Interview with Allison Stern, Co-Founder and CSO, Tubular

Allison Stern

“Data is one thing, but insights are the key to the recommendations on what people really want. Nobody wants data on its own.”

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Tell us about your role at Tubular Labs and how you got here. What galvanized you to co-found Tubular Labs?

I founded Tubular Labs six years ago. I was always passionate about media, wanted to be in the media industry. When I was in college, I ran the TV station, then went out to Los Angeles and had an internship at 20th Century Fox. There, I realized that my passion was actually for the business side of the media — and interesting changes happening through digital media.

As Video was exploding, the challenge that really jumped out was the lack of measurement — lack of data and intelligence in the space. There was a lot of money from brands, platforms and media companies rushing into online video, yet no real data intelligence to help make the right decisions and spend money correctly. That need birthed Tubular. I knew I wanted to do something with data and online video, and through that, I got connected to Rob Gabel, my co-founder.

When we started the company, YouTube was the only social online video platform. But we realized pretty quickly it was going to be a cross-platform movement.

Given the changing dynamic of video monetization technologies, how do you see Video AdTech industry evolving by 2020?

I think what’s interesting about Tubular is that we are not ad tech. There’s obviously a huge space for ad tech and everything that’s happening. But for us, advertising is moving into content marketing. People engage with the new generation and the way they consume content, and they’re not impacted by ads. There’s skippable ads. There are ways to get around advertising, too. And brands are looking to tell stories and connect with audiences in a more organic way.

An ad, by definition, is an interruption, and nobody wants to be an interruption. They want to be the story that’s being told. There’s an entire industry built around ad tech and ad serving as extreme programmatic. It’s very scalable, and I don’t think anyone has figured out the scalable nature of content marketing, branded content and organic brand storytelling in that way.

For overall video monetization, the best and most impactful way to tell a story is through sight, sound and motion. Video is what people are craving and watching, and the direction things are going in.

The last five years have been about building views and eyeballs, and getting billions of views a month and proving how to build an audience. But the next five years will be about monetizing that audience and building sustainable businesses.

How is the global market for Video Intelligence technology shaping up with the greater maturity of DMPs and AI-driven analytics?

You cannot afford to avoid data. We live in a data-driven world, but there’s still creativity and creative is still a sacred thing. I don’t think we live in a world where everything is 100% data-driven. But I do think that you’re setting yourself up for failure if you don’t use the data to help drive your strategy. Though, data is one thing, but insights are the key to the recommendations (one step beyond that) on what people really want. Nobody wants data on its own. People want solutions.

As it relates to API-driven analytics, I don’t think that’s where technology is going for certain. We’re not necessarily there yet. I think that so much depends on the data set that you have. AI and machine learning on a non-comprehensive data set is less interesting. What Tubular offers is the most comprehensive global data platform in online video, measuring over 12 million publishers and creators and over 4.6 billion videos.

If you’re going to use data to make decisions, you want to have not just your own data, but all competitive data or market data, and audience data. And then beyond that, you don’t just want data, you want (and this is what Tubular does) the insights and nuggets that will help you make the right decisions on how you spend your money in the right way. The insights and recommendations help implement strategies in the right way.

What makes Tubular Labs different from other video intelligence platforms?

I really think Tubular is the only video Intelligence platform in the world. What intelligence means is comprehensive global data boiled into insights. Not just a pile of data, but a dashboard that highlights what’s important to you about trends occurring and atomic-level insights.

With Tubular, you can pivot from the most granular to the most market-wide information within one platform. You can see the specifics of any video at the topic level — for example, you know who’s making DIY hair-braiding videos in Germany. It could be the most granular to the most maximum category — like, hey, how did the entertainment category perform on Facebook this month?

There’s no comparison in terms of the data, the predictive insights, and the taxonomy we’ve used to organize all this data. It’s an extreme breadth of granularity with the insights.

What does your ‘Ideal Customer Profile’ look like? How do you build your Audience Segments?

