Connecting with Bill Sobel

Holding a BS in Business Administration from Washington University and an MBA from NYU, Andrew Pancer has been around the block a few times. In fact, when he joined Media6Degrees back in 2008, he had already compiled a considerably impressive resume.

During his tenure at About.com, Pancer tripled profits and brought revenues to more than $100 million dollars. He would later go on to serve as the vice president of digital development at the New York Times, where he began working with the kind of technologies he’s currently fleshing out at Dstillery.

Pancer sat down with CMSWire’s Bill Sobel to talk a little bit about his own professional journey, brand value and the advertising strategies he’s helping pioneer as the COO of Dstillery.

From Hating It to Lovin' It

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From a job he concedes he hated, Pancer reinvented his career. He did it at the right time, cresting the waves of social media, retargeting and new technologies in digital advertising.

Sobel: Tell us about your professional journey, from About.com and the New York Times to Dstillery.

Pancer: I started my career as a CPA and hated every minute of it. I quickly switched to the corporate side in the early ‘90s and held a variety of financial roles. In 2002, following the dot-com bubble burst, I was lucky enough to be offered the role of CFO of About.com. The company was a casualty of the economic downturn and I was brought in to help the management team turn the company around. We were successful. About.com became a very profitable enterprise and it was acquired by The New York Times Co. for $410 million in 2005. In 2008, I switched to a corporate role at the NYT focused on digital strategy and acquisitions. It was in this capacity that I started digging in on the concepts of retargeting and real time bidding.

Retargeting was starting to grow in its adoption and I believed that exchanges would continue to help drive its growth. But retargeting also had its challenges. The number of people you could target was limited to the number of people who visited your website. The founders of Media6Degrees, whom I had worked with previously, approached me with an incredible idea. They were leveraging social media data to find “friends” of people who were part of a retargeting pool. The theory was that birds of a feather flock together. People who are closely connected tend to share common purchasing behavior. So if one person is part of a retargeting pool, their friends would be great prospects. They called the idea “social targeting” and created a new category of digital advertising.

I joined Media6Degrees in Sept. 2008 and we launched officially in November of that year. Since then, the company has grown significantly. We have also evolved our methodology to use data from around the entire web, not just social media, and now incorporate mobile and location data to bring multiplatform intelligence to our clients. Last September, having completed the acquisition of mobile targeting company EveryScreen Media, we rebranded the combined entity Dstillery.

Sobel: At Dstillery, you’re pioneering new ways to create brand value by extracting signals from the complete customer journey and activating them across all screens. Can you break that down for us?

Pancer: Media consumption patterns have changed rapidly over the past few years. At Dstillery, we have been focused on developing solutions that address these major shifts. A few years ago we started developing technologies that were “platform agnostic” and did not rely on cookies. This enabled us to start looking at things beyond consumer web behavior. For example, we started looking at app consumption and location data. We also integrated client CRM systems. The end goal for us is to identify signals to highlight what makes a particular brand’s customers special. Once we understand that, our data science team can build prospect models. And once we have our list of prospects, we can activate them across any screen.

Sobel: Can you explain a bit about your new “CrossWalk” initiative and multidevice intelligence? What's that all about and how does it work?

Pancer: One of the big challenges for digital marketers today is identifying the same individual across the numerous platforms that they use. There are two primary methods used today. The first is “deterministic,” where a logged in user is tracked across devices. Large players like Facebook are able to do this. The second is “probabalistic,” where you use statistical models to identify devices that have a high likelihood of being the same person.

Dstillery focuses on this latter approach. While not having the assurance of an exact match, it is more privacy friendly and has a greater potential to scale to large audiences. “CrossWalk” allows us to match user profiles and observe a complete customer digital and physical journey. And by observing this journey, we make smart decisions about who to target and on what device. One example of this that we executed recently was with a large quick serve restaurant chain. We observed devices visiting the chain restaurant, as well as their competitors. For the devices we observed, we were able to develop intelligent marketing initiatives, including targeting loyalists on the go through hyperlocal targeting, as well as conquesting competitor audiences through brand initiatives aimed at these individuals back at their homes.

Sobel: Some people say Dstillery’s technology enhances the best of what Twitter has to offer by combining the power of Twitter’s massive reach with Dstillery’s targeting technology. Can you talk a bit about that?

Pancer: Twitter is an amazing platform for communication and discovery. The company is just starting to realize the revenue opportunities its platform allows. We were thrilled to be selected as one of its first partners and we continue to work with the company to grow the business.

The true value we bring to the partnership is going beyond retargeting to engage new audiences within that powerful platform. The intent signals that one can glean via the Twitter feed are limited. For example, just because you follow a brand does not mean you are ready to engage with a Promoted Tweet.

The Tailored Audience program allows us to integrate the intelligence we have on a consumer into the Promoted Tweet program. The results continue to be fantastic. Our Clients are seeing significant lift in engagement rates with Promoted Tweets and are also starting to measure back end conversion metrics as well. It's early days, but the promise of this program is incredible.

Sobel: One of the areas you’re exploring is addressable television advertising. From what I understand, addressable TV advertising technologies let advertisers selectively segment audiences and serve different ads within a common program. Can you explain this and its place in your business strategy?

Pancer: We use our multiplatform intelligence methodologies to target desktops, laptops, phones and tablets. The next logical step for us is to extend this to help marketers find the right audiences on TV. There is a ton of innovation happening in the world of addressable TV and we are in the midst of piloting some tests.

Sobel: Many of our readers are CIOs, CMOs and marketing and information managers who are interested in targeting customers across all devices. Any suggestions?

Pancer: The best guidance I can give is to focus primarily on the underlying data. The “plumbing” of matching devices and delivering media is the easy part. The hard part is finding the right audience. The better the job you do at identifying the right data and the right science to activate an audience, the better the results. The