Interview with Gareth Davies, Founder & CEO at Adbrain
On Marketing Technology
MTS: Tell us a little bit about your role Adbrain and how you got here?
I’m the founder and CEO of Adbrain, a company specializing in AI for identity. I founded Adbrain with the core belief that companies that truly understand their cross-device customers can create a strategic advantage out of customer data, with positive consumer and societal impact as a result. I was also incredibly frustrated that no-one had figured out how to build a privacy safe, media agnostic single customer identity framework. The major adtech solutions were (and in many ways still are) black-box walled gardens, denying marketers the ability to truly understand their customers. There had to be a better way, so I started Adbrain to positively disrupt.
MTS: How do you see the cross device advertising and omnichannel targeting segment evolving over the next few years?
Whilst still two different animals, we’re seeing the convergence of Adtech and Martech as marketers start to bring their 1st party customer data (e.g. CRM, sales, call center) and advertising data (impression, click and conversion logs) together in one place. The role of the DMP (Data Management Platform) and the CDP (Customer Data Platform) are converging, and Identity – loosely defined by a single customer ID that ties a number of anonymized user specific IDs alongside known customer data – is the connective tissue that helps marketers tie online and offline, paid and owned to create a more complete and nuanced understanding of their customers. This single customer view leads to better customer engagement, fewer wasted impressions or sales opportunities and just a far better customer experience. As more people-based data ownership comes in house, marketers can focus on people and outcome driven campaigns (whether paid or owned media) and consumers will thank them. I also see TV and offline sales data rapidly being part of this new data landscape. That’ll be where things get really interesting.
MTS: What do you see as the single most important technology trend or development that’s going to impact us?
Without a doubt, it’s Artificial Intelligence. Whilst over-hyped at times, we’re only scratching the surface of possibility when it comes to machine intelligence. Within the marketing community, this will lead to more predictive, outcome oriented systems that focus on delivering critical business KPIs like sales, or brand affinity. CTR and last-click attribution will finally die. More broadly, the impact across multiple sectors and society at large will be profound, enabling innovation at unprecedented scale. But I don’t foresee people becoming obsolete. AI has the power to create immense value out of both structured and dark data but the biggest beneficiaries will be people, freeing us up from mundane tasks and helping us to ‘level up’ our own intelligence and skills. Whilst disruptive for many, this new wave of intelligence will make us smarter and richer in so many ways.
MTS: What’s the biggest challenge for startups to integrate a platform like Adbrain into their stack?
Adbrain has both an enterprise grade ‘Identity-AI-as-a-Service’ offering for data rich clients who are looking to build their own people-based marketing products (think large scale data owners, ad/mar-tech vendors and telcos) and a CPM data product for marketers. The challenge on the former is more around a client’s internal product development and prioritization, given that we offer a middleware capability where clients build on top. For marketers, we make our cross-device, people based targeting available through all the major DSPs and DMPs, activated as a CPM data buy. This significantly reduces the setup friction and allows brands to model cross-device user journeys, start cross-device targeting and retargeting, and valuable people based multi-touch attribution from day one. We’ve seen sales uplifts as high as 325% vs. standard targeting.
MTS: What startups are you watching/keen on right now?
Pretty much anything in the AI and data space, particularly those addressing the dual challenges of training data and the lack of readily available data science talent. There is still a huge amount of friction in the sourcing and qualifying of raw, unstructured data to train machine learning and AI models. Most people think data is ubiquitous, but high quality, privacy safe training data is harder to find than most realize. Folks solving this in the new data economy include companies like SafeGraph and Narrative. On the AI side, I love seeing cool new consumer applications of AI, but it’s the platform stuff that really excited me – addressing the ultimate question of how we enable and democratize data science at scale.
MTS: What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2017?
MTS: Could you tell us about a standout digital campaign? (Who was your target audience and how did you measure success)
We were tasked by a global media agency with evaluating the influence of mobile interactions in driving conversions for a premium finance brand. The results showed that targeting “mobile researchers” drove a 325% increase in desktop conversions with a 31% cost saving.
MTS: How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?
You start with a data strategy and align your leadership team and wider business around the necessary investments and steps needed to unify, own and protect your first party data, including privacy and data governance. When it comes to the application level – namely where do I think AI can help me – it’s critical to first focus on the brilliant basics, questions like ‘what are the key business metrics I need to optimize for’, or ‘where can I drive greater process or business efficiency’. These may not sound sexy but before you dream up creative wow moments driven by AI, there’s huge value in the low hanging fruit. Focus is everything.
This Is How I Work
MTS: One word that best describes how you work.
MTS: What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Slack, Gmail (out of need, not desire) and Google Now, my favorite consumer facing AI app out there – for now!
MTS: What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
The classic do list. I keep a running to do list in Evernote, updated on my phone, and a more detailed project plan in a Google spreadsheet, with all the actions my team owes me, and when, so I can keep myself, and them, accountable. Separating the important actions from the urgent ones is critical in a startup (and elsewhere in life). If everything is an urgent priority, then nothing is.
MTS: What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)
I try and always have both fiction and non-fiction on the go. Right now, I’m reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, and finishing Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankel – a powerful psychoanalytical account of life in the Nazi concentration camps. It sounds depressing, yet I see it as an uplifting lesson in the power of the self and our ability to positively choose our reality. Beyond AI/data and marketing industry news (curated via Slack and Twitter) I’m an avid Economist reader. The depth of analysis on current affairs is invaluable, especially in a world of twitter soundbites and click bait!
MTS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Be the best you can be. Or more simply, be authentic. Too many of us are taught from an early age to work on our weaknesses instead of doubling down on our strengths. Have the courage to be who you are, do what excites you, not what we believe others want us to be or do. I find the older I get, the easier this comes. And remember, authenticity is contagious!
MTS: Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
I try and compete with myself, it’s exhausting trying to compete with others! That said, a strength I try and double down on is communicating a clear vision and getting people positively bought in and contributing to the journey. Easier said than done but probably the number one job of a startup CEO.
MTS: Tag the one person whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Larry David (the co-creator and writer of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm). I’m fascinated by the creative process, and see a ton of similarities between building a company and creating content. Both require ideas to be brought to life, and allowed to grow organically – you can’t write the ending on day one!
MTS: Thank you Gareth! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Entrepreneur and business leader focused on solving meaningful problems through data. Passionate about building world class teams that live and die by the values.
Founded Adbrain to help companies resolve single customer identity, power more enriching customer experiences, and build smarter businesses through data and AI.
Adbrain powers marketers and their partners to understand and engage with their customers with a personalized, consistent message across devices, channels and platforms.
We’re backed by leading mobile, enterprise data and SaaS investors, headquartered in London, with offices in New York, Seattle and San Francisco.
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.