When it comes to data, these are probably two separate questions. As it relates to audience segmentation in our data. I think the amazing thing about Tubular, is, we’re not doing anything manually. So, it’s choose-your-own-adventure, right? If you want to look at 18-to-35-year old women who engage with mom content, you can do that. Or if you want to look at female gamers, or male gamers in a given region, or gamers that engage with certain titles, or gamers that are also engaged with comedy content. Who are these people, what do they watch?

We have a panel of 400 million people who are engaging with video content, and we can slice and dice that in whatever way for you, or you can do it yourself through the software. Our AudienceGraph covers everything to allow every possibility so we don’t have to build custom audience segmentation on the fly. It’s already there.

How do you see the recent changes in data privacy laws (GDPR) impacting personalized customer experiences in video? How are you preparing for the post-GDPR disruptions?

Obviously, we take GDPR and data privacy very seriously. It’s important for Tubular, and we have made changes to increase data privacy and compliance with GDPR. We’re not cookie-based, so there’s probably some companies out there tracking people based on cookies, whose data goes away overnight. But what Tubular measures is public information.

For example, we measure public video data such as the view counter on a video and the number of likes, comments, or shares a public video gets. All of the data that Tubular measures is public, and does not include any private data. Then on top of that, we apply our secret sauce — modeling prediction — that’s based on the data. And we put in safeguards to protect that data. Tubular continues to make sure we’re in line with privacy demands, but we don’t see it impacting our data business.

What challenges must CMOs tackle to make their video marketing decisions work with accurate marketing attribution?

As a CMO myself, I have a lot of empathy for CMOs today. It’s really challenging to allocate marketing dollars for impact in this hyper-fragmented world. And attribution, of course, is the Holy Grail in terms of video marketing and defining goals and KPIs. What does success look like, and how does that change with the purpose of your video strategy?

There are some brands who have absolutely killed it and built a business on the back of video. Take Dollar Shave Club. Their initial introduction to the public was a with a video, and that led to greater success and then eventually getting acquired by Unilever.

At the same time, though, video can be completely forgettable if it doesn’t have an impact. Boiling down strategy: Do you want to be a brand that is building an organic content presence? If so, consistent views and engagement can be an evergreen strategy, but do you have the ability to make that strategy happen? Not many brands do, and that’s fine. Plenty of brands partner with creators and publishers, stepping back from being your own content studio and sending the product to influencers. They partner with publishers to create content that reaches your audience. And I think a lot of stuff is going on now because they will create the content for you, as well as handle distribution.

How to connect with audiences isn’t guesswork. You don’t just throw a video up and maybe it goes viral. That’s not the world we live in anymore. It’s all knowable. At the root of it is understanding the online video ecosystem, what works and what doesn’t — what do audiences crave? And then speaking that language, by effectively putting data to use.

What startups are you watching/keen on right now?

Given what Tubular does, I keep an eye on media companies that are creating content and excelling at it. Some of those I’ve been watching for a long time and wouldn’t even consider them startups anymore.  Creators like Jungle Creations and LADbible now average billions of views per month and are just killing it. Spoon University was acquired by Scripps last year.

Companies like Jumprope are doubling down on DIY videos. The thesis is the way people consume content is going to be more like Instagram. Not necessarily video, but engaging video snippets you can skip through and pause as needed. There and on other how-to platforms, you can intersperse education with actual lists/products to buy.

Outside of Tubular’s space, Compound is one blockchain company I’m following right now, and they’ve developed an open-source protocol for cryptocurrency money markets. Wonderschool is a software platform that empowers teachers to start preschools out of their homes. It’s an amazing business as well as a mission-driven company that dramatically increase access to high-quality early childhood care for all families.

What marketing and sales automation tools and technologies do you use?

We are Pardot and Salesforce users. I love Salesforce’s Einstein predictive lead scoring tool. We want to start using Drift, which uses bots and live chat features. We currently use Intercom for customer messaging, and have heard good things about Outreach for sales.

