MarTech Interview with Randi Barshack, CMO at Samba TV

MarTech Interview with Randi Barshack, CMO at Samba TV
MarTech Interview with Randi Barshack, CMO at Samba TV

“One of the things that I feel is truly misunderstood by the industry is the assumption that having data means having analytics, which isn’t always true.”

Could you tell us about your role and journey into Technology? What inspired you to join Samba TV?

In 1999, I founded a company that was the first to be able to track web interactions at the application level. Application-level tracking was in its infancy and the team that developed the core tech was initially focused on solving problems surrounding site stability and troubleshooting. The technology was ground-breaking but the team was challenged in translating their innovation into someone of value. I was initially brought in as a contractor to ‘put together a powerpoint’ and ended up being a co-founder of the company- creating the original story that got us funding and then drove the corporate narrative.

By coming in with a Marketing perspective, I was able to see the potential in capturing nuances of individual digital sessions and harnessing that for insights. This was a clear point when I realized the power of digital technology and data as a marketer (And remember, this was 1999!). More importantly, from a personal perspective, I realized that as a trained ‘storyteller’ (I started my career in film and TV production), I could bring additive value in bringing technology to market by translating technical innovation into stories of value.

My inspiration to join Samba TV was, as a marketer, I find myself drawn to companies that haven’t reached their full potential in having their story told. I felt that while Samba TV is at a great stage in gaining market traction, the power of the technology and how it compares to other solutions that aren’t as sophisticated in their approach made me realize that there is a great Marketing opportunity to make a difference.

What is Samba TV and how does it make TV advertising intelligent?

Samba TV has relationships with 14 leading smart TV manufacturers across the globe and our technology sits on 20 MM TV sets worldwide. In a privacy-compliant manner, we are able to understand what consumers are watching and capture the viewing and ad exposure habits of an extremely diverse representative scale set of consumers. Audience segments as varied as ‘sports enthusiasts’ to ‘binge-watchers’ to ‘cord-cutters’ to ‘news junkies’ serve as a basis for digital campaigns. Because the data sets are so diverse and representative, we get statistically significant numbers that can drive both effective advertising and programming decisions.

What’s more, we can tie together the last outstanding piece of consumer information- linear TV viewing with addressable media (including OTT). This means that advertisers can finally get true reach and frequency insights across campaigns. Finally, this connection also enables us to tie together linear broadcast ad exposure with conversion whether that be a site visit, online purchase, foot traffic of even in-store purchase. Wow!

How do you focus at bringing TV and Data Analytics together at Samba TV? What are the core technologies driving your product?

This is a great question! One of the things that I feel is truly misunderstood by the industry is the assumption that having data means having analytics, which isn’t always true. It’s about the marriage of data and analytics that creates the answers to the questions that marketers have. It starts with the representative data set, which is compounded with layers of “invisible” knowledge and expertise about how to process and normalize the data so that it becomes meaningful. This is where Samba TV immediately starts to differentiate, as we’ve been working with our own first-party dataset while also working very diligently to cut out the noise to focus on the purest representation to get to answers. We’ve spent years iterating on the model and methodology that gets to the analysis.

The core technologies driving our product include “Machine Learning” (ML), which can sound a bit cliché as every company talks about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. My previous company was a pioneer creating training datasets for every conceivable type of AI project – from Drug Discovery to Autonomous Vehicles to Computer Vision and I personally ran a large industry conference on AI Training data. I know firsthand how the training data sets are at the heart of the success of these projects and that it takes ongoing iteration to constantly improve models. That’s what Samba TV is doing differently. Because we have been building models with our own proprietary dataset, constantly improving upon, our model accuracy is phenomenal. (By the way, I need to emphasize it’s a team of brilliant Data Engineers and Data Scientists that do this. I just get to talk about it.

I wish that buzzwords like ML and Artificial Intelligence weren’t so co-opted these days, as it tends to get in the way of those who are getting it right. As a marketer, it is my goal to bridge the gap between buzzwords and deeper understanding.

