Ari Brandt is CEO of Linkstorm, an online advertising technology company.
AdExchanger.com: Why are brand marketers attracted to Linkstorm's technology?
AB: Measurable performance. Brand marketers require greater return from their campaigns and can't rely on "soft metrics" like engagement and awareness anymore. In this economy, there's too much pressure to demonstrate real ROI. What attracts them to Linkstorm is the ability of our navigation menus to offer a much richer set of marketing messages into what used to be a limited, static "footprint" of a display ad - and to let customers navigate deeply into their website with a single click, right to the particular product information, marketing message, or even conversion transaction that the customer wants.
Please discuss current momentum at Linkstorm. Also, what trends are you seeing from your clients in 2009?
We've had a busy summer and our Q4 is looking really strong. We now have 50+ campaigns under our belt which have documented 2x-5x increases in click-through rate via strict A/B comparisons between a Linkstorm-enabled ad and the same ad without a Linkstorm menu overlay. As a results of those tests, we're now seeing renewals and expansions from many of those clients as well as rapid uptake from new customers who are eager to see immediate results from their Q4 campaigns. The trend we're seeing is clients are demanding accountability and flexibility, both of which are strong points for Linkstorm.
How is Linkstorm addressing the purchase funnel?
Linkstorm's strength is that it enables a single display ad to address multiple customers' needs across all stages of the purchase funnel, from early-stage awareness and product consideration to late-stage, in-market intender transactions. Further, even within each individual stage of the funnel, we can address the whole spectrum of customer profiles and purchase motivations.
So in addition to applying multiple criteria to target an ad like a laser, with the hope you'll hit the exact customer profile, purchase motivation, and stage of the funnel you're aiming for, we present all of these options in our navigation menus and we let the customer self-select the path that they want. Even the best targeting mechanisms in the world can only provide a certain level of accuracy, whereas if you let the customer choose, in effect the customer crosses the last mile of targeting themselves.
What's your view on ad exchanges? Do they offer an opportunity to Linkstorm?
Absolutely, and we have relationships with several of them. The migration to ad exchanges is another great example of the pressure to achieve ROI, and with Linkstorm providing an ROI boost over and above what the ad network is already providing, there's a natural complement. Many networks are hard-pressed to differentiate themselves from others; offering Linkstorm as a premium enhancement gives them an extra edge by promising to lift performance even higher.
What success metrics are important for clients to consider in a Linkstorm campaign? Considering its interactivity, time spent might be considered important, for example? And how do these relate to insight on the consumer?
Time spent browsing our menus is certainly important, because in effect this is almost equivalent to time spent on the advertiser's site. For example a retailer's Linkstorm menu can pack a good portion of the retailer's catalog right into the ad itself, or a car menu can present a significant amount of product consideration information and selling points right in the ad, upfront.
Then in addition, seeing all those navigation choices drives a 2x-5x increase in CTR. Further still, these additional clicks aren't just random/accidental clicks or resulting from some Rich Media animation or game - instead they're qualified leads that go deep into the advertiser's website, right to the product, marketing info or transaction the customer wants. So it's not just "more" clicks - it's also higher-value, more self-qualified clicks. That leads to higher conversion and lower abandonment rates.
All of these metrics are like real-time research and we dynamically optimize messaging, product offers, etc to adjust based on consumer interest and performance.
How do the recently-announced agency buying platforms impact Linkstorm strategy now or in the future?
We expect this to represent a faster route to higher volume. We already have strong agency relationships and have engaged in discussions of highly favorable CPM rates in exchange for larger-volume commitments.
Trying to understand the competitive set here... Do you consider Linkstorm a creative optimization company similar to Teracent and Tumri?
We're competitive with Tumri and Teracent in that we're typically competing for the same budget, yet we could actually work together for an even better outcome for the client. For example their multi-variant optimization "engines" could be used to optimize our Linkstorm menus in terms of messaging, graphics, menu choices, order of links, etc. - and conversely, our own customer interaction data could feed their optimization engines, because our data is far richer and more granular than they would normally deal with.
Also, we do compete in that one of Linkstorm's major value propositions is the ability to optimize based on our rich customer data - and to do so in real-time, because any update to a Linkstorm menu is performed centrally, and the new menu is instantly distributed to all the ads everywhere on the Internet. This is because our menu is actually a separate unit from the underlying creative - and so it can be optimized all day long without have to touch the base ad.
So ultimately, we represent a fundamentally different approach to the same goal - though one that can complement, not necessarily just compete. And again, the most important difference is that while these other vendors are trying to improve their targeting of customers or their optimization of message, we are all about letting the customer choose. It's a big difference in philosophy.
What are some key takeaways you're bringing from Conde Nast to your role as CEO of Linkstorm?
My time at Conde Nast as well as at Yahoo provided me with a interesting publisher perspective on ad technology and ad networks/exchanges. Publishers have lost "ownership" of their audience and in many respects their content. As a result, publishers need to offer unique, custom tools to advertisers that can't be replicated and ultimately help sell product. At Linkstorm we have a similar goal, we help advertisers in three ways; first, enhancing conversion, simply manifested as higher (multiples of) click-thru rates. Second, higher engagement, meaning the ability of Linkstorm to deep link customers into specific parts of the sight vs. home page (lower abandonment rate). Third, actual steering to sales or completing a transaction, like we can do with our partnership with Adgregate alternative.
What data sets does Linkstorm use to effect targeting on behalf of its client?
Again Linkstorm's philosophy is to turn targeting around and instead let the customer choose. The best targeting in the world can't get all the way into the customer's head, whereas the customer is already there.
But there are powerful ways that Linkstorm does reinforce or complement targeting. If a targeting mechanism is already being used, Linkstorm can respond by providing a menu that is even more customized for that particular target - e.g. a menu linking to stores within the geo-targeted area, or a menu tailored to particular profile of customer or a particular stage of the purchase funnel. Then in the reverse direction, Linkstorm's highly granular click-through data can feed a targeting engine by indicating that not only is the customer interested in a particular item, but a specific feature. That knowledge could make the targeting and re-targeting far more precise.
How will impression-level, real-time bidding affect Linkstorm? Is this an important development?
Linkstorm is technology and media-agnostic - meaning we can deploy off anything and anywhere an ad is served. Ultimately, every development that drives greater transparency, accountability and performance-based decision-making is good for Linkstorm.