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

My favorite campaign every year is VideoAces — our way to celebrate the people who generated most video views the prior year. We have trophies, decks of cards with logos all over them. This past year, we also built an interactive online site around it and we did email marketing to announce the winners. When we gave trophies to winners, we took photos and encouraged sharing, which generated a lot of content around it all. That buzz also created a lot of business and sales opportunities for us and turned itself into a known brand in the space.

Our audience was major media companies and publishers, and it generated about $200,000 in business. We used trophies as a door-opener to sales.

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

It’s essential to be a data-savvy, tech-savvy marketer; that’s what marketing is today. You have to blend creative into the left-brain/right-brain job and world. Don’t get sucked in by buzzwords, keep your feet on the ground. In many ways, it’s still about the basics: who is your audience? How are you going to reach them? What are your metrics of success? How are you measuring success? How are you optimizing strategy?

There are new tools that will help you in the execution and optimization, but it’s still about the basics. But the basics also involve numbers, and applying technology and understanding — measuring ROI and really being able to prove your value. Technology doesn’t replace good ideas, but you need to be able to understand your toolkit and apply those toolkits to supercharge your efforts.

How do you inspire people to work with technology?

My hiring philosophy is to hire learn-it-alls, not know-it-alls. If you hire people who are passionate about learning and sponges for knowledge (rather than rocks), they will naturally gravitate toward technology. You can’t force people to use new tech. Hire curious people who want to know if the latest tech helps them do their job.

One word that best describes how you work.


What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Pardot and SF, Uber/Lyft, LinkedIn, my iPhone, and G-docs.

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

ScheduleOnce, so you don’t have to schedule with people. Just send a calendar link and people find a convenient time.

What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)

I really try to stay up-to-date with industry news, High level: I read the New York Times. I also read a lot of content that’s shared through LinkedIn within the media, technology, and business industries: Recode, Techcrunch, HBR, VideoInk, Tubefilter, Digiday, Variety. I try to read business-related books. Right now, I’m in the middle of Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” plus a book on the history of San Francisco.  I do read a lot of Wikipedia as well.

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

“You can accomplish anything you write down.”

Also, the sort of Stern family motto and how I was raised is: “Nothing is handed to you.”

If you want anything you have to mount a campaign. Nothing is luck. Nothing just happens. If you want something, you have to chase it and make it happen.

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

Connecting the Dots. I once heard that innovation is in the intersection. New ideas often come from the intersection of existing things. I love connecting – connecting ideas, people, technologies. I love bringing people, ideas, industries together. I’m also passionate about building, storytelling, and communications – and connecting dots along the way to build something great. Building bridges between technology and media; or building bridges between two people to understand where both are coming from and truly find a common ground that builds a win-win for everyone.

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Dawn Ostroff, new CCO at Spotify

Alex Wallace, VP of Entertainment and Oath Studios at Oath

Leslie Berland, CMO at Twitter

Thank you, Allison! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Allison Stern is Tubular’s Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer. Before Tubular, Allison worked at YouTube, with the sales operations, product marketing, and business development teams. Prior to that, Allison was a business strategy consultant at Corporate Executive Board, where she advised Fortune 500 sales and marketing executives on business challenges. Throughout her career, Allison has helped media companies, including 20th Century Fox and AOL, develop compelling online experiences and increase user engagement. Allison holds an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, where she led the Stanford Future of Media Conference, and a B.A. from Yale University, where she led the Yale Television Station.

Tubular is the leading global video measurement and analytics platform that powers broadcasters, publishers, and brands to create successful content and scale audiences faster. We provide the most complete picture of what short-form video consumers watch and enable companies to grow digital audiences and sell brand integrations to win in the ever evolving world of video. Our software tracks over 4B videos, 400M video consumers, 9M influencers, 90K brands, 40K media, and 48B sponsored video views. In total, that’s over 350M more videos analyzed per month than our closest competitor. We know it’s not just about data, it’s about insights, and that’s why we’re trusted by 7 of the top 10 global media companies, who make strategic decisions every day based on Tubular software. Behind every digital video decision – is Tubular.

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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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