Could you tell us about your recent integration with Google Marketing Platform? How would it benefit Marketers and Advertisers?

Digital and (linear) broadcast are often at odds with one another (or ‘frenemies’ as best) fighting over eyeballs and ad dollars. But the reality is that we see a ton of synergy between the two. Our integration with Google is focused primarily on measuring tune-in campaign effectiveness for broadcasters and networks.

For the first time, television programmers can attribute tune-ins driven by YouTube ads, as well as any digital media served through Google Campaign Manager and Display and Video 360 within Google Marketing Platform. Programmers can access tune-in campaign results directly in Google Marketing Platform. This enables quicker optimization of media buys based on Samba TV’s insights, which can help improve ROI of tune-in campaigns. The turnkey solution is now available to all tune-in marketers using the Google Marketing Platform.

Could you tell us about your tune-in media strategies, cross-screen tactics, and creative messaging that could boost TV viewership?

That’s a great question! The cross-screen is such a simple concept, yet I’m baffled why the industry isn’t demanding this as a baseline measurement. Even though reach and frequency are one of the key metrics that we’ve been looking at as an industry for- well, forever, marketers continue to measure advertising exposure in siloes. As we see Digital Advertising overtake linear TV advertising and viewing habits becoming absolutely fragmented- digital, linear, connected TV, etc. it’s natural for marketers to struggle to measure true reach and frequency because they’re looking in silos. Many companies even have separate divisions focused on digital and broadcast. I have trouble wrapping my head around this.

For example, you might have one viewer seeing ads on linear broadcast and then again on an addressable device or even digital OTT experience. For marketers who measure in siloes, this will look like a reach of two with a frequency of one, when, in fact, it’s a reach of one with a frequency of two. With pretty much all consumers being cross-screen consumers, without the ability to measure cross-screen, you might as well not measure at all. You will almost surely get inaccurate measurements if everything’s looked at in siloes. It’s so basic, yet, marketers aren’t demanding true reach and frequency across platforms.

As for creative optimization we’re in the early days of understanding the socially acceptable length and format of OTT. I’m willing to put money on the path forward not being the traditional way of 30-second commercials, so it is important to measure how different creatives (i.e., length, boldness, messaging, etc.) perform and how viewers respond. I wish there were more collaborations in the industry in terms of how ads are going to find a home in one-to-one delivery that will best suit everyone. But I think we’re beginning to figure out what the best creative formats are that will benefit the entire ecosystem.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in AI and Data Management technology for 2019-2020?

I feel that, while the technology is not all here, it’s here enough. What really needs to happen is for humans to catch up to harnessing the power of what’s available to them. I think it was the founder of Intel who shared once that the speed of which technology advances is that it doubles every 18 months, but the human brain barely evolves at all. There is so much available, and we’re inundated with tools and technology and, as humans, we’re drawn to the next shiny object. Unfortunately, we haven’t figured out how to sit still and learn what’s in front of us.

The Marketing community needs to catch up, understand, and not be afraid. I think the best thing we can do is harness the technologies that are bridging the gap in terms of capabilities. The industry seems to be always looking for the next best thing instead of harnessing the value of what’s in front of us, which ends up doing a disservice to everyone. There are several instances where the algorithms are there and we, as marketers, are feeding the models with data sets and calling it a day, while looking for the next greatest thing.

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

I’ve lived south of Market Street in San Francisco for 20 years, and I can’t even walk to the grocery store without seeing a dozen tech startup hoodies, Patagonia jackets or backpacks around. The new Uber headquarters is steps away from where I live, and I also live not far from a Biotechnology hub. On a human level, I’m fascinated by what’s happening in Drug and Pharmaceutical discovery because I feel that the answers to things that influence us the most ultimately go back to health and the well-being of those we care about. To me, that’s transformational and inspiring.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a Business Leader?

