After A Year At Epsilon, Conversant Wants To Make Some Noise

ric elert conversantIt’s been a transitional year for Conversant, the ad technology solution that’s now a part of data marketing services company Epsilon.

Integrating Conversant “caused a fair amount of angst for the first half of the year,” acknowledged Ed Heffernan, CEO and president of parent company Alliance Data Systems, during its Q3 earnings call Thursday.

The goal was to integrate Conversant with Epsilon and develop a product offering that can target consumers across channels using actual sales data.

“It looked like the trend was not our friend but in fact that turn has been reversed completely and a lot of it has to do with the huge book of business that has been signed,” Heffernan said. “Our backlog is $70 million on an annualized basis.” (For the record, Epsilon’s Q3 revenue increased 41% to $532 million, largely thanks to Conversant.)

Partially because of all this change, Conversant’s messaging isn’t always clear for much of the advertising community.

“Yeah, I know we’ve been pretty quiet for a long time,” Conversant President Ric Elert told AdExchanger. “We’re looking to change that. We have a new head of marketing starting right in the middle of November.”

Conversant, Elert said, works with brands, agencies and publishers to facilitate “direct one-to-one personalized communications with their customers.”

“It centers around solid identification over long periods of time that allows us to have deep profiles of the individual that informs the messaging and lets it be as personal as possible,” he explained.

Elert spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: How did you feel about Acxiom CEO Scott Howe’s comments, when he said Conversant isn’t a competitor to LiveRamp and that your technology is very different from Acxiom’s?

RIC ELERT: I wouldn’t see us as a competitor. They do a small subsection of what our capabilities are. We’re a LiveRamp partner on the Epsilon side [data onboarding]. But Conversant doesn’t use any of that technology.

We try to take it way past just a commodity match and into an ongoing conversation with the consumer. That’s a lot further than anybody else out there.

What role does the affiliate marketing company Commission Junction (CJ) have in the Conversant stack?

Our goal was always to take the one-to-one personalized platform we have at Dotomi and lay that as the core to Conversant’s offering. Then take the best pieces of the tech business, which came from Mediaplex, and leverage that along with the agency business from ValueClick. Then integrate CJ’s platform.

For CJ, we’ve done that connection so it has the identification piece and the deep profiles. CJ can take the affiliate business to a more personalized space and offer things like affiliate CRM and personalized offers that give marketers more control than traditional affiliate techniques.

So the Conversant data helps the affiliate space. But do you let the CJ data flow back?

We don’t. Any client data we house doesn’t commingle. It’s in a profile for clients to use for themselves. We give them the portability to move that profile across the entire digital spectrum, so they can have continuity of voice, from affiliate to personalized email to site personalization and display.

What type of data comes from Epsilon?

The TotalSource [compiled data file] products Epsilon has. They have survey-based products, all owned exclusively by Epsilon and available through the platform, and the Abacus data, which can be used by the clients that are part of that program.

Can Conversant data go to Epsilon?

No. Conversant is a platform certified by not having PII. It’s a closed platform, so we don’t have flowback into Epsilon.

How do you accomplish one-to-one without PII?

We have deterministic matches based on transactions we see flowing through our customers. That transaction volume lets us get a very strong match seed – and I’d argue it’s the strongest type of match seed that’s out there, over login and anything else.

That allows us to have a very strong holistic match that works across device and pretty much across the ecosystem so we can deliver that personalization.

How do you convince brands to give you their purchase data?

First is the certification of privacy with PricewaterhouseCoopers. The data is walled off from others. It is not combined and used.

Second, they see the benefit of making that data available across the entire ecosystem.

To the extent that they have hesitations, where are they?

A customer will say, “We know everybody.” I had one who was a high-end luxury brand saying, “We know all the luxury people in the US.” I say, “Hey, let’s test it. See who you have and we’ll match it against who we have.”

In that case, they only had 18%. The other 82% are the people they should be talking to.

Are you fully integrated into Epsilon?

The first big piece was to ladder into Epsilon so any Epsilon clients could use Conversant technology. We built that in the first 60 days.

The second thing it opens up is the connection between credit card processing, the marketing database and the voice of the consumer. It speeds that chain up so quickly and has no loss, in terms of the leaky bucket of companies handing off matches to each other.

Next up is helping clients understand their consumer both online and offline with all the attributes we learn about them, with interactions with the consumer.

What does the sales force look like? Are Epsilon and Conversant sales staff merged?

They’re mostly separate. We have some groups who are co-selling together. We really want to take it slow and not upset all the apple carts and decelerate. We’re looking more at integration than co-selling, because [Epsilon sales staff] have to learn the tech capabilities of what Conversant has to offer.

Will they always be separate?

We haven’t any plans to do anything differently. It’s working well now.

 

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