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Digital Insider: Five Questions for Tom Phillips

Tom Phillips, former director of search analytics at Google, has recently stepped into a new role as President and CEO of Media6Degrees, a venture-backed start up. Two weeks into his new position, Phillips shared his thoughts on how next generation advertising will leverage the best of search, display and the social graph.

1. What challenges does today’s CMO currently face, as compared to five years ago?

The CMO is under pressure. There is this pent up demand for digital media spend. Somewhere around 30% of media consumption is digital, and yet spending is half that. The question is “How do I buy digital effectively? I could spend 8% of my budget on search engine marketing, but where do I go from there?”  They know their customers are there, but they can only get so far with search. It’s single digits.

2. How does this pressure transfer to the agencies?

Agencies are on the hook to find performance display: display that leads to a measurable action. They are still thrashing around in terms of what will work in display that scales. I don’t think that there are great answers. They have certainly tried contextual display, they have tried behavioral display, and they have tried bulk display.  Display advertising is the poor step-sister to search. People are still looking for that measurable element.

3. So what can display learn from search?

Display is rarely at the bottom of the funnel. If I show a display ad for Nikon, and watch when the browser ends up on a particular URL, it’s about measuring the proclivity to end up at the Nikon site and buy a Nikon camera. It might work or not, but we are measuring if running that display campaign will increase buying behavior.  There is an analogy with search engine marketing: finding the brand loyalists is like engaging in branded search. Finding their connections is like generic search. Audience development brings the two together. It is about discovering the connections, the people that will have similar loyalty and brand affinity based on the social graph. 

4. How would a marketer engage in audience development?

The first thing is to establish who your brand loyals are – the people who are buying something, visiting product pages – but with absolutely no PII. This requires the brand’s cooperation. These brand loyalists are the seeds.  From here, you identify network neighbors to predict the connective tissue of the web. This is done by looking at the social graph, the data and mapping it to that set of seeds. Your stars turn into solar systems and your solar systems turn into galaxies.

5.  So what remains to be solved in the audience development technology?

It is a highly iterative process with hundreds of billions of data processed per month. In search, the history has been written. It took Google 2-3 years to figure out Adwords. They had to try it with different marketers, and all the while, the user behavior was advancing. This very similar, but it will take a awhile to get to the promised land.  

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