Interview with Chris Dobson, CEO, The Exchange Lab
On Marketing Technology
MTS: Tell us about your role at The Exchange Lab and how you got here.? (What inspired you to be part of a programmatic AdTech company?)
My media career has spanned client, agency, TV and digital, always seeming to move on, as consumers do, into new media opportunities. Having pioneered the social ad model with MSN Messenger at Microsoft, it was a natural evolution that took me into programmatic. Initially I held the role of Executive Chairman at The Exchange Lab and became CEO when we were acquired by WPP. I was eager to apply my experience in media and advertising, and put a stake in the ground in the belief that programmatic is the future of all media.
MTS: Given the changing dynamic of programmatic advertising, how should brands build a unified adtech stack that covers measurement, verification and brand safety?
A unified adtech stack needs to consist of a number of layers. Not only should it encompass tools that enable brands to understand and reach consumers across multiple channels, such as advanced data management platforms (DMPs), but it should also include technologies that can accurately track performance and ensure brand safety.
As tech capability grows, brands may view machine learning as the answer to — and reason for — industry issues such as poor transparency and fraud even though all media has had its share of challenges in this area since advertising began. Following the recent brand safety scandals, it was all too easy to place the blame on the processes and automated nature of programmatic.
The IPA’s recent call to action for Facebook and Google to clean up their act in the online video space highlighted that the industry recognizes that tech giants should be held accountable for meeting standards of brand safety, measurement, and verification. But brands and agencies can’t rely on the duopoly alone to solve such challenges. They need to employ platforms and specialists with stringent security measures in place and third-party verification, which they can be assured prioritize these issues. The people component is particularly key, as companies need to be working with experts who ensure that data and insights are being fed back into the business to guarantee the brand remains safe.
MTS: How should CMOs leverage mobile and video advertising platforms to drive their digital transformation?
Video advertising is a rapidly expanding and a highly lucrative market. Last year revenues reached $5billion and as mobile accounts for a large proportion of time spent with digital video – about half an hour each day in the US alone – it is a vital medium for the format.
With such high potential returns, choosing the right advertising platform is key and this means there are a number of factors to take into account. As with all campaigns, reporting is a significant focus, especially when it comes to targeting and transparency. This means CMOs need to utilize platforms that provide in-depth insight into where their ads are placed and who they will reach. Mobile and video ads have been scrutinized in the past due to limited viewability reporting — particularly with the video ad serving template (VAST) unable to provide detailed analysis — and variations in ad formats and sizes. For mobile and video ads to truly make a tangible and positive impact in the digital space, the right software must be selected so that CMOs can assess the performance of each ad format, and make informed decisions about which ad types deliver the best engagement and return.
They should also consider the place video holds in the wider media mix; modern consumers do not distinguish between channels — their journeys are a mixture of touchpoints and devices — and budgets for video ad campaigns must therefore be included in cohesive omni-channel campaigns, rather than implemented in isolation. As a result, it’s essential for CMOs to select platforms that can consolidate data from multiple sources to both deliver and measure multi-faceted campaigns, and trace the effect of mobile video on other channels. Only then can they determine when, where, and how to deploy it for maximum results.
MTS: What steps should AdTech innovation companies take to bridge the gap between technology adoption and their expected ROI?
Keeping pace with the latest trends can be costly, as fast technological evolution and changing consumer behavior means advertising platforms must constantly be evolving. But this is where reporting and Business Intelligence becomes crucial. To ensure the value new tools can generate, brands must assess performance and attribution precisely. By measuring advertising campaigns against clear KPIs, brands can calculate the exact impact of each tool and its contribution to the bottom line. Thus, they will have a defined view of the ROI new technologies produce, and if they are underperforming, where changes can be made to realize their full potential.
MTS: Is programmatic effective for creative brands?
Without a doubt. Traditionally, many have fallen into the age-old Art vs. Science debate of pitting creativity and technology against one another – but programmatic and creativity should exist in harmony, not conflict. The industry doesn’t have to sacrifice one for the other, in fact, you could argue that the creative aspect is more important than ever within programmatic advertising.
Programmatic is a facilitator in the audience + environment + creative message mix – and with creativity, companies can take advantage of the targeting and message segregation technology brings.
Brands have to consider a multitude of factors such as whether a campaign is right for the device or channel, and the many alternating online variables that influence customer engagement levels. By leveraging online data to deliver dynamic creative – where creative is adjusted and adapted based on the consumer’s behavior – the data generated by an individual’s interactions can serve a highly personalized and relevant online journey and therefore deliver the highest level of customer experience.
Technology is only as effective as the people and talent behind it, creativity and programmatic should not exist in autonomy. Through a fusion of both practices, brands can achieve the best results from their ad campaigns.
Programmatic can also empower creative in the efficiency it provides. Machine learning saves time in areas such as sifting through vast quantities of data and other labor-intensive tasks. This time can be invested in creative solutions, to deliver personalized and relevant messaging, which will have a substantial effect on how audiences interact and engage with ads, ultimately driving ROI.
MTS: What startups are you watching/keen on right now?
There are no start-ups I’m looking at currently thinking ‘wow, they’re going to take over the world’. Most of today’s start-ups are more likely to be challenged than interesting. We’re coming to the end of a phase of start-up frenzy, all built around overlapping planes and high, undisclosed margins as the business model. Now a consolidation is occurring – take for example Verizon’s Oath, born out of the acquisition of Yahoo and AOL, Oath will see the consolidation of 50 tech brands and platforms under its hat. Industry start-ups considered to have unique and useful technology are being swallowed up by big agencies, disruptors and larger tech players. And others like Rocket Fuel, where the business model isn’t adding up, have had to opt for a quick-fire sell. The rest will disappear when the money runs out. The issue with today’s start-ups is that they’re very people-heavy and not focussed enough on the technology. You only have to check the websites to see that most make the same claims but not in enough detail for CMOs to truly understand the difference.
