After Ad Tech Spending Spree, It’s Time For Cheetah Mobile To Go To Market

toddmillercheetahmobileCheetah Mobile’s been on the prowl for ad tech since 2015, when it paid $58 million for French mobile performance marketing company MobPartner.

The MobPartner acquisition is the cornerstone of Cheetah’s plan to transform itself from utility app publisher into a mobile ad vendor with global chops. Cheetah’s vision became clearer when it took the lead on a $24 million investment in Facebook ad partner Nanigans in March 2015, and it plunked down $57 million more in August to snap up French news aggregator app News Republic.

Beijing-based Cheetah doesn’t have a user acquisition problem – its suite of apps has more than 620 million global monthly actives. Monetization and retention are the next steps.

It sees its utility apps, including Clean Master and Battery Doctor, as the doorway in. From there, Cheetah plans to keep users engaged with content and woo advertisers by extension.

Now it’s time to sell that vision, which is where Todd Miller, Cheetah’s VP of global sales and a former Yahoo sales vet, comes in. The US is a major focus for Miller, as are emerging markets like EMEA, for which he is also responsible.

“Overseas markets are very important to us,” Miller said. “But we acknowledge that to be a truly global company, we need to be successful in the US, which is why there’s been a big emphasis on building a direct sales organization there.”

By the end of the year, he plans to add another eight to 10 US-focused employees to his team of about 40 account managers, sellers and operations folks.

AdExchanger caught up Miller, who joined Cheetah in May.

AdExchanger: How would you describe Cheetah’s sales strategy?

TODD MILLER: For the last several years, a lot of Cheetah’s monetization was coming through third-party channels. While third parties will always remain a critical component of our revenue, there’s also an opportunity around O&O. A supply source like Cheetah can have direct relationships with clients, agencies and trading desks, and that’s what we’re looking to do: establish better direct relationships with clients.

Cheetah has 623 million monthly active users with our apps downloaded onto their devices, which we can leverage from a targeting perspective – and that becomes very interesting to advertisers very quickly. Our strength is in our ability to harness and package that information to help advertisers achieve whatever they’re looking to do, whether it’s a cost-per-install campaign or a branding initiative.

Where does MobPartner come in and is the technology integrated yet?

When Cheetah acquired MobPartner over a year ago, they also acquired a footprint and a sales team in EMEA and the US. It’s a small footprint, but it’s a start. Cheetah is also working through the process of infrastructure unification.

In terms of integration, yes and no. Some parts will continue to be standalone, like MobPartner’s affiliate network, and others will be integrated into Cheetah’s Orion ad platform, which runs against our O&O inventory. And underneath it all, we’re leveraging the information we have access to from our massive user base.

Cheetah had monetization problems in Q1, and Q2 guidance was below expectations, although Q2 ended up better than expected. How is Cheetah addressing the need to improve mobile ad monetization?

Cheetah was built as a utility app developer, but we’re evolving internally and pivoting toward content. The actions you’ve seen the company take recently speak to that initiative, the company’s overall strategy and our ability to execute.

Like any good product company, we’re focused on user experience, user engagement, driving daily and monthly active users and working out our overall monetization strategy.

What is the message Cheetah wants to get out in the market?

We have data and insights with global reach and scale.

But there’s two parts to that: harnessing the data and packaging it with appropriate inventory and taking it to market for specific clients or verticals. We’ve built a fairly sizable internal team focused on big data under the leadership of our CTO, Charles Fan. They’re working on accessing and mining the data.

But we’re not going to be like Facebook and Google, which have massive sales organizations that work on the long tail. We’re going to work on the head-and-torso advertisers that can provide us with bigger opportunities.

What’s up with China eating the world?

That’s a big part of why I wanted to join Cheetah. There is only one place that can rival what’s happening in Silicon Valley, and that’s China. Just look at Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and many others.

There are also a lot of acquisitions happening in China and a lot of partnerships. Cheetah was early to this trend, and now you see a lot of other companies trying to buy ad tech or get into the US market through partnerships. The big effort now is to bring it to market in a new way and create a presence for Cheetah in the US, but also in EMEA.

You spent a lot of time at Yahoo – 13 years. What’s your take on the Verizon/AOL acquisition?

Tim [Armstrong] stayed on message throughout his tenure at AOL and he had a great exit strategy when Verizon came in. Rolling in the Yahoo piece is an opportunity for Verizon and Tim to build out a presence that could compete with Google, Facebook and others.

But from a Yahoo perspective, based on their overall strategy and ability to execute, it was necessary for the company to be acquired.

 

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