I would caution that AI isn’t a cure-all solution — it must be backed up by strong products and strong people building those products.
Tell us about your role and journey into technology.
My journey into technology began at a very young age. I grew up in a house that appreciated technology; it’s hard to believe since this was the 80s, but my brother was a domain master when he was 8 years old! We were always talking about ways that technology would change the world, so even back then, I understood its importance and knew that’s where I wanted to focus my career.
Following several internships in college and Stanford grad school, I started working at P&G, where I was responsible for using technology to manage their inventory. I then moved to Capital One, where I was in charge of determining how targeting consumers with different credit card offers could drive the most revenue.
I entered the realm of ad tech when I started Advertising.com, a performance-based digital advertising platform with a focus on direct response. In 2004, Ad.com sold to AOL and I needed a new challenge, so shortly after that, I founded Videology, a software provider for converged TV and video advertising.
This year, Videology was acquired by Amobee, where I now serve as Chief Innovation Officer. In this new role, I’m responsible for determining and implementing Amobee’s strategic vision in the programmatic space, with a major focus on the changing world of TV advertising. Videology was focused on the upper marketing funnel and Amobee provides capabilities across the entire marketing funnel, so there’s enormous potential and it’s a very exciting time.
If not into MarTech and AdTech, in which other industry would you most likely have built your career?
There are so many industries that solve the same problems that I’m solving today in ad tech, so I could have an entirely different career, essentially still focusing on the same area. For example, the airline industry: How can you drive the most revenue from a particular seat on a plane, depending on who sees the price and when they see it. This is true of the hotel industry too, where one person walking in the door may be quoted a totally different price than someone else who calls one hour later.
The AdTech industry also shares traits with the trading side of financial services. But on Wall Street, instead of trading impressions, you’re trading commodities, stocks or bonds.
All of these industries are about yield management, and they succeed by answering the same question: How do you price a product and optimally manage and allocate that product, to drive maximum revenue based on what you have, and what you expect will be coming.
As a serial tech entrepreneur, how do you stay on top of the business?
For me, the most insight comes from constantly talking to clients as well as competitors. Industry conferences are a great way to meet with a lot of people in a short amount of time and it’s the one-on-one conversations that are the most valuable to me. Taking meetings, sharing information, using the product; these are all things that help me stay on top of the quickly changing market.
There are two categories of people that I find the most informative: First, those working on the edge of transformation; the men and women on the frontiers of the industry. They help me determine what to look-out for next. The second group is the industry insiders who are well-established and have been in the industry for a long time. They help me understand the psyche of who I’m working with, who is using our product and have a handle on where the industry shifts are happening and when the customer is ready to move.
It’s absolutely crucial to pay attention to how everything is running day to day, to get into the platform and understand what we are delivering to clients and where the value is. To truly understand the business, you need to lift the hood and see all the pieces.
How do you see video marketing platforms evolving in the next 3-4 years? Which technologies would most likely impact the adoption rate of video platforms?
In the course of the next few years, video platforms will need to become more omnichannel, because consumers are getting more omnichannel. From 2008 to 2017, we saw a 23 percent uptick in audience consumption of digital video and advanced TV, and time spent watching video on all devices has been growing steadily in the past few years. Consumers are moving seamlessly between screens and devices, and the technology needs to follow them, including on linear TV. We know that ads seen on TV create a strong emotional connection with viewers, and adding data to that delivery helps take TV advertising to the next level. We’re at a major tipping point for the TV industry, and any marketing platform today should be thinking about how to help advertisers capitalize on that.
The reality is that advertisers must follow consumers on their journey across devices and channels. Today, video platforms should be focused on cultivating a highly personalized consumer journey. The best platforms are ultimately able to solve the challenges of fragmentation by helping advertisers plan, execute and measure across multiple channels, applying the right data in the right places to drive that advertiser’s unique KPIs.
How different is the Programmatic Advertising ecosystem in the US today than when you first started?
When I first entered the industry in the 90s, it was like the Wild West. Marketers were looking to reach their audience with more precision, but had no idea what was possible or where to start; the only thing they knew to measure was clicks. Ad fraud was also a major problem and was prevalent in the industry.
Today, things have shifted enormously; advertisers are far savvier and know it’s possible, and important, to measure far beyond the click. They’re looking for real-world results that matter to them: How much product did these ads move off shelves? How many people came to our restaurant after seeing the ad? These are the answers advertisers are looking for, and the best platforms give them those insights and more.
When it comes to ad fraud, the industry has fought back. At Advertising.com, we were one of the first companies to take a strong stance against ad fraud, and that commitment continued at Videology and today at Amobee. It is crucial for technology partners to provide transparency and this applies to brand safety and fraud prevention as well as other aspects of successful marketing.
