MarTech Interview with Nathan Labenz, CEO and Founder, Waymark Marketing

MarTech Interview with Nathan Labenz, CEO and Founder, Waymark Marketing
Nathan Labenz, CEO of Waymark

“TV platforms have an opportunity to catch up to the leading advertising platforms by investing in personalizing the viewer experience, creating tangible conversions, employing algorithmic optimization, and deploying self-serve advertising products.”

Tell us about your role and journey into technology. What inspired you to join Waymark?

At Waymark, we often describe ourselves as an Art & Technology company, and we’re proud to have built a team with strong backgrounds in both areas. Personally, I started my career as a small business owner and then moved into building software products for small business owners. This meant focusing on extreme clarity and ease of use, smart ways to help users save time, and because small business owners are some of the busiest people in the world — always thinking in terms of “value/minute” spent.

In the last few years, we’ve been fortunate to recruit strong talent on both the art and technology sides of our business. On the art side, we’ve recruited a Creative Director and Product Design Director who has worked at Squarespace, a video producer who has done work for Fox and other major entertainment companies, and technologists who’ve built high-scale bond-trading platforms and applications for medical device companies. So, we all took quite different paths to get here, but collectively our backgrounds inform our approach to designing, architecting, and building the video creation platform that we’re creating today. But as a group, we continue to prioritize extreme ease of use and value/minute as core guiding principles.

From the time you started Waymark, how much has the market for TV advertising automation platforms evolved?

We launched our video product at Google Demo Day in June 2017, which is still less than two years ago, and not that long in TV years. I think the biggest shift I’ve observed in that timeframe is the recognition by TV advertising platforms (e.g., Comcast Spotlight, Spectrum Reach, Hulu, Roku, etc.) that self-serve advertising products will be crucial to their long-term success. Even just a year ago, TV advertising was almost exclusively sold through account executives, minimum spend levels were fairly high, and the core focus was on big brands.

Since then, a number of platforms have begun to invest in self-serve tools, which will allow them to compete for smaller accounts, and empower their larger accounts to manage spend with high levels of agility, responsiveness, and message targeting.  In the same timeframe, much more TV inventory has come online in the DSP ecosystem. Over just the last 6 months, it seems that every DSP has launched an OTT offering.

What role does B2B TV advertising play in the success of brands today?

Major B2B brands like TV advertising for pure, national branding (think IBM), especially when they are also B2C brands (banks, insurance companies, telco/ISPs). But for smaller, more local brands, B2B TV advertising has historically been limited by a lack of targeting capabilities, and by the fact that search marketing (or before that Yellow Pages-style search marketing) often works better in the B2B market, where so many services are highly specialized. More recently, social and digital media has unlocked far better-targeting capabilities, which have allowed B2B advertising to flourish; this shows the potential for TV it the platforms can go beyond programming-based targeting (local CNBC) and offer business-owner audiences on an addressable basis.

How VODs and Smart TV formats help consumers with direct shopping options from TV ads?

Direct response ad formats for TV are in their infancy, but I believe they have a key role to play in the future of TV. As I recently argued, TV platforms have an opportunity to catch up to the leading advertising platforms (Facebook) by investing in 4 keys areas: personalizing the viewer experience, creating tangible conversions, employing algorithmic optimization, and deploying self-serve advertising products. Direct response formats are the most direct way to create tangible conversion events, and the resulting dataset is the fuel for optimization. Facebook’s Lead Ad product is a good example of what future TV ads could look like — if you’d like to opt into an email list, claim a discount code, or get more information/a free quote, it can and should be as easy as hitting a button on your remote.

How would a modern CMO/CIO benefit from including Waymark in their Marketing Technology stack?

Waymark is valuable for any organization that wants to empower non-specialists to create high-quality videos. Examples include national-local hybrid brands, such as automakers and the dealer networks, insurance companies and their agent networks, retail brands and their individual local stores — just about any brand with a significant local presence. We also serve manufacturers that have marketing co-op programs for their local retailers.

CMOs at these organizations invest heavily in their brand identity and national campaigns, but realize that, at the end of the day, they win and lose business locally, and as such, they need to support their local managers/agents/dealers/retailers/franchisees with easy-to-use marketing solutions  they can leverage as part of their unique local strategies.

