SVP, Enterprise Operations, Conversant
Conversant is the industry leader in personalized digital advertising and the digital media arm of Epsilon. The Conversant One-to-One Relationship Engine (Core), Conversant’s massive, continually learning engine that builds on the industry’s largest set of consumer data, was recently awarded “Best Industry Innovation” at the 2017 iMedia ASPY Awards. We spoke with Agatha Rymanowska, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Operations, to understand how Conversant tailors each brand interaction to an individual consumer, the company’s approach to ad quality, and what’s on the horizon for personalization.
MTS: How does your team help Conversant in delivering personalized digital marketing solutions?
Agatha Rymanowska: My team supports the entire client “lifecycle” from start to finish. This includes supporting our business development team through initial client discussions, integrating new clients onto Conversant’s platform, architecting and launching client programs, and more. Wherever a client is in the onboarding or launch process, my team is right there, with them, to provide ongoing technical oversight.
It starts with data. We first and foremost integrate with clients to ensure we have access to the right data that supports their marketing objectives. My team works with clients to integrate all of their digital touchpoints, as well as offline transactions. This enables Conversant to have a holistic view of our clients’ customers and understand their purchasing behaviors, which ultimately fuels personalization. Upon defining each client’s unique marketing goals, we then collaborate with several cross-functional teams to architect a solution that meets their needs and launch their program.
MTS: What are the fundamental tenets of Conversant’s ad quality approach? Would it remain scalable once GDPR norms come into force?
Agatha: Conversant’s approach to ad quality is based on three key fundamentals: brand safety, viewability and fraud prevention. The industry has evolved in such a way that focusing on all of these areas simultaneously is becoming the new norm. Poor ad quality, fueled by non-viewable ads, brand safety violations, and bot-driven traffic, not only has a major impact on advertising results but can cause long-term damage for brands.
Conversant has been focused on ensuring the highest ad quality for clients since day one. In the US, we offer an Ad Quality Guarantee, which guarantees client campaigns will meet or beat the industry standards across brand safety, viewability and fraud prevention, as measured by Integral Ad Science.
In the EU, our approach to ad quality – as well as personalization, incrementalit, and measurement – will remain scalable when GDPR goes into effect. We are committed to aligning our business practices with the GDPR policies and are strategizing to ensure we are providing industry leading best practices to help safeguard both Conversant and its clients.
MTS: How does Conversant enable brands to deliver unique and relevant messages to individuals at scale?
Agatha: Delivering unique and relevant messages to individuals at scale requires a combination of the right data and the right technology. Conversant leverages unprecedented amounts of consumer data, supplemented by machine learning, to reach the right consumer on the right device and at the right time, and deliver a personalized message on behalf of our clients. We do this by focusing on four key areas, which must work together in concert to generate the highest performance and provide the greatest benefit to brands:
Recognition and reach – In order to deliver personalized and relevant messages to individuals, marketers need to be able to recognize their customers across every digital touchpoint, which has become increasingly difficult with the proliferation of devices. Conversant helps clients recognize and reach consumers across their multiple devices with 96% cross-device matching accuracy, compared to an industry average of 50%.
Individualized profiles – Conversant’s understanding of consumers begins with our network of completely anonymized transactional data (both online and offline) of more than 4,000 retailers. Then, from the 86 billion online cross-device interactions that Conversant observes every day, we build comprehensive individual profiles for every customer across more than 7,000 dimensions – including web browsing, app usage, video plays, email activity, cross-screen engagement, life events, hobbies, ad interactions and product interests. These profiles are continuously enriched with every customer-brand interaction and allow our clients to grow a life-long relationship with their customers. Given consumers’ online and offline activity is always changing, maintaining a persistent connection is crucial to understanding their evolving needs and interests. Our ability to maintain a persistent connection with consumers over time enables our clients to have ongoing conversations with them for years.
Decisioning and delivery – Brands are faced with an infinite number of decisions about how to best interact with their customers all day, every day. For example, which creative should be displayed in a digital ad for customer A, and how should that differ for customer B? After a consumer makes a purchase, when is the optimal time to send another message and on which channel? When a customer visits a retailer’s website, how can the content be customized according to that customer’s interests upon arriving to the homepage? We remove the guesswork for our clients by making these decisions for them. Every day Conversant makes over a trillion real-time decisions about billions of interactions. Each decision is tailored to each person, and it’s made in just milliseconds across 1.1 million websites and on 173,000 mobile apps. This allows our clients to speak to their customers in the optimal way at exactly the right moment.
