The Monday Stack: Watson Ads and Future Proofing
Let's not overlook one splashy announcement at NYC Advertising Week last week, which might be highly significant or the adtech space — or might not. We'll have to wait and see.
I think the first really clear and compelling statement on the future of programmatic I heard came from Jeremy Hlavacek of The Weather Company, at a conference back in 2015. That was the year the forecasting and tech company was acquired by IBM.
The Weather Company's back story is intriguing, and in many ways emblematic of the data-driven marketing and advertising environment which surrounds us. Offering personalized meteorological updates, especially via a popular mobile app, put TWC in a position to aggregate an enormous set of first-party data, and — of course — location data. Swifty, a weather company became an adtech company, and a powerful one.
In partnership with IBM, it launched a series of initiatives — for example, JOURNEYfx, a platform for first-party data-based location targeting. Last week, IBM Watson entered the picture with the re-branding of TWC as IBM Watson Advertising. This not only acknowledges TWC's central mission — using data to power campaigns — but also signals the use of AI to analyse and optimize these vast tracts of customer information: some 25 billion data transactions per day.
At the launch event at MoMA, Jordan Bitterman, CMO of IBM Watson Content and IoT Platform, underlined the scope for using AI in this context: "85% of data goes unused," he said. 85 cents of every advertising dollar vanishes into a "walled garden." And marketers are struggling to activate, on average, 21 different tech solutions. "Enter AI," he concluded.
Carrie Seifer, IBM Watson's CRO, described a "scaled, cognitive, and open" eco-system which forecasts 2.2 billion user locations every 15 minutes. In tandem with "Lucy," IBM's cognitive marketing platform, holds out the promise of bringing (former-) TWC data together with 2nd and 3rd-party data, to generate audience segments and automated suggestions for creative content. "DCO [dynamic creative optimization] on steroids," Seifer says.
Given TWC's remarkable progress in the adtech space, the announcement is exciting (even if one skeptic told me "it's re-branding what's already there). My question: Is it sticky? Watson Campaign Automation (formerly Silverpop) didn't exactly sweep aside its Adobe, Oracle, and Salesforce competition (full disclosure: we use it for some tasks).
Will Watson Advertising dominate the enterprise adtech space, or will we be talking about something else a few months from now?
Between Advertising Week engagements, I also caught up recently with G2 Crowd, the business software review platform, in the form of chief customer and growth officer Adrienne Weissman. Unlike review site CabinetM, which currently has an exclusively marketing tech focus, G2 Crowd solicits reviews of software across the gamut of business functions. Right now, it hosts some 225 thousand validated user reviews, a number which, said Weissman, "is growing exponentially."
Validation is the key. "We still validate all reviews by LinkedIn, and manually," said Weissman. "I think [validation] is really important," said Weissman, "because of the challenges in a digital world of trolling, fake IDs and spamming. We see it affect our lives every day." Users who submit reviews to G2 Crowd must have a valid, checkable LinkedIn profile." Human eyes also check the reviews. "There's always someone trying to game the system," said Weissman.
With $30 million-worth of Series B funding in May this year, the platform is trying to grow, said Weissman, in terms of total number of reviews, traffic, and revenues. Weissman distinguishes G2 Crowd from another prominent software review site, TrustRadius, by not being primarily a pipeline and lead source for vendors. Similarly, she differentiates G2 Crowd from Gartner's Capterra, which she describes as a way to "seed vendors into the Gartner machine, overall." (G2 Crowd monetizes its business, not entirely unlike Gartner, by selling reports and data based on the reviews.)
She told me: "We do everything with the buyer first in mind. Think of it in terms of Google organic search results versus paid results. The vendor has no influence."
One story I reported in depth earlier this year was Pegasystem's push to be taken as seriously for its AI-powered CRM as for its BPM software. Here they come again with an enhancement to the platform: what they're calling "the industry's first AI transparency controls." The latest release of the Customer Decision Hub includes a "T-switch" which will enable users to pre-define transparency levels for their AI models.
Essentially, AI can function as a black box for businesses: data in, recommendations out — and who knows what happens in-between? This is likely to be problematic in a GDPR environment, where regulators will insist businesses be able to explain how AI is leveraging customer data.
Some future-proofing, then, for a coming regulatory system marketers and advertisers are still trying to comprehend. You think it's only going to affect Europe?
And finally, as the digital wheels spin faster, and the world hurtles towards...well, who knows?...HIRO Media, the programmatic video advertising platform, comes out with a solution which seems necessary as soon as you read about it: "the world's first" safe SSP.
In case you took your eyes off of this corner of the space, SSPs are supply-side platforms: Mirror images of DSPs, they automate and optimize sales of impressions for publishers. HIRO's safe SSP seeks to filter out malicious ads (think piracy and fraud) in real time. Another piece of future-proofing, not only helping to defend the reputations of publishers, but of programmatic itself.
Logo by Hilary Allison