Affinity Answers, founded under the name Colligent in 2005, has spent a decade building a new metric for brand success.
The data measurement company processes the social information of more than 400 million users per day to identify mutual affinities between brands and publishers that help them uncover, target and monetize untapped audiences.
The company identifies these mutual affinities by measuring actively engaged social behaviors a user exhibits toward brands and publishers. Such behaviors aren't “likes,” but hashtags, retweets, comments and other actions that indicate a consumer recently and earnestly engaged with a piece of content.
Affinity Answers CEO Sree Nagarajan sees branding measurement through mutual affinities as the answer to the audience extension issues that plague advertisers today.
AdExchanger sat down with Nagarajan to learn more about the company’s vision for branding measurement across the media industry.
AdExchanger: What problem do you solve?
SREE NAGARAJAN: The core problem we solve is audience extension. At the bottom of the funnel are purchase and intent data. While highly precise, they don’t have enough scale for advertisers. Broad demographic data has enough scale, but isn’t specific enough for the brand. If Coke buys an audience of 18- to 54-year-old men and women in the United States, it faces a huge problem with audience extension at the bottom of the funnel.
We use social affinity to solve that. With social media data, our system can look at an entire population derived using an observed and approximated methodology, rather than an instrumented sample.
We want to create a new standard for branding, data and measurement built on mutual affinity. We’ve created a metric called True Affinity, which we’d like to see become an industrywide currency. It’s been a challenge because the industry is still clinging to the old method of balanced selection.
Talk to me about “mutual affinities."
We look for mutual connections in social data to help brands reach new audiences.
We start at the business pages of big brands on social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to find actively engaged fans. We look for recent, highly interactive activities such as commenting, posting photos, retweeting, hashtagging or replying. We don’t track or catapult page likes because they can point to an action made years go.
Then we look to see what else these users actively engage with in other verticals, like entertainment. The mutual affinity allows us to draw connections between brands and publishers, measure new audiences and help brands better target their campaigns.
How has the company evolved since you founded it 10 years ago?
Affinity Answers started as an accidental meeting at a networking event. I met a musician who told me that if I wanted to really understand consumers, I’d have to look at their entertainment habits; they are more defining than anything else. I was a tech guy who knew nothing about the music industry. Once I started looking at it that way, a whole new world opened up.
We were called Colligent at the time, and we were trying to figure out how to get this kind of data at scale. That was around the time when Myspace emerged and you could suddenly measure people’s music affinities quantitatively. After measuring and selling this data to many major record labels, we found that it could be used to draw mutual connections between brands and publishers that we could monetize for both sides.
Now we look at all kinds of affinities. Where other data providers are segmented by vertical, we can draw very rich entertainment affinities for any brand on the market because of the nature of social data. We can then use that data to tell the brand marketer quantitatively whether or not their campaign was well received.
How do you differentiate?
Looking at active engagement and mutual affinity are the two key legs of our differentiation. We are the only company using mutual affinity.
The third [differentiator] is our business model. Competing companies like 4C and Nielsen don’t look at either of these metrics. Many of these companies are also into media buying. It’s a conflict of interest to sell both a buying platform and a managed data service and it puts them in competition with the agency. We don’t do media buying.
Advertisers look at data providers and try to decide, “Where should I put my money: affinity or broad demographic?” A company like Nielsen says they have plenty of reach even at the bottom of the funnel, but how are they actually achieving it? When you’re dealing with a demographic as large as females 18 to 24, it becomes very diluted.
The challenge for Nielsen and comScore is that they’ve built their system in a very precise way. They’re retrofitting social media into their current data measurements. The methodology is precise but it doesn’t accurately reflect what’s happening in the real world. Our approach, on the other hand, is approximate. We believe you can only be approximately right when targeting an audience. We’d rather target the right approximate group than precisely target the wrong customer.
Do you have a strategy for mobile or cross-device?
We are both media- and device-agnostic. Today it’s a mobile device, tomorrow it will be some yet-to-be-invented device that can read your mind. Because of that we want to build a system that is both device and media independent. The nice thing about social data is that it fits well into this model.
Who are your customers on the buy side and the sell side?
Our customers are advertisers, publishers and the ad tech companies in between.
The ad tech world predominantly uses our activation product. Google, Yahoo, DSPs like MediaMath and trade desks are long-running clients of ours. We also have a proprietary integration with Oracle Data Cloud and BlueKai, based on a third-party cookie exchange. We have about 1,500 segments tied to that who engage in programmatic, TV and social buys. We’re in active partnership discussions with Facebook. They’re coming out with some new and exciting things – we have to keep our lips sealed – that we have been invited to be a part of.
On the advertiser side, we work with brand marketers who use both our planning and activation products. Brand marketers have historically passed their data off to media agencies to optimize it for campaigns, but they never got quantification at the brand level. We see an opportunity to go directly to brand marketers, as well as forward-thinking agencies who act truly in their interest, to offer our measurement capabilities.
What can you say about revenues or growth?
We plan to grow 100% year over year, or double every year for the next three years. We think that’s actually a conservative estimate. Our revenue more than doubled from Q4 to Q1. We are on a fast growth path right now.
The past 10 years for us have been the dog years, but now we think the industry might be hitting a tipping point. It’s very hard to say when it’ll happen exactly, but the industry is facing enough pain points in terms of their existing measurement systems not really giving them what they need.