Something I’ve learned from my experience in AI is, more and more, the data algorithms (what we call the machines) can give us the answers, but we have to be the ones asking the questions. As someone who’s eternally and naturally curious, I’m nothing but excited to ask the questions. I think there’ll be more answers.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

Sometimes, I think they work with too much technology – ha! I think the best way to leverage technology is to first divorce yourself from it. I encourage my team to map out the questions that they’re looking to answer on a whiteboard or in spreadsheet to figure out what they’re trying to solve before diving into the technology. Far too often, I’ve seen people shortcut and get overly influenced by the out-of-the-box capabilities without the critical thinking behind it.

One word that best describes how you work.

Curious. Or what my husband calls nosey.

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

Of course there’s email, spreadsheets, Marketing Automation, and your MarTech stack. But I love how Google Docs, when used correctly, can accelerate the way people are collaborating and being kept in the loop on projects in a systematic way. Slack is also a great tool, in moderation. 😉

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

Almost every morning, I walk past my office to the Ferry building in San Fran and work for an hour or two out of a coffee shop before heading into the office. It frames my day in a way where I get through email and catch up before heading into the heightened activity of the office. It gives me a different space to think, and has totally become an indispensable part of my day.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve always got three books open – usually a novel, a business book and a guilty pleasure. I’m just about to start reading a book called Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I borrowed it from my son and I’m super excited to read it. I can’t get on planes without magazines and you’ll often find me with Harvard Business Review and People Magazine at the same time. Both provide value to me as someone who loves stories.

I automatically turn on the news when I come home at night. It’s a bad (and admittedly antiquated) habit but I’m unfortunately hooked on the live soap opera that has become our world today. Then I’ll turn on social media as a way to keep myself sane. I also drink quite a bit of Diet Snapple, so I love the Snapple Facts. Drink enough Snapple and you’re pretty much guaranteed to learn something new every day.

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

Learning to take a B. Early on in my career, I think I was still in student-mode and was always trying to get the A. What I learned was that business is as much about optimization as it is about perfection. As professionals, we’re constantly optimizing between how to do a good job but move quickly. Trust me, 20 years later the temptation to achieve perfection is always still there, but sometimes (and not always) accomplishing a goal means taking 20% of the time to ‘get a B’ and moving on. If you know how to distinguish between times when perfect shouldn’t get in the way of good, you’re likely going to be the only one who’s going to notice the difference.

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

Mary Barra, if anyone has a ‘glass ceiling breaking hammer’, it’s her!

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

Randi Barshack is the Chief Marketing Officer at Samba TV.

With over 20 years of experience building and scaling global marketing teams, Barshack has established brands and categories across a variety of sectors.

She recently served as Chief Marketing Officer of Figure Eight (acquired by Appen), the leading provider of artificial training data. Prior to that, Barshack held senior-level roles at xMatters, Inc. and Mashery (acquired by Intel).

She Co-Founded the customer experience pioneer company TeaLeaf Technology (acquired by IBM), the first spin-off of SAP. Barshack holds a Master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Business and a Bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College.

samba.tv logoTelevision remains a vibrant cultural influence and an essential source of entertainment and information worldwide. Tremendous growth in content choices, and viewing platforms that allow us to watch anything, anytime, on any screen, has actually made it harder for viewers to discover and keep up with all the great programming available. It’s also more competitive for content providers to keep your attention, and for marketers to make strong, measurable connections with their target consumers.

Technology that improves the viewing experience, enables content discovery, and addresses audience fragmentation across screens will strengthen television’s business model and relevance to consumers. Data is at the center of any solution to make TV better.

Samba TV’s technology is built into Smart TVs and easily maps to smart phones and tablets. By recognizing what’s on-screen, Samba TV learns what viewers like and using machine learning algorithms, enables discovery of shows and actors in a whole new way.

Likewise, our data and measurement products are transforming the way stakeholders across the media landscape are thinking about their business. Given the dramatic growth in streaming services, connected devices, time-shifting, and multi-screen viewership, our data products solve real problems and create a meaningful competitive advantage for our clients.

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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