Interview with Mark Bembridge, CEO, Smartology

Mark Bembridge Smartology
Mark Bembridge

Tell us about your role at Smartology and how you got here. What inspired you to join an AdTech company?

Working on semantic recognition platforms, as far back as 2004, was a formative period. The technology was new, but for those of us closely associated with it, the opportunities that opened up were really exciting; in particular, it seemed the obvious place for the media sector to unlock significant value.

Initially, the focus was on using semantic matching to make editorial recommendations for readers, but in 2012, with the advent of branded content, the Financial Times asked us to apply our semantic technology to advertising. This upped the game because it introduced the idea of adding value to marketing material by pairing it with editorial articles on the same or a similar topic.

This paved the way for semantic advertising to be regarded as an integral part of the ad tech industry; Smartology’s SmartMatch solution was launched as a result.

Today, my role is centered round demonstrating how our technology tackles many of issues currently faced by the online advertising industry, as well as developing the business on a global basis.

Given the changing dynamic of engagement with B2B customers, how does contextually aligning content and advertising deliver incremental revenue streams to brands?

Machine learning and semantic profiling match each item of an advertiser’s branded content with relevant editorial articles on the same or closely related topics.

This means readers get a relevant ‘add on’ because the branded content they see is linked to their immediate interests – rather than their previous behavior or profiles based on first or, more often, third party data, which is the standard approach.

As a result, advertisers see significantly increased returns on their budgets. Having invested in creating quality branded content, they can be confident that it is being put in front of the right audience at a time when they are most receptive to it.

Campaigns outperform digital engagement benchmarks across the board – Click Through Rates (CTR) and dwell time increase dramatically, while bounce rates reduce.

Publishers also benefit; the consistently high returns they are able to deliver to advertising clients put a premium on their inventory and increase CPMs, whether direct or programmatic.  The value of their rich editorial content is maximized because ad placement is done at the page level.

To what extent can predictive intelligence capabilities simplify content creation for omnichannel customer engagements?

Predictive AI can help brands to produce content that is suitable for the variety of places where it could be consumed (smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, etc.)

There are a growing number of platforms, such as ‘Albert’, which use AI to work out real-time optimizations for marketing campaigns, while machine learning certainly helps in this area. We are looking at a future where more and more content is optimized by machines using natural language generation that analyses (large) data sets to automatically tweak content; however, the original ideas, concepts, and the copy will still need to be created by the brand.

What’s the biggest challenge that brands need to address to make their programmatic decisions work effectively using the semantic matching platform?

Financial transparency in the supply chain or, in other words, the ‘tech tax’ has been flagged and discussed for several years, but that doesn’t make it any less of a challenge. If advertisers don’t know how much has been spent on each element of a campaign, they can’t measure ROI – and that’s a problem for the industry as a whole if it is to prove its credentials and continue to grow.

Taking a sophisticated approach to whitelisting is now more critical than ever. It is not enough to prepare a list of ‘good’ media; context also needs to be a key component so that specific pages on acceptable sites can be excluded if they contain content that could damage the brand.

And of course, no section on challenges in 2018 is complete without referencing GDPR.  Traditionally online advertising – and programmatic advertising in particular – has almost entirely relied on cookies for targeting. GDPR will force a move away from this, but a lot of innovation is needed to find new ways of engaging users.

How would SmartMatch enable publishers to combat ad fraud?

Smartology is in the process of implementing the IAB-approved text file ads.txt, which combats domain spoofing and unauthorized reselling, on its platform, SmartMatch.

Programmatic platforms integrate the ads.txt file to confirm which publishers’ inventory they are authorized to sell. This enables buyers, like Smartology to check the validity of the inventory before they purchase.

What startups are you watching/keen on right now?

Early-stage technology companies to watch include:

Index Exchange; it came out of nowhere and is now competing successfully with Google and AppNexus which is a major achievement.

Triplelift – native programmatic

What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2017?

Smartology uses standard search engine marketing (SEM) tools like Google Adwords, Twitter campaigns and LinkedIn marketing solutions. We also use MailChimp for marketing newsletters.

Could you tell us about a standout digital campaign? 

We recently ran an extremely successful campaign with the London Business School. The main aim of the campaign was to drive engaged users to their website, in order to increase traffic and downloads of their course brochures. They also wanted to align their thought leadership content with highly relevant articles on premium publisher sites in order to be seen as experts in their field. The campaign ran on both desktop and mobile and featured content relevant to topical news events, such as Brexit and Trump and also content on themes such as the Workplace, Entrepreneurship and Economic Insights. Overall click through rates for the campaign (which were the main measure used by the client) were some 5 times greater than the industry average for standard display banners.

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

There’s a lot of hyperbole about how AI will threaten civil society and take jobs. There’s no doubt that it will have a significant impact but machines are a long way from replicating human empathy and AI, even at a deep learning level, is still limited to learning facts rather than replicating human emotion.

AI is still a very unknown quantity, which in itself is challenging, but the reality is that there are no hard and fast rules for how it will pan out.  The key is for everyone to remember that we all have a responsibility to apply AI sensibly so that it adds real value.

One word that best describes how you work.

Smart!

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

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

Salesforce Gmail plugin / Salesforce mobile app

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

Stepping Up by Sarah Wood

I read business and technology focused books, blogs, AppleNews, and articles on all of our 50 publishers!

In addition I consume podcasts – e.g. ‘Makers of Scale’ from Reid Hoffman and ‘How I Built This’ from NPR

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

‘Keep going’

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

Reid Hoffman

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

Mark is CEO of Smartology, which distributes branded content semantically across the world’s most premium media owners for many of the world’s largest brands. Prior to Smartology, he was the MD of  Leiki  Software. He has a B.A. from University College London.

smartology
Focusing on the rapid growth in content marketing, Smartology provides a key distribution channel for global brands to disseminate their content and thought leadership across premium media owner sites according to relevancy. Headquartered in London with a presence in the US and Asia, Smartology has run campaigns for over 70 of the world’s largest brands across global premium media owners including FT.com, NYTimes, Reuters, The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, BBC and many more. Smartology’s branded content distribution solutions including, SmartMatch, SmartStream and SmartMobile break new ground by semantically profiling client’s branded content and dynamically serving these in ad units alongside relevant premium media owners’ articles. This has resulted in record engagement and click through rates for branded editorial, white papers and video content. Smartology’s base technology takes advantage of machine learning and Natural Language Processing – a field of computer technology that engages with the interaction between natural (human) and computer languages.

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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