What I think Waymark does better than any other video solution is striking the right balance between quality, flexibility, and ease of use.  Many CMOs worry that local operators will create sub-par marketing content that will detract from the brand — we’ve all seen examples of car dealer commercials that match this description! — but Waymark’s template-based approach ensures that this won’t happen, while still giving end users an incredibly simple, WYSIWYG video creation experience, which works on any device, right in a web browser, that allows them to create the content they need to create.

Our Waymark for Brands page has more info about how we work with such organizations.

Tell us more about your technology integration and how it can be automated with other stacks in MarTech.

Waymark allows users to quickly and easily create .mp4 or .mov videos files, which can easily be downloaded from our website and used anywhere. We find that, more often than not, no integration is necessary. The two most common types of integration are (1) publishing integrations — for example, one-click to push a Waymark video to a specific advertising platform or digital asset management solution, and (2) data integration—– for example, allowing car dealers to tap into their inventory management system and import vehicle information directly into the Waymark videos. This greatly reduces the amount of time that an end user needs to spend to create a powerful video.

Tell us about your go-to strategies to support rapid growth and the lessons learned through the periods of massive shift and transition in 2018.

Growth tactics are ever-evolving. Going back a few years, we had a lot of luck simply reaching out directly to local businesses and inviting them to try our product. Today, that tactic is less effective.  Facebook has also been a great growth channel for us over time, but always seems to be getting harder as Facebook continues to become more competitive and raise prices. So it’s really always a matter of testing, measuring, and doubling down where we see success.

At present, we see brand clients as the fastest growth opportunity for our business and we plan to announce a number of partnerships and case studies in 2019.

How do you mentor your Product Marketing and B2B Commerce teams at Waymark?

I think the #1 thing I try to emphasize, for myself as much as for others on our team, is focusing on the biggest possible opportunities. In the context of direct-to-SMB marketing, that means finding unusual/attention-grabbing angles that help us stand out.  If it’s a cross-promotion opportunity, it’s about making the offer an absolute no-brainer for the partner and, most importantly, the end customer.  I’m always asking, “How can we make this as big as possible?” And in the context of brand clients, it’s about focusing on the biggest accounts where our technology can make the most difference.

We are in the fortunate position of having a very cool product that everyone immediately understands and finds value in, but that’s not quite the same as immediately wanting to invest in it, or being in a position to invest in a meaningful way. So, putting our time and attention on the biggest opportunities, and being willing to let go of those that aren’t so attractive, is a challenging but critical discipline for us.

What does your technology community look like? Who do you meet at events and conferences to discuss technology?

Waymark is based in Detroit, MI (my hometown!), and we do have a growing technology community, albeit, a much smaller one than in San Francisco or New York, where I had lived previously. The upside of a smaller community, in my experience, is that people are very invested in the community, and far more eager to help one another.  A representative anecdote: When I first moved back to Detroit, someone asked me for an introduction to one of my Board members, and following Bay Area protocol, I asked for his permission before going ahead.

His response was “I trust your judgment — make whatever intros you think you should make,” which was a sharp contrast to my experience in SF.  I attribute that difference to the fact that everyone here feels a certain amount of civic duty to help create the technology community that we want to exist here. Huge credit also goes to the Quicken Loans team for investing in the technology community in a variety of ways, including via their VC arm, Detroit Venture Partners, and in other ways, such as sponsoring Demo Days and for providing physical space and encouragement for different companies and professionals to come together.

Which Marketing and Sales Automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

We use a variety of products — first and foremost, we use Waymark to create video ads, which are the #1 way that we attract visitors to our site. Beyond that, we use Infusionsoft for Email Automation (a somewhat rare choice in the startup world, but a solid and very cost-effective product), Copper for CRM for enterprise accounts, Drift for on-site conversations, and all the retargeting pixels you can imagine.

In the past we’ve also used HubSpot for content marketing, but at present we are just building content directly into our main website via a Django-powered CMS.  Other products that I recommend include Zapier, for tying random processes together, and Pipefy, for scaling any process that combines automation and human action.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in VOD and TV analytics market for 2019?

Not sure how much progress we will see in 2019, but over the next few years, I expect TV to create a virtuous cycle of improvement and growth via a combination of (1) mass personalization, (2) direct response ad formats that drive tangible conversions, (3) addressability and algorithmic optimization, and (4) self-serve advertising products.This is the recipe that Facebook and Google have used to deliver provable ROI to advertisers, which has allowed them to grow share so dramatically in recent years.