If I were to name a company I respect, I’d say The Trade Desk. CEO Jeff Green has built a bonafide business, with realistic sustainable margins and real growth. When he IPO’d, The Trade Desk lived up to the expectation Jeff had created within the market, and as such it will go from strength-to-strength.
MTS: What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2017?
Our marketing stack consists of many typical media and marketing tactics other B2B players utilize. However, we are lucky in that we also use Proteus, our unified programmatic platform, to run all our own programmatic campaigns. Within these we test our products including weather sync, video, social and native, and utilize partners to help amplify the content.
We have a CRM tool that is connected to our newsletters, email marketing and website, and we currently use Hootsuite for social. In addition to digital media, we take an omni-channel approach, and our belief has always been that marketing and communications are synonymous with one another. Our creative is designed in-house and we have an amazing team who consistently punch above their weight and deliver the best ROI for the business.
MTS: Would you tell us about your standout digital campaign? (Who was your target audience and how did you measure success?)
The most recent client that really stands out in my mind is Philips, the leading health technology brand. Earlier this year The Exchange Lab was appointed as its global programmatic partner as Philips recognized the need to partner with a specialist in this field.
Our activities, which span 44 markets, are responsible for creating consistency in Philip’s programmatic marketing to achieve optimum sales and awareness.
What’s great about working with Philips is that they completely understand the benefits of using our meta-technology, data outputs and insights to drive their business in diverse markets. Ensuring at all times that they are protected by optimum levels of brand safety and enjoy best practice in every region.
MTS: How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?
AI is making a huge difference to both the way consumers live and to industry operational efficiency by allowing many processes to be automated. It’s vital for business leaders to look ahead and see the potential of new developments in technology, using its capabilities to support and drive their business. Automated document creation, for instance, can save a lot of time that would formerly have been spent on admin. This frees up time for employees to better apply their expertise elsewhere.
It’s keeping abreast of the way AI might affect the people-component of your organization that is essential for global business leaders. Humans need to adapt to working with AI technology, and certain industries must face the prospect that employment opportunities may be reduced or transformed beyond recognition as a result of such advanced technologies.
It’s not just the way that AI affects the company or industry it’s integrated into that should be considered, it’s also the knock-on effect that this might then have on other businesses. Take, for example, the car manufacturing sector – if electric cars and autonomous vehicles become the norm, manufacturers will need to equip themselves with new skills, but insurance companies – whose premiums will greatly reduce – and the oil industry – whose gas will no longer be necessary to run vehicles – will also be affected. All industries need to plan ahead for the potential impact of AI and for many it’s a case of rethink or fail. Global business leaders need to be driving this and are responsible for effectively future-proofing their operations.
This is How I Work
MTS: One word that best describes how you work.
Trust. I trust the people around me to do what they have signed up to do – it’s part of The Exchange Lab’s culture that employees – including myself – deliver against the commitments they have made. It’s also vital that this trust and solid work ethic is acknowledged by our partners and clients. The Exchange Lab prides itself on being a business others have faith in.
MTS: What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Interesting question. It’s funny how you don’t realize how many apps or tools you rely on until you’re forced to think about it. First up, would be the Barclays app, I do all my banking online from my phone; I also couldn’t live without Google maps or the Thameslink app that tells me just how late my train is going to be today; Uber in New York is essentially a survival tool for that city, especially if you need to get back to an airport; iPlayer, for both TV and radio; my British Airways app, as I tend to fly BA and organize everything on my phone, and, of course, now that I can talk to my Echo dot, I can ensure I get the best out of my Amazon music and video.
MTS: What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
I’m a massive believer in storing documents I care about in Google’s Cloud and OneDrive, so I’m able to access them on all different devices anywhere in the world. The security of knowing these files are protected and available everywhere is a major part of my work productivity. In the old days if your hardware failed you were lost – no more, thank goodness!
MTS: What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)
OK, I have to admit to being a hardcore science fiction fan, which I guess maybe explains my career choice and interest in machine learning and AI (2001 A Space Odyssey can teach us a thing or two!) I’m currently reading Moonseed, a Sci-fi disaster-theory novel by Stephen Baxter.
I consume books on my Kindle, which is another device I couldn’t live without, as it allows me to access content on whatever, wherever, and its battery lasts a month!
MTS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Back at the start of my career as a wet-behind-the-ears graduate, I worked for Land Rover in Dubai. I had a mentor there who managed the Middle East office and taught me how to be culturally aware and work with different nationalities in the most effective way a multinational business can. This is advice that has seen me through my international career and certainly comes in useful when sitting at the head of a global company like The Exchange Lab.
MTS: Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
It’s got to be Jeff Green, CEO, The Trade Desk
MTS: Thank you Chris! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
A senior leader at the forefront of the development of digital programmatic media who previously shaped and executed the global advertising , sponsorship and branded content cross platform monetisation strategy for the commercial arm of the BBC, and played a pivotal role in monetising Microsoft’s national and international content and social audience assets. This included the development of class leading strategy, media sales skill set and service focus in EMEA, Asia and NA. This success built on extensive national and multi-national media, agency and client sales, marketing and management experience in major multinational companies.
The Exchange Lab, part of GroupM [m]Platform, is a specialist programmatic company connected to the world’s largest marketplace. The company’s proprietary Meta-DSP–Proteus, unifies the top demand side platforms (DSPs), marketing technologies, media platforms and exchanges into a single touch-point, empowering direct advertisers and GroupM agencies with the highest level of efficiencies and analytics.
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.