Steve Latham is CEO of Encore Media Metrics, an attribution technology company.
AdExchanger.com: So, you started the company through selling your agency, correct?
SL: Yes, we are using proceeds from the sale of my agency, Spur Interactive, to fund the launch and growth of Encore Media Metrics. While we don’t need to raise additional capital, we’d like to accelerate investment in marketing, sales, and development and infrastructure, so we are talking with strategic investors who know our space and can bring more to table than just money. But it’s important to remember that you need to be mindful about how much you raise for 2 reasons: 1) you don’t want your spending to get too far ahead of the revenue unless you never need to raise funding again (if not you can find yourself in a bind if capital markets tighten) and 2) the more you raise, the bigger the exit you’ll need to make it worthwhile for your investors. The more preferred stock as a percentage of ownership, the less attractive it is for management and the employees. So your financing strategy needs to balance the need for growth capital, while avoiding pitfalls of raising too much money at too high of a valuation (which then requires a grand-slam exit for the team to see any upside).
So, what problem are you solving with Encore?
I believe we’re hitting the market at a great time and that this will be the year Attribution goes mainstream for a few reasons. First, paid search is maturing and expanding digital budgets will have to be deployed elsewhere (display, social, mobile, etc). There are only so many searches every day and most companies have optimized their ppc campaigns. The low hanging fruit in search has been picked; further gains will be in much smaller increments and will require buying short-tail terms that start conversations rather close them (hence the need for keyword attribution). This is supported by the fact that Display will grow faster than search in 2011 and is expected to outpace it for coming years. Search is still the big dog, but display and other brand-building media are nipping at its heels. If you believe Eric Schmidt’s prediction of a $200 billion global display market, we’re still very early in this game. Other factors driving Attribution are the increasing focus on accountability, the upgrading of web architecture (e.g. adoption of universal tags) and the emergence of affordable attribution solutions – such as ours. These factors are converging to make 2011 a very exciting year for those of us in the attribution space.
What’s your view on the competitive set and where you've been and how would you say you differentiate?
To understand how we’re positioned, you must first understand how the Attribution marketplace is segmented. For starters, there are two different approaches to attribution: operational attribution and statistical or algorithmic modeling. Each approach has its place and I believe they are more complementary than competitive. Statistical modeling analyzes vast amounts of data to look for correlations that indicate how media channels (display, search, email, affiliate, etc.) work together to drive results. Modeling allows you to see which channels feed each other, and which mix should yield the best overall ROI.
In contrast, operational attribution creates detailed records for each visitor that enable you to see which ads were seen and clicked on, how the visitor found your site, what pages they viewed and what actions they took. You can then query the data to analyze engagement paths and assess the performance of each channel, vendor, keyword and placement. We believe operational attribution is the foundation for advanced analytics as it’s based on actual visitor data (vs. a black box) and provides much more granular insights into performance of all types of media. Once you have operational attribution, you can then do advanced modeling of that data to glean additional insights. But, operational attribution will provide 80-90% of the insight you need to optimize your spend.
Within the Operational segment, you then have to look at the extent of attribution: lower-funnel (click-based) vs. full-funnel (clicks and impressions). While click-based attribution is better than nothing, it doesn’t answer the question: “which media buys are creating demand?” The lower-funnel approach relies on clicks, which may be great for search, but insufficient for measuring the impact of display media. If you want a true picture of which ads are creating demand and which placements are satisfying demand, you need a full-funnel solution.
Now to the original question: how are we positioned vs. our competitors? While I can’t speak for our competitors, I can say we differentiate in a few ways: 1) we incorporate attribution from social media (even in the absence of referring clicks), allowing us to provide attribution for paid, owned and earned media, 2) we have a flexible approach that is designed to accommodate varying needs of agencies and brands (no long-term commitments, pay for what you use, etc.), and 3) we are affordable for most marketers. If a client spends between $50,000 and $5 million per month in online media, they can afford our solution.
Is scale of ad spend critical to Encore’s services – attribution, media mix modeling?
If you’re asking is Attribution is only suited for the biggest advertisers, the answer is no. It really doesn’t matter how much you spend; you still need to look across channels and beyond the last click to optimize your mix. Even if you’re only spending $50,000 a month, a small incremental investment can yield a dramatic improvement in Return on Spend. Any advertiser who is buying more than just search is going to benefit from Attribution.
What's your view on the “view‑through conversion”?
