ValueClick’s gradual transformation from an ad network 15 years ago to an ad-tech provider – focused on ad personalization and decisioning – entered a new phase Monday when it rebranded as Conversant.
The name, said CEO John Giuliani, represents the consolidation of the different technological components the company has assembled over the last several years.
“We’re perceived as individual business units, at least from a customer side,” Giuliani said. “And investors look at us as a bunch of different assets but aren’t sure how they fit together. In a year, we want customers to understand where we are in a single roof, and investors to understand how those assets work together more cleanly, and how that offers differentiation and utility.”
The feeling among these parties, he said, was that ValueClick’s “assets had become greater than the sum of its parts.”
ValueClick’s transformation includes the divestiture of its owned and operated (O&O) sites on Jan. 16. “That was the last divestiture we needed to move our assets to a place where they can all come together,” Giuliani said.
Conversant's assets include a demand-side platform (DSP) inherited from the 2011 Dotomi acquisition (where Giuliani had served as president and CEO), ad-serving and tracking technologies, tag management, mobile in-app advertising, affiliate marketing through Commission Junction and ValueClick’s traditional media network.
These once-disparate technologies, Giuliani said, will come together into a single tech stack. “It’s not single today,” he conceded, “but it’s going to be moving together so the unification of the profile can inform all areas of our business. It’s going to be an ongoing thing.”
R. “Ray” Wang, principal analyst and CEO at Constellation Research, notes that these massive directional shifts have become common in the ad industry, especially as the display ad business has become commoditized. “[The Conversant/ValueClick] guys are experts at changing themselves,” he said. “They're as agile as it gets.”
This isn’t to say that he expects a seamless transition from ValueClick to Conversant. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw some management changes there in the next three to six months,” he said. As with other companies who have undergone changes similar to Conversant’s, the biggest challenge – aside from raising more revenue – will be cultural, specifically reorganizing the training staff so they're poised to sell the entire Conversant stack instead of individual solutions.
“A big piece of it is how people sell,” Wang explained. “What the comp plans are, what people are pitching. It’s easy to fall back on what you know versus what you don’t know. You need to get the pricing plans down right. People get used to selling the way they’ve always sold. That’s the biggest barrier.”
Specifically, many companies that own numerous, disparate technologies, tend to focus on one product at the expense of others. “And in this case,” Wang said, “you just can’t do that.”
But Conversant has already combined its technologies in a number of places, said Ric Elert, the company’s COO. Since Q3 2013, the company has set up a common identification system for consumers as they interact with different facets of an enterprise.
“Serving the ad, data capture, pixels firing, all correlate to one common engagement across the enterprise,” Elert said, “which allows us to align all the data, all the interaction, all the attribution. That lets us build that holistic view of our customer base and their customers across the enterprise.”
It is this element that will be key to whether or not Conversant’s unified tech stack is successful. The ability to hang identities on interactions touching 30 billion to 40 billion touchpoints per day, Elert said, is the core of Conversant’s solution.
“Our identification comes down to a couple of components,” he said. “One is the sheer scale of interactions and transactions we see on the network. As you interact on the Internet and with the enterprise, we’re constantly evaluating who you are as an individual across all your devices, how you roll up into the household, how you interact with offline data coming into the enterprise. All of those things are acting at a very high frequency and that allows us to maintain that identification without using PII for a much longer point of time than most other companies.”
It’s essentially a layering of first-party, third-party, transactional and self-reported data in lieu of device fingerprinting. This means as customer interactions cross branded sites, promotional email and other messaging, Conversant’s technologies aggregate these engagements into a single chain.
As the chain of interactions increases, Conversant tries to weave them together, and if the link breaks – say an individual drops off the grid for a while – Conversant’s technology waits and tries to link future interactions to rebuild that link, realigning the consumer profile.
Besides identity, the second large element of Conversant’s integration efforts involved siphoning all the data flowing into an enterprise into a single warehouse and aligning that data with the common identifiers.
The final big piece involved media buying, ensuring that direct inventory and exchange-based inventory came through a common gateway, designed to allow Conversant to evaluate all advertising campaigns running through its systems centrally and at the same time. “Everything we see and have the opportunity to use from a media perspective comes through that gateway,” Elert said.
Going forward, Elert said Converant plans to build out a common reporting infrastructure and an internal user interface that controls media campaigns running across the enterprise.
The success of ValueClick’s rebrand and realignment into Conversant will, of course, be determined by the company’s earnings going forward.
“We came from a year with modest growth, which we’ll announce [Feb. 11],” Giuliani said, “and we embarked upon this to really get ourselves into more solid, double-digit growth on an organic basis going forward.”