Randy Smith is President of ClearSaleing, an advertising analytics and attribution management platform company.
As part of its "State of..." series of articles with industry executives, AdExchanger.com sat down with Smith to discuss his company, his views on the space, and the state of ClearSaleing today.
Click below or scroll down for more:
- On Being Acquired by Ebay
- Retargeting and Display
- Attribution Challenges Today
- The Marketing Stack
- Uses Cases and Integration
- Working With The Agency
- Milestones Ahead
RS: There's an after‑transition effect. For example, Adam Goldberg has left ClearSaleing and is off with his next entrepreneurial opportunity. We're going through that normal transition that you do. The good news is that with Ebay’s GSI acquisition in January, we have been able to maintain our autonomy and move forward with our current business plan. We also get access to the GSI customer base as well as some of the cool things that eBay is doing. Finally, eBay will be a customer of ours and we’ll be working with them on some of their strategic initiatives.
It's the best of all worlds for us. We now have this whole community of customer, financial and technological access that as a standalone company, we just didn't have before. When eBay decides to go, they go in a big way and commit.
What would you say is the new type of client opportunity that's opened up?
No clients from eBay yet, but as I mentioned, we are working with eBay and they would have been a huge target. Nevertheless, we're continuing to grow and have over 200 advertisers on the platform now. About 70 percent of those customers come through indirect relationships, partnerships with agencies. True Action, our internal agency, is one of those, but it's OMD, iProspect, Rosetta and several others that we work with as well.
I'm curious about the impact of the retargeting world. It feels like e‑commerce publishers have bought into this ability to use media and data to drive new or incremental business. Is this something you're seeing?
Yes. Across all of our customers, we collect hundreds of millions of purchase paths. Basically, that individual’s interaction with ads actually leads to a conversion and, in the case of a retailer, some kind of a sale. We’re seeing digital media go from a demand harvesting focus to a demand generation focus.
That's the world of attribution. Once it's fully embraced, penetrates the market and everyone adopts the need to measure on an attributed basis, then you're going to see digital marketing start to get much more into the demand‑gen as opposed to the traditional media holding that role.
Is display advertising the sweet spot for ClearSaleing in terms of its offering?
No. Our clients come from retail, financial, services companies, hospitality, et cetera,. In fact, about 50 percent of our clients are in the retail sector. We see that there were 3.8 digital media touch‑points prior to a conversion on average, and what that means is, it's not any one media type alone. But, it's definitely the interaction of media and how it’s [positioned] in the funnel and the consideration cycle. What's the most appropriate media type given where you're at?
In the early stage, involving awareness, display is a big component and very underplayed given the last‑click measurement methodology. Then, you start to move down through email retargeting, and those kinds of things start to take hold. With search, everyone says, "Once attribution takes place is search going to decline?" And the answer is, "Absolutely not." But what you're going to see is something more general with search. A great example is one of our clients, American Greetings. Right before we took over their business four years ago,, they looked at their portfolio and said, "Geez, the only thing converting is our brand searches." We said, "That’s interesting. Let’s get ClearSaleing loaded and we'll see about that." They found out that well over 50 percent of their purchase paths had led someone to subscribe to an e‑greeting card service with two or more ads in it. Yet, these were all search‑oriented types of activities where we continue to see growth.
Mobile is a great example. What I'll say is, the Mobile Web is no different to us than you're normal browser. That's easy to track, and we can bring that in. When you get into things that are basically spun off the actual application level of mobile, that means you're going to start integrating at some level or creating some kind of data relationship with the application provider themselves. That's a very diverse, diffused market. So it's impossible right now for us to go and say, "We're going to go to these 3,000 different application developers and do something.” So we're trying to figure out, "How do we harness that non‑web mobile component of the mobile?" And that absolutely is a leakage point we're trying to figure out how to solve. We have a couple of initiatives we're looking at that are early so I can't get into them, but that absolutely is a pain point right now.
Maybe this goes back to the retargeting space but what's the low‑hanging fruit, then, for ClearSaleing right now?
Basically, it’s to get people who are pretty heavily search-focused to expand into display‑generally, and retargeting specifically, certainly. It’s to rework their email campaigns. We've identified, that, on average, there's somewhere between 25 and 35 percent of our advertiser's budget that is wasted. Basically, when we start running it, understanding the true contribution by looking at the conversion of events, etc, about 25 to 30 percent of the campaigns and ads are not profitable. So the first thing they can do is go ahead and say, "We eliminate those ads or we fix them to make them profitable." Then, all of a sudden, there's 25 or 35 percent that comes back in their pockets. That's opportunity one, and that's a low‑hanging fruit since it can easily be done literally within a few weeks once we have enough data to start picking those losers off.
Talking about the search marketing "crew" that you're targeting, what have been some of the hurdles for getting them over the hump of using display, other channels and your product?
