MarTech Interview with Doug Stevenson, CEO and Co-founder at Quintesse

Contextual intelligence can drive better marketing ROI, so what should marketers of today keep in mind when advancing their overall contextual targeting campaigns? Doug Stevenson, CEO and Co-founder at Quintesse has some tips:

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Welcome to MarTech Series Doug, tell us more about your role at Quintesse and the journey so far? 

I first entered into the contextual targeting arena in July 2000, when my co-founder and I launched Vibrant Media. Vibrant Media was one of the first pioneers in contextual technology for the adtech space. 

After a brief stint away serving as an investor and advisor to other startups, I saw that GDPR and the increased focus on privacy was going to have a massive impact on the industry and drive new interest in contextual. We launched Quintesse, an advanced contextual intelligence platform, in September 2019. The raison d’etre of Quintesse is to distill articles down to their pure essence to deliver true semantic, sentiment and emotional tone recognition for contextual targeting at scale.  

We are continuing to innovate at Quintesse to realize this purpose. Quintesse is seeing 300% year-over-year growth as traction with key brands and agencies increases amid the industry’s urgency to explore new pro-privacy avenues.

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How are you seeing marketers today get more innovative with their targeting and outreach?

“Contextual” today can be so much more than a simple endemic play of targeting a Jeep Wrangler ad to someone on a car reviews website. Advanced contextual targeting can help marketers reach their customers at scale and expand upon their content marketing efforts.  

There is an uptick in strategies created based on an extensive discovery phase to build smart word mapping and an in-depth understanding of their targets. Advertisers are building out their ‘contextual graphs’ targeting themes and topics based not only on the products, brands and overall company, but also on the brand’s mission and values as well as their content marketing calendar. 

For example, Jeep Wrangler’s customers and prospects tend to be outdoor enthusiasts, so they would benefit from placing contextual ads in environments about hiking or camping. Conquesting, or targeting articles where specific competitors like Ford Bronco, Land Rover Defender or Subaru Outback are mentioned, is another strategy that Jeep could employ. If there are articles that mention offroaders and 4X4s, those would make sense for Jeep to target as well. 

They sponsor a Jeep Summer Concert Series at Red Rocks, so aligning contextual advertising with the musical guests of the series would also help amplify the Jeep brand’s connection with the iconic concert venue to concert goers. At a more niche level of understanding of their customers, Jeep also partners with World Surf League (WSL) and the Juventus Football club, so targeting context focused on surfing and European soccer would make sense. 

Marketers who have valuable first-party shopper data are able to overlay that with contextual graphs to create purchase intent maps and understand the types of content that shoppers consume. 

We are just at the beginning of a more creative era of targeting and media planning. 

We’d love to hear your observations when it comes to contextual intelligence, in what ways have you seen marketers use these platforms to inform their plans, a few examples to marketing leaders who are changing the game with this?

As identifiers for targeting become scarcer, marketers have a unique opportunity to build contextual intelligence from their audience-based campaigns. Using post-bid reporting tools, advertisers can gain a detailed understanding of what contextual signals connect with their target audience. It is extremely valuable to understand the content that your audience cares about for advanced contextual targeting. Reporting is available down to the URL-level, empowering marketers with contextual graphs that will be extremely valuable when audience-based graphs have limited usefulness. 

The AI and machine-based technologies that are now driving contextual technology empower more robust word, theme and topic mapping than was possible with contextual 1.0. A thoughtful and creative discovery phase in the planning process like the Jeep example above, empowered by these technologies is giving marketers the contextual intelligence needed to engage their customers and increase their sales.

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How do you feel AI and related technologies will further influence the evolution of intelligence / contextual intelligence platforms?

AI-powered cloud-computing is what is evolving contextual targeting 1.0 into the advanced contextual that we’re seeing today. 

Old-school contextual was purely keyword analysis. However, with AI, contextual technologies now use natural language processing (NLP), true semantic analysis, lemmatization and curated machine learning (ML).  

However, even with the technology available, many contextual solutions still use a stemming method rather than the more thorough lemmatization approach. Stemming algorithms simply remove the prefixes or suffixes of words, while lemmatization distills a word down to the root word that you’d find in the dictionary to better understand the context of the page. For example, the stem of “studies” would be “studi” while the lemma would be “study.” 

These technologies help with not just mapping the types of content that a user is likely to read, but also help extend that contextual graph with suggestions and continually refine the lists of words, themes and topics based on real time changes on dynamic content across the internet. 

The ability to use AI to inform these smart targeting decisions before a campaign launches ensures that when it does run, the ads only appear in brand suitable and contextually relevant environments. Access to the global bidstream makes today’s advanced contextual scalable, which was another obstacle with contextual 1.0. 

As AI continues to get more sophisticated, these contextual technologies will also continue to advance. 

As martech evolves and allows marketers to preempt customer needs, how do you feel marketers of tomorrow will have to think differently to stay a step ahead?

Advertisers have to think creatively about the art form of carefully selected media placement, in addition to using technologies and data to inform smart media plans. As Howard Luck Gossage once wisely said, “When advertising talks about the audience, it doesn’t mean its audience, it means somebody else’s, gathered there to watch or read something else.” It’s important for marketers to find their audience in relevant environments. 

Consumers are demanding that their personal information be treated more carefully, so it is critical that brands respect these demands. With advanced contextual targeting, marketers can respect consumers while still creating curated marketplaces of the inventory and URLs that its customers and prospects are most likely to read, view, listen to, etc. Advertising in these pre-vetted environments with smart content will help consumers feel both informed and respected. 

A few last takeaways for marketing leaders and CEOs/CMOs in 2021?

In 2021, CEOs and CMOs have to realize that privacy-safe marketing is a must have, not just a nice to have. Legislative regulation, big tech determined to be on the right side of history and consumers’ expectations around their personal information are driving a new era of digital marketing. 

Start testing privacy-safe tactics like building a contextual graph. Do a deep discovery of content themes, words and topics of your website, your competitors’ websites and all your advertising landing pages and creatives. 

Analyze the programmatic bidstream to determine the availability of brand suitable inventory in relevant environments for your products and brands. 

Overlay your shopper graph and first-party commerce data with your contextual graph to reach consumers in a shopping mindset who have the intent to purchase e.g. auto intenders. 

2021 will be the year that content and context will show its true promise and begin to see more innovation. Advanced contextual has evolved into a strategy that creates deep connections between brands and consumers and elevates content marketing programs. 

As the industry attention shifts back to the importance of relevant environments, we will see more evolution, creativity and innovation in the space.

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Quintesse is the advanced contextual targeting platform that uses bidstream analysis to offer unprecedented scale, a deeper understanding of brand suitability and curated, custom brand marketplaces. 

With 21 years of experience and 13 patents in contextual technologies, Quintesse utilizes natural language processing (NLP) and a sophisticated lemmatization method to deliver the most comprehensive and accurate understanding of content for privacy-safe targeting across 38 languages. Brands and agency customers can leverage the platform as a self-service or managed-service. 

Doug Stevenson is the CEO and co-founder of Quintesse as well as Vibrant Media, which is powered by Quintesse. 

Doug has over 21 years of experience with contextual technologies and marketing knowledge. Having launched Vibrant Media in 2000, he has been a pioneer in contextual ad tech. 

He had the foresight to see that GDPR would lead to a resurgence of contextual targeting. In 2017, he began to build Quintesse, the advanced contextual targeting platform with a team who holds 13 patents in the space. 

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