View-throughs are good for ad networks seeking to optimize their media placement, but they are limited in what they offer advertisers. If you are buying display media from 5-6 vendors, you’re likely to get some view-throughs from each buy. While view-throughs tell you if an ad was seen they don’t tell you which ads were the most effective (and cost-effective) in creating demand, or how each media buy influenced results from paid or natural search. You can’t analyze recency or frequency and you can’t tell the order in which ads were viewed. You need more details to truly understand which placements created demand, the role they played in the engagement path, and how to attribute credit within the channel. Yes, you need a full-funnel attribution solution.
What’s the difference between attribution modeling and media‑mix modeling?
In the context of measuring the impact of digital media, they’re effectively the same thing. But for most marketers, media‑mix modeling encompasses all channels, including TV, print, radio and other traditional media. Within that context, operational attribution should play an important role in providing the inputs that go into such a model. We can provide a much more accurate and richer set of data inputs that will enable the global media mix model to produce more relevant and insightful outputs. As mentioned earlier, it shouldn’t be “either / or” when evaluating operational vs. algorithmic attribution. They can work in concert quite well.
What do you see out there as the most difficult channel to provide the sort of service you're providing today?
Within digital media, Social is definitely the hardest to measure. First, referring clicks are not good indicators as very few actually click-through from social sites to the brand’s web site (see “Connecting the Dots”). But beyond clicks, how do you attribute credit back to people who are watching your You Tube channel, viewing comments on your Facebook page or reading a blog about you? It’s hard because you can’t cookie browsers on 3rd party social media sites. While Facebook now allows marketers to set cookies via iframes on company pages, very few are doing it.
Some try to do social attribution via correlation or looking at directional trends, where a social mentions drove a spike in traffic and a lift in conversions. But this approach is, in technical terms, “squishy.” For most, social attribution is a future goal more than a near term objective.
But since you asked, I should mention that we offer a unique solution to the social media attribution problem. We use a patent-pending tool that allows us to identify which visitors or purchasers have engaged with the brand in social media, regardless of whether or not they clicked through to the site. Through this, we can draw a direct line between online conversions and the social interactions that preceded them. We think it’s pretty cool and we’re seeing a lot of interest from brands, agencies and media vendors.
Do you see social media attribution as an opportunity?
It's definitely something we see as a differentiator but it should be viewed as part of our solution for two reasons: 1) social should be integrated with other channels from a measurement perspective, and 2) it’s hard to make a ton of money on social media measurement. A brand may spend $500-$1,000 to measure social interaction, but they’re not likely to spend more on the tool than they do on their social media marketing efforts. You also don’t want to be a one-trick pony in the digital landscape. Things move too quickly and one player (e.g. Google) can make render your product obsolete overnight. So we see it as a differentiator and a conversation starter more than a standalone offering.
What is Encore’s target market?
We serve brands and agencies who are seeking to create demand and/or drive sales through paid, owned and earned digital media. While we can accommodate budgets as low as $50k per month, our sweet spot is campaigns with budgets of $100,000 to $2 million per month.
In general, Attribution tends to be more appropriate for considered purchases, e.g. financial, auto, travel, health care, luxury goods and anything B-to-B. The longer the sales cycle and the bigger the ticket, the more you need Attribution.
We work with brands, agencies and trading desks of all sizes, even those with internal ad ops teams. Even if they have a bench, they still need better tools to produce the insights their planners and customers demand.
How does pricing work? Do you charge on according to media spend or is it a per seat?
We price our solution as a technology (vs. a flat % of media spend) that is tiered based on the scope and scale of the campaign. In general, we charge a fixed fee that covers the planning, production and client services, along with a cpm-based fee that covers the cost of data capture, storage and analysis. The fee as a percentage of the media budget will vary significantly. If you’re buying premium placement media at $10cpm, our fees are tiny. If on the other hand you’re going for scale (e.g. $2cpm), the fee will be slightly higher as a percentage of spend. But in either scenario, we’re very affordable and the ROI is hard to beat.
What sort of milestones would you like the company to have accomplished?
My primary goal for 2011 is for Encore to become widely known as a leading provider of measurement, attribution and reporting services. If there is a discussion about Attribution, I want us to be one of the solutions that are always mentioned. Our value proposition (better reports, deeper insights, affordable and adaptable) is hard to beat, and we look forward to proving it to leading brands and agencies.