Sebastiaan Schepers is Chief Operating Officer of BannerConnect, an online display advertising network.
AdExchanger.com: Please provide a bit of background on BannerConnect. And, how is it tied to TechConnect?
Officially, we started in 2001 when TechConnect was an IT service provider with a small network of technology and gaming publishers.
However, the roots go back to 1997, when one of our founders Michiel Beenen started an online hardware magazine called m3dzone.com. Later that year, as visitor numbers grew, ads were placed on the website which earned our first advertising dollars. The site attracted more and more visitors and was translated from Dutch to English. Now visitors from all over the world found their way to the site, but the ads remained targeted to Dutch users only - many webmasters were facing the same problem at the time. To meet our need for geo-targeted advertisements, we set our own ad server up, and with that our ad network was born. It was at that point that BannerConnect, as a new division of TechConnect B.V., was established.
We started with three ambitious people and right now we have thirty-three full-time employees. Our HQ is located in Sittard, NL and we have an office in Manhattan, New York.
What is BannerConnect offering clients today both from a publisher and advertiser perspective?
Our aim is to form strategic partnerships with publishers to increase monetization of online advertising. A recent example of this is RealGames, where we facilitate the direct sales teams with training, trafficking and technical support. We are also expanding into new areas like social and mobile media for increased reach. A custom platform was built by our in-house engineers specifically tailored to facilitate processes like IO’s, reporting, finance, revenue forecasts and partner logins.
For advertisers we provide transparent media buying services and exchange expertise, with a very hands-on personal approach. As a complimentary service we offer view-time tracking, creative interaction and conversion path tools, which we initially built in-house for internal purpose.
What do you think are the keys to remaining a successful ad network? - Do you consider yourselves an "ad network"?
As in any other field of business, the key to remaining successful in advertising is to continue adding value for existing and prospective customers.
From its origins as an ad network, BannerConnect has since evolved into a Trading Platform. Along with facilitating the buying and selling of online inventory on specific sites, channels and audiences through multiple auction-based technology platforms, we go beyond regular commercial publisher/advertiser interactions.
With advertiser services such as spot buying and full control on our proprietary self-service solutions, which fully support white labelling management, a Trading Platform extends partnerships with direct publisher relations, a top layer of management software that transcends existing platforms, and ad operation management, business development and optimization.
Beyond the basics, our more advanced services include training sales and management teams, and offering integrated support and optimization for the companies who want to get the most out of their inventory or advertisements.
Do you use third-party data fit in your plans today? Are regulatory restrictions prohibitive for the use of data in Europe today?
We found that the uplift of third-party data often isn’t worth the expense. Instead, our system uses proprietary data analysis tools which we often combine with additional services such as those from AudienceScience. Nevertheless, we are always on the look-out for new data providers.
Like most companies in the industry, we follow the discussions about the use of data very closely. Laws and regulations will come sooner or later, which is why it’s important to make sure our business is ready for when that time comes.
Today, we have started building our own user analysis algorithms to identify users server-side without the need for cookies. In addition, we are a member of the IAB and adhere to their regulations for data collection and audience targeting. Proactively working with the IAB is also a way for us to speak up as an industry player and inform governments about who we are and what we do.
More U.S. ad networks and demand-side platforms are opening offices in Europe. Does this concern you? How will you differentiate?
We tend to look at our own strengths and weaknesses first before looking at others. In this fast-moving industry, competitors come and go very often. We also recently opened our own US office.
BannerConnect differentiates in knowledge, media relations and service. Our way of doing business is transparent, honest, fast and direct. The Dutch way, if you will. Over the years we have learned that our clients really appreciate this, because in the end people doing business with people is what it’s all about.
As a privately owned company, we have the ability to be very flexible and act swiftly as new developments arise. It also leaves room for that personal touch in the services we provide.
What's your view on ad exchanges? Have you considered building your own demand-side platform?
Ad exchanges have been our area of expertise for over six years now. They allow us to virtually expand global business where needed. The important thing is that the level of dedication and commitment to an ad exchange has a direct relationship with the success you’re achieving with it. Figuring out how to shine in such a complex environment is not an easy job, to be honest. We’ve used these experiences to build our proprietary brand safety skill set.
Brand safety is important to us and our clients, therefore we have adopted the IASH code of conduct and the strict audit process of ABCe, which resulted in the first accreditation of a Dutch advertising company.
We are currently building our own platform with codename ‘B-Nocular’. In the meantime new technological opportunities - like AppNexus - are of great value to us. Not only does it empower us with the capabilities of Real-Time Bidding, there is also a high level of control and transparency.
If you were a large web publisher in Europe today, what would you do regarding your digital advertising strategy?
We would choose a strategic partner, who understands both sides of the business and share knowledge with that partner. The use of the right technology creates new opportunities and enables you to gather user data, analyze it and make it actionable. As a large web publisher we would also add social media tactics, mobile, and integrated content to the mix to diversify and expand inventory.
What digital marketing channels is BannerConnect focusing on today such as display, mobile, search, online video, etc.? Where is the momentum?
Over the years we have become very efficient in monetizing mass media and identifying recurring trends amongst several, different media.
For example, mobile usage has become more and more like the regular Internet. Monetizing mobile inventory will be the next logical step to make and one that is not that different from our existing advertising model. Instead of investing into mobile when it was still a hype, we realized that it would soon move into our direction. The only thing we needed to do was prepare to integrate it. The same tactic can be applied to several other upcoming markets.
The opportunity lies in efficiently connecting all playing fields to reach your audience anywhere and at any time.
How would you characterize the interactive marketing community in the Netherlands? Strengths, weaknesses?
It’s a rather small market where everyone knows each other. The landscape is very competitive, straightforward and internationally-focused. Many people don’t know this, but the Dutch East India Company was the world’s first multi-national, and originated here. Because of our international ambitions many of us are multi-lingual and adaptable to other cultures.
The Dutch economy is healthy and people have money to spend, which reflects in advertising budgets. On the other hand we notice that a majority of Dutch advertisers and agencies are having a hard time keeping up with the speed of innovation.
The urge to share knowledge is strong when you consider all the events and groups you can attend. We play an active role in IAB Task forces – the latest of which gathered the top Dutch networks together to create a white paper on Online Advertising. It will be released in December of this year.
Possible weaknesses we would identify are mostly with the key publishers in this market. The revenue they generate from their online activities is still small in comparison to the other media they utilize. Unfortunately for them, traditional media interest keeps declining and so does traditional media’s revenue. They put more effort in damage control instead of looking into possibilities of online revenue. Here lies a great challenge as well as opportunity for us.
Are you profitable today? A year from now, any milestone that you like to have seen BannerConnect accomplish?
Even with declining economies all around the world we have managed to maintain steady growth in our revenue and our recent accreditation by IASH enabled our primary objective of enhancing our online brand safety protocols.
We look forward to rolling out our in-house-developed platform, B-Nocular, which is to launch next year. Aside from this we are pursuing local representation in our key markets.
The year ahead will be interesting, rife with new technology and media possibilities.