How does it compare against the digital advertising marketplaces in Europe and APAC?
North America is still in the lead in terms of maturity for digital advertising, but the truth is APAC not far behind. In fact, it’s expected that total media spending in APAC will surpass the US.by 2020, reaching $254 billion vs $250 billion; in fact, APAC currently accounts for one-third (33.5%) of Global Media Spend. Meanwhile, media spending in Europe is still a bit behind (about $137 billion), but the technology is moving fast and the digital shift is happening almost as quickly as it is in the US.
Both markets have their challenges, though. In APAC, there is a considerable lack of reliable data for brands, especially in developing markets, which makes it difficult to have a consistent approach across regions. Both markets are facing legal and regulatory challenges that we don’t have in North America. It falls to tech companies to navigate these challenges and stay on top of the latest changes in rules or data availability. There’s a huge growth opportunity in both markets, especially in APAC because of the sheer volume of consumers.
In order to expertly navigate these markets and their unique challenges, it’s important that advertisers look for partners with a local presence in these locations. The nuances aren’t subtle, and success in the US may look different from success in Europe or APAC.
How do new technologies such as AI impact the ecosystem?
The right applications of AI are already better automating buying and optimization to free the marketing and agency teams to focus more on strategy, messaging and creative. Science and technology should augment and power the art of marketing, not replace it; you absolutely must have the right data and the right technology. You also need the right team interpreting the analytics and developing the strategy, AI alone will not move the needle for your business.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?
AI will inherently drive better results for advertisers as it continues to improve and mature because the data is better and the decisions are swifter. AI provides a higher level of consumer understanding that lets us create a more personalized consumer journey, and in advertising, relevance is key. I would caution that AI isn’t a cure-all solution — it must be backed up by strong products and strong people building those products. For me, making advertising more automated and optimized is a positive advancement, but that doesn’t mean businesses can take shortcuts or assume all the hard work will fall to the AI.
Among myriad other applications, Amobee’s platform uses AI to help automate day-to-day tasks, so the marketer is free to focus on strategy. Our data science team has built an ensemble of algorithms that provide feedback and take action in real time, allowing marketers the ability to significantly improve and optimize their campaigns in-flight quicker and more effectively. By leveraging AI to ensure the data coming in and data going out is more accurate and predictions are better and more precise, marketers will inherently drive better ROI for their clients.
How do you inspire your people to work with technology?
I believe that you should do what you say, and that is especially true when it comes to your own product. I encourage my teams to get in the platform and use the technology, and I think that’s equally important for leaders: How can I champion the technology and how can I improve it, if I’m not using it myself? It helps to inspire through demonstration of the technology; by being an early adopter, I encourage other early adopters.
One word that best describes how you work.
I certainly think many people who know me would use words such as “enthusiastically” or “energetically” or “passionately.” But I think another important word for me is “iteratively.” In this business, we’re moving so fast, and need to respond to every market change quickly and intelligently. I’ve found it’s crucial that I make quick decisions, but always be open to testing and re-evaluating.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
For me, software is all about productivity. Email, messaging, chat — these things make the business move faster, and make it possible to keep up with every change as it happens. I also can’t live without streaming music.
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
I am a big believer in immediate follow-up. Nothing gets done better or more efficiently than a step taken immediately following — or even during — a conversation or meeting. I’ve found your result will degrade exponentially the longer you wait to take action, so I always set up the next meeting during the first meeting, and always discuss next steps before leaving the room.
What are you currently reading?
I voraciously consume information; I have to force myself to turn off all information flow when it’s time to focus on a deliverable or focus on my family.
I’ve just finished reading The Execution Factor by Kim Perell. She does an incredible job of putting her path to success into real, actionable terms. I love her passion and enthusiasm for getting things done.
I also can’t put down my son’s middle school history book: Everything You Need to Ace American History in One Big Fat Notebook. It’s fascinating!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“It’s not about where you are, it’s your trajectory that matters.” This is so true, and we’ve seen it in companies such as Google, where they had a major pivot from where they began, and the rest is history.
I was also told when I was young to “always assume the best intentions” in other people. This is something that has been so valuable to me and is advice that I constantly pass onto my team. I try not to react blindly or to create a situation in my mind that doesn’t exist; most people are approaching the world, and their work, with the best intentions, and keeping this in mind helps drive better communications and more effective and friendly interactions.
Something you do better than others — the secret of your success?
I’ve been told that my passion is the first thing many people notice about me. I can’t stress enough how important it is to believe in what you do. True passion is infectious for other people and can inspire them more than anything else.
Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Thank you, Scott ! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.