Organizationally, the hurdles include working with the search manager where inherently we've got a block. We're trying wherever possible to get to the Director or VP of digital, whatever title the most senior person in digital is. Someone that is not just concerned about search, but also looking at other avenues. With that testing capability, the good news is they're not required to make a big investment to see if it works. We can, on a fairly finite basis and set of campaigns, test things and determine whether they work. Then, we can load up on the investment if they, in fact, determine that it is working for them.
Yes, and I think the way that we're approaching it inside of GSI and eBay is that it is as a collection of companies and we're looking at ways that those technologies can integrate. But no one - at least with the customers we deal with - is saying, “I want a one‑stop shop.” I'm not sure that the market is ready to sign up for that since there are so many different players - what's the best of breed?
And I don't think any company, including the big ones, are even anywhere close to having all the best of breeds across the entire stack. Yet, companies are positioning and trying to move there and develop their marketing stacks. It makes absolute sense, strategically.
The idea of integrating with the client and what sort of data you can have access to, it's absolutely critical to the function of your success of a product you offer. Can you talk about what is an ideal integration with a client is?
Sure. Let's just say this is a direct response company. There is a conversion. It is a sale. What we're trying to do is - if it is ecommerce‑related - we're going to integrate with the shopping cart technology to bring down the information of what was bought, what the sales price was and what was the cost of goods sold. We're going to back out the media cost so we're going to come up with an accurate net valuation of what that conversion was worth. Then, we are doing the tracking of all our digital marketing touch points by dropping code; therefore, all the clicks we're tracking based on the code we drop on their site.
And then we do integrations with the ad servers to bring in the impression data as well as integrating with six of the major email platforms to bring in email. Basically, what we're trying to do is capture as many of the digital touch points as we can and then line those up. We also do a deep integration then with the client to make sure we understand what the value of the conversion is. Once we know what that value is, we can attribute it.
It’s really about working with a client’s financial system if it's not an ecommerce or ERP system. They're bringing the data, or their shopping cart technology, which brings in the data.
Beyond that, if they're using one of the SEM platforms, we have an SEM platform that's a part of ours - but that's not where we try to win. We’ve actually done integrations with Marin Software and Kenshoo such that we provide attributed data while they can get the value of having automated SEM management and efficiency - but on an attributed basis as opposed to last‑click based decisions.
We also integrate with trading desks so they can do the same kinds of things on the display side. And we have some clients that bring in credit reports so they can measure lead sources. They know the higher the credit score, the better the quality of the customers.
Another thing that we focus on with integration is, "How do we capture as much of the offline conversion in addition to the online?" I mentioned integration with CRM and ERP in financial systems. If there's a call center, we have various methods to bring in call center data if the digital marketing drove someone to a call center. It’s all about mitigating linkage, if you will, so that we have a statistically sound representation of the true impact the digital marketing is driving.
The agency is the practitioner in this case. If a company (marketer) their own internal practitioners that do search, then we will work directly and provide for them. If they have an agency, then we will train up the agency in how they use it.
The integration is with, at the very least, the advertiser and the agency, and sometimes directly to that advertiser.
Have you found that you've had to bulk up on the services side more?
Not so much this year – which is something we figured out about a year and a half ago. We realized we have to surround it with training up front. We train either the advertiser and/or their agency and have an account management component. But on an ongoing basis, we're going to continue to take peeks and make sure that [the client team is] advancing, using the right components and drawing the right conclusions.
The account management component we overlay on top to make sure they're headed in the right direction and using what we call the ClearSaleing method - the best practices on how you use our platform. Then, we have a modeling and analytics group, which is added‑on value for the very large advertisers that want to get that final 10 percent benefit using advanced algorithmic‑based modeling.
And then, a lot of our customers are looking for just, "Help us with insights." And that's where our analytics group comes in.
So to your question, we have started to build out a little more services around the platform. "Platform plus people equals excellence," is our mantra.
To be clear, I'm not an authorized spokesman for eBay, but as you've seen publicly recently, with initiatives like X.Commerce, there is a play for an advertising analytics platform to be a part of that overall commerce network. We'll certainly be aggressively talking and partnering with our parent on those kinds of things.
Any final thoughts on milestones ahead in the next year or two for ClearSaleing - what would you like to have accomplished looking back in a year or two?
It gets back to collectively - us and our competitors - continuing to get from two and a half prospects out of 10 that have the budget, to where 10 out of 10 have the budget [for our products]. – when it is “mainstreamed,” if you will. We're seeing that rapid acceleration towards mainstreaming, but people are still catching up. That's number one.
Number two is from a selfish point of view - that we continue to be the market leader. Right now, we're the market leader in a small market segment. We want to be the market leader in a big market segment. To do that gets to our secondary objectives, which is, we have to continue to develop the product and be doing a lot around audience profiling, where media planning can be at a segmented level as opposed to a generic customer level. It's great to have attribution, but now if we can have attribution at a segmented level, that's really good stuff and allows for targeted, focused, media campaign planning activities.
By John Ebbert