Sharpening The Programmatic Sword
Alimama acts as a nexus for all of the various data points within the Alibaba universe. In fact, that’s where the name Alimama comes from. “Like the mother in a family who links together all of the family members, we integrate all of the data within the Alibaba group,” Wang said.
Until recently, however, that data was only available for on-platform targeting. But that changed with the mid-August launch of a newly minted marketing platform within Alimama named “Damo Jian” or “Dharma Sword” – dharma connoting depth and identity, sword an allusion to incisive targeting.
The platform is built off the technology Alibaba brought on board when it bought Shanghai-based ad platform AdChina in January. At the time, then AdChina CEO Alan Yan predicted the deal would “trigger and accelerate programmatic branding” in the Chinese market.
[Yan told AdExchanger in August that he’s not joining Alibaba because he wanted to mull a new as-yet-undecided business venture.]
“About a year ago, Alibaba started exploring how to expand its business into brand advertising,” Yan said in Janaury. “They want to serve brands with their unparalleled user data. Alibaba has probably the best user data in the Chinese marketplace.”
It’s a sort of yin/yang situation – Alimama has the data, AdChina has the targeting tech.
“Alimama collects, integrates and analyzes the data, while AdChina has the technology to place the media,” Wang said. “We’re changing the way we do advertising.”
In May, Alimama formed strategic partnerships with several high-profile agencies, including WPP’s OgilvyOne China, Omnicom Group’s Nim Digital, Dentsu Inc.’s &C and independent shop Hylink, followed in July by a partnership with Unilever through which the CPG colossus is planning to tap Alimama for audience targeting and to run promotions via Tmall, Alibaba’s answer to Amazon.
As Jacco ter Schegget, president of OgilvyOne China, commented to AdAge in July, the motivation to partner is born of a desire to take advantage of the Alimama data set. “There’s nothing comparable in the West in terms of breadth and scope. … You’re able to follow a user journey in its entire path to purchase.”
Alibaba appears to be looking to establish itself as a facilitator, helping Western brands break into the East, which wasn’t always the case. Hark back to early June 2014 and Alibaba’s launch of 11 Main, a US ecommerce site it operated for just slightly over a year before selling it to New York-based social shopping marketplace OpenSky in late June 2015.
In a seeming change of direction, Alibaba’s CEO Daniel Zhang, speaking at a Nielsen industry event on June 23, the same day that the 11 Main/OpenSky sale was made public, said Alibaba doesn’t look at commerce as its be all and end all.
“We position ourselves as a data company, too,” Zhang said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Wang, who said the company’s vision is “straightforward.”
“In the past, when you heard the name ‘Alibaba,’ you would immediately think ‘ecommerce,’" she said. “Now, we want to use our data to cover all of the media in China.”
It’s a level of openness not available within Facebook’s notorious walled garden, Wang said.
Whereas many have pointed out that Atlas, the revamped ad server that forms the foundation of Facebook’s cross-device ambitions, is a sort of one-way street in which first-party data goes in and learnings to be applied against future campaigns do not come out, advertisers will be able tap Alibaba data via Alimama’s Dharma Sword platform to target users across China’s entire media landscape, even if that requires a separate private marketplace deal. That said, Wang noted that, for security and privacy purposes, the data itself will not leave Alimama’s system.
“Brands need data, but they also need insight,” Wang said. “We’re going to act almost like a brand consultant to help them understand their business and their individual consumers.”