People Platform – Viant on making the most of its 1.2bn registered users

David Murphy talks people-based targeting with Toby Benjamin, VP of Viant

When Viant bought MySpace in 2011, it acquired in the process what Viant VP Toby Benjamin describes as “one of the largest registration databases in the world”. Over 1bn consumers, in fact, who had given MySpace consent to market to them on a one-to-one basis in return for MySpace services. Five years later, Viant was itself bought by Time Inc, whose 100 or so consumer brands include well-known titles like Now, Look, Marie Claire, NME and Time, all with print editions but also online digital properties. It’s the combination of those two data assets which forms the foundation of Viant’s Advertising Cloud,  people-based marketing platform.

“As we see it, for a people-based platform, you have to have a consumer relationship, as opposed to consistent IDs and aggregating data points, and for that you need a consumer brand,” says Benjamin. “The the combination of the MySpace and Time Inc data assets gives us first-party data at scale.”

Even with the data, Benjamin argues, there are other things you need for a people-based marketing platform. Firstly, the relationship and value exchange. “You need this at scale,” he says, and with 1.2bn registered users, including half the online population in the UK, we have that.

“But you also need accuracy. With the Myspace database, a lot had changed in people’s lives since they registered, so to maintain the quality of names, email address, etc, we have consumer interactions across the Time Inc universe. Things like magazine subscriptions or emails when people sign up for newsletters. This doesn’t apply to everyone though, so we partner with Experian and a couple of other big data companies for a one-to-one ID level match. Once a quarter we validate our data with the Experian database. They look at the data and they compare the address, the surname for females and lots of other elements and then refresh that data when they pass it back.

Device linkage
The ability to reach those people is also obviously important. “We can email those people but how do you reach them via device linkage?” Benjamin asks. “There are probabilistic solutions out there, but we are fully deterministic because we have that consumer connection that we have built through our owned and operated interactions – people logging into magazines online, opening emails from Time Inc publishers, so if someone opens one of our emails on a device we can link that device to that consumers’ profile.

“We’re not Facebook, we don’t have their scale, so we work with a publisher network in the UK and the US, including large online commerce platforms, to acquire those linkages, so we have the customer ID, first party registration data, plus various pieces of up-to-date information on the consumer, plus the device graph attached to that consumer.”

Finally, says Benjamin, you need the consumer’s consent to market to them, which comes back to the direct relationship and the ability to ask for that consent. In that respect, one piece of impending legislation looms large on the horizon – GDPR, set to come into force next May. How will that affect companies live Viant sitting on so much consumer data. Benjamin argues that its impact will be minimal.

“I think we will be the least impacted because we hold consumer consent,” he says. “The companies most affected by GDPR and the ePrivacy directive will be the companies who do not have consent; the ones who are buying or aggregating from other companies, data aggregators, DMPs. We have a direct relationship. You come to Marie Claire and sign up so we have the consent, so we are in a good position.”

Companies use the Viant platform in a variety of ways. One is to activate against a company’s own first party data, taking an offline CRM profile and matching against Viant’s database. “This delivers match rates up to 65 per cent,” says Benjamin. “So if I have a million Virgin Media customers, I match half of them so I can market to half of them. If the scale is not enough, we can use ID lookalike capabilities. A common use case is where a client wants to onboard their current customers then build a lookalike model using ID data, not cookies, to identify and target people with a high likelihood of becoming new customers.

“We know age, gender, email, postal address, browsing habits and content reading habits but that’s it, so we also partner with companies like Epsilon, Experian, RAC and Boots to append what they know about those consumers to our database. So taking the RAC as an example, they know, for 70 per cent of cars on the road in the UK, the people who drive that car, so they can append the make and model of car someone owns so that an advertiser can target the owners of a specific make and model of car on a one-to-one level.

The mobile piece of the Viant jigsaw takes the shape of Adelphic, a mobile-first DSP that Viant bought in March this year. “We had been in market for a DSP for two years and assessed over 30 leading companies, and we saw a clear distinction,” says Benjamin. “In one camp, you have DSPs who are desktop- and cookie-based, trying to pivot into mobile, and in the other, smaller, but mobile-first companies specialising in device IDs. When we were looking to acquire, we knew we wanted a truly self-service DSP. Lots of them say they are, but in truth it’s mainly a managed service, whereas Adelphic has no managed service customers.

“The second big thing was transparency. The heritage in this industry is the black box mentality ad network. The thing we were hit with the whole time was openness and transparency, so Adelphic ticks that box. And thirdly, we did not want to acquire a cookie-based DSP, so buying into a speciality mobile DSP made sense. Added to that, Adelphic had relationships with all five major holding groups, and is the preferred mobile DSP for two of those so it ticked all the right boxes. Now with Adelphic on board, what we have done is to plug in all the assets that Viant holds, so any Adelphic customer can navigate from their Adelphic log in to the ID management platform and be executing against it in five minutes.”

And while Adelphic is plugged into all the major exchanges, Benjamin says the trend in the way it sells its programmatic inventory is definitely in line with a shift back to quality and premium. “Between 2006 and 2008, media buying was all about context and direct buys,” he says. “Then between 2008 and 2010 there was a rapid switch to behavioural targeting, cookie-based buying and the rise of DSPs, so we saw arbitrage, exchanges coming from nowhere, and every impression being deemed the same. It was all about who the user is and a move away from caring about what the site is – the individual is all.

“But now viewability and fraud are the big issues and so today we are seeing growth in Private Marketplaces and Programmatic Guaranteed so a large proportion of the buys now are on a PMP basis. And that plays well with being owned by Time Inc. We have access to that premium inventory and can integrate with that to enable advertisers to reach individuals with content-rich experiences.”

Beyond the duopoly
Like many in the ad tech business outside of Facebook and Google, Benjamin is keen to stress that there is life beyond Facebook and Google. It’s a message we all hear constantly, but I wonder, is it getting through?

“The message is starting to get through,” Benjamin insists. “I’m not sure the message that there are alternatives is getting through but the one about ID and people-based being the future is getting through. I’m not seeing a single agency or advertiser who is comfortable with the old ways. The cookie is dead, its gone, all the growth is coming from mobile. We are seeing Verizon buying Yahoo and AOL, Salesforce and Adobe moving into the ad tech space and the buy side reacting with Dentsu Aegis acquiring Merkle. The whole marketplace is drastically and rapidly trying to pivot into ID-based marketing.

“And there are alternatives to Facebook and Google, but there aren’t many of them. As I said earlier, to be a people-based platform you need the consumer relationship at scale and their consent, so if you take that into account, you can probably count the alternatives on one or maybe two hands. There’s not a huge amount of players who can play definitively in that space, but I would put ourselves in that bucket, together with Amazon, Oath if it gets it act together and a few others.

The final piece of the puzzle, says Benjamin, is measurement to enable brands to understand the impact of their advertising across devices and see, for example, the contribution made by exposure to an ad on mobile to a purchase later made on another device, or in a physical store.

“Cross-channel is the next level,” he says. “With ID at the core we can link to other offline and online channels pulling in direct mail and email and ad exposure so you can link back to the identity and say: ‘I served this cadence of ads to this consumer across these channels and devices so did they transact with me?’ And this is not just in digital channels but in physical stores. If they swipe a loyalty card or you get their home address because you had to deliver a sofa to them, you can trace it back to see if you served them an ad prior to that purchase to enable brands to understand their return on investment.”

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