that aren’t relevant during a given moment or even at all. It’s understandably frustrating.

With AI, advertisers can more effectively deliver on the long-standing promise of digital and mobile advertising so consumers finally get the right message, the right experience, during the right moments. This brings more value to brands and publishers and can help reverse the Machiavellian approach to clicks and ad revenue that propels the ad blocking trend.

MTSAccording to you, what are the biggest challenges within Mobile Advertising in 2017 and beyond?

ScottRight now the biggest and most costly gap is caused by a lack of understanding of consumer behavior. Fragmentation, the warp-speed evolution of tech, the rise of new platforms—there are many reasons why it’s difficult to keep pace with consumer change. That’s why every advertiser and publisher must constantly ask—and then revisit—the question of how to understand their audience better, particularly in the context of mobile.

How, when, where, and why do they use their devices? When and how are they most likely to engage with an ad? How does mobile fit into their path to purchase? When are they most likely to visit a store? These are the insights that drive performance and business growth today.

MTSBots versus Real Human Connections – Do you see bots disrupting mobile moment?

ScottMobile moments are all about interpreting data to understand the consumer mindset and needs of a given moment. For this reason, bots are deeply dependent on the kind of insight that comes from a mobile moment framework. Brands will increasingly build mobile moment profiles as a standard component of their audience personas.

MTS: Location-based analytics and people-based marketing are critical to the success of mobile-first campaigns. How do you see CMOs adopting mobile targeting and retargeting technologies in 2017?

ScottWe see CMOs starting to see the improved results from approaching mobile in the right way. So I feel like they are going to get smarter about retargeting. Those that don’t, won’t succeed.

MTSWhat startups within AI/ML and programmatic are you watching/keen on right now?

ScottWe’re really intrigued by what the folks over at Parsec media are doing around time-based pricing models for digital advertising. The concept that there are more valuable and less valuable impressions is something that’s close to our value proposition, but because advertising has been bought with this cost-per-thousand pricing model for decades, it’s going to be a challenge to introduce a time-based model. We really respect the folks that are trying to disrupt that model and may follow suit ourselves.

MTS: We recently did a piece — Modern Marketers Awry About Turning into Data Scientists! What is your opinion on this?

ScottWe’re well past the point where a marketer can eschew data in their day-to-day operations and overall strategy—it’s a standard part of the competitive mix now. That said, it’s reasonable if marketers feel overwhelmed by the pressure to drive a greater value of data and the general rate of change in the industry. The solution is identifying the right resources—team, partners, technology—to help navigate the landscape and, today, a data scientist should be among those resources.

MTS: Thank you, Scott, for your insights on mobile advertising. We look forward to having you again at MTS  soon. 

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