I believe the same basic approach will allow TV platforms to catch up and reclaim some of that growth that they’ve missed out on in recent years. It won’t be easy, but the audience is there, the infrastructure is largely there, the algorithms are there, and both audiences and advertisers expect this kind of experience, so I think this is all inevitable over the next couple of years.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

In the TV space, I would still consider Roku and Pluto.TV to be startups (even though one is a public company worth nearly $8 billion, and the other was just acquired by Viacom for $340 million) because both are building advertising-based businesses on the strength of the large audiences they’ve acquired with free content.  This is a disruptive approach in the TV space, and is one that incumbent players, which still derive most of their revenue from subscriptions, will need to pay attention to, especially as more subscription streaming services continue to come online and subscription fatigue inevitably begins to set in.

I would also include Twitch here — again, arguably not a startup, as it was acquired a couple of years ago by Amazon for $1 billion — but a fundamentally new type of content platform, which is more interactive and engaging, fundamentally democratic, and way bigger than most people over age 30 would guess. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of innovation on the content side, by a long shot.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

Waymark is a technology startup, so by definition, everyone at the company is selected in part for their technology interest and aptitude — that goes from product design to software engineering to the help desk.

One word that best describes how you work.

Curious.

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

As a new dad, I have to give a shout out to the Snoo “Smart Sleeper”, which uses a combination of rocking and white noise to help my baby son sleep at night. He’s our first child, so it’s possible that we’re just very lucky to have a baby that sleeps unusually well, but more likely, the Snoo is helping him get to sleep and stay asleep, such that mom and dad are only getting up twice a night and sleeping soundly in between. It’s a bit expensive for a crib, but worth it so far!  And, of course, it does come with an app, so I can look back at the logs of how much and how well our baby has slept, and even control the crib remotely via my phone.

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

I’m not a major productivity hack guy, in general, but one strategy that I’ve found counterintuitively useful is to compose business communications on a cell phone rather than on a computer. With a physical keyboard, I can type at least as fast as I can think, whereas a cellphone touch screen slows me down, and forces me to think ahead before I type. The result is almost always more succinct, clear, and effective.

What are you currently reading?

My #1 favorite source, for almost 10 years, has been MarginalRevolution.com. Tyler Cowen, Economics Professor at George Mason University, posts original content 5X/day, on a wide variety of topics, and to a significant degree, curates the wider web with his daily “Assorted links” posts.  He’s prolific, consistently insightful, and infinitely curious — highly recommended!

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

“Only be weird on 1 dimension” — I think this is great advice, especially for entrepreneurs, because, so often, we get into business and, inspired by stories from Google or wherever else, think we can do everything our own way.  In reality, it’s generally not such a great idea to try to re-invent everything at once — you’re unlikely to do most of it well, and people will perceive you as just plain weird.  In contrast, if you can focus your weirdness on one or a couple of key areas, you can go deep on those areas and truly innovate, all while taking advantage of established best practices in other areas, and being perceived as an “original thinker”, not just a weirdo.

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

I’d describe myself as a jack-of-all-trades, master of few, but one notable strength I have is my ability to dive into an unfamiliar topic area, read and research as much as I can, and get the gist of what’s happening and what’s possible in that domain.  If it’s a technical area, I’m a decent enough coder that I can often spin up a simple proof of concept. If it’s a business model or strategy question, I feel that I can generally reach solid conclusions based on a diverse body of evidence.

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

Timm Chiusano, VP Production and Creative Services, Kernel, A Spectrum Reach Company.

Thank you, Nathan! Hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Nathan Labenz is the Founder and CEO of Waymark, an online video maker that gives anyone the power to make exceptional video ads in seconds. With Nathan at the helm, Waymark is working to bridge the gap between local advertisers and the future of video. Nathan has garnered awards for Waymark including the Google Demo Day “Game Changer” Award. A graduate of Harvard University, he resides in Detroit, Michigan, where Waymark is headquartered.

Waymark logo

Waymark is an online video maker that gives anyone the power to make exceptional video ads in seconds, with the goal of bridging the gap between local advertisers and the future of video.

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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