Measurement and insights – The ability to deliver personalized and relevant messages ultimately needs to lead to performance. At Conversant we use closed-loop measurement – a.k.a. the ability to connect every interaction with a customer to online and offline sales – to help clients understand how their programs are performing. We focus on measuring incremental return on ad spend (iROAS), so for every ad dollar spent, clients can understand their incremental return on investment across all channels. This ultimately allows them to see how digital advertising is impacting their bottom line.
MTS: What are the common operational and technical obstacles to personalization and how does your team address them for clients?
Agatha: To ensure we can observe and learn from every customer interaction across all channels and devices, we ask clients to tag every digital touchpoint. This could seem overwhelming at first, but Conversant’s tagging solution is extremely flexible and easy to implement. We can integrate with clients’ existing tag managers or provide our own in-house solution for clients who don’t already have one. Our goal is always to make it as easy as possible for clients to provide the data we need, and my team provides support and guidance every step of the way.
We also get questions from clients about privacy and security, particularly when it comes to sharing their offline transactional data. Privacy and security are extremely important to our organization and we have frameworks in place to ensure they are at the forefront of everything we do. Conversant has the ability to recognize individuals, assemble profile information, take action and measure in real-time, without using any personally identifiable information (PII). To ensure consumer privacy is always protected, all PII is removed from customer data before it enters our systems.
MTS: How does Conversant deliver full visibility into a marketing campaign’s ROI, broken down by various touchpoints?
Agatha: Conversant provides full transparency into media delivery and performance. We provide impression-level data showing how each media impression is linked to a specific customer profile, as well as transaction-level attribution data that links each conversion back to the impression that influenced it. When it comes to ROI, Conversant measures performance via a randomized test/control methodology including a messaged control, which provides full visibility into which customers are in the test and control group, and the impressions that are delivered to each one.
MTS: How do you see artificial intelligence/machine learning technologies disrupting the analytics involved in consumer cross-device matching and segmentation?
Agatha: There has been a lot of hype about the rise of artificial intelligence in advertising, which has partly been driven by recent successes such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and IBM’s Jeopardy master Watson. At Conversant, we have been leveraging this technology for clients for years. We make extensive use of artificial intelligence and machine learning as a part of the set of tools used to build the predictive models in our Core platform.
With the right scale, machine learning is absolutely a good thing – if not a must – for advertisers to enable cross-device matching, persistent connections with consumers, and more accurate audience segmentation. Not all companies have the technology or scale to do this. Conversant’s models make decisions in milliseconds and they do this constantly all day long. They also learn continuously, with every interaction or event adding a new piece of actionable information. The value of artificial intelligence and machine learning cannot be overstated, as they help clients learn about consumer behavior, understand their clients’ preferences, and ultimately drive the decisioning on the most optimal, personalized message delivered on the right device at exactly right time.
MTS: What is your roadmap for the future of personalization?
Agatha: Conversant is always looking ahead and finding ways to innovate and improve our offerings across our four core pillars: recognition and reach, individualized profiles, decisioning and delivery, and measurement and insights. Personalization is a holistic effort and all four of these areas must be fully optimized in order to be successful.
As companies increasingly embrace personalization, ensuring they can recognize and speak with the right consumers continues to be a priority. With that in mind, Conversant is expanding the touchpoints at which our clients can reach their consumers, including SMS, email, video and TV (OTT and smart TV). We know that consumers expect seamless brand experiences, so we are expanding our ability to continue the conversation from one touchpoint to another and tailor it to a consumer in real-time.
Measurement is another area of focus. We are developing products and capabilities that give clients greater visibility into the effectiveness of their digital marketing. Conversant has always been focused on generating incremental return on ad spend for clients, while continuing to prevent fraud and waste, and we know that our clients increasingly want to “feel” those efforts. We are providing more insight into the work being done on their behalf, using tools like cross-device attribution and media overlap reporting.
Lastly, more and more clients are asking for data portability, so Conversant is working on a new offering that will make that possible.
MTS: Thanks for chatting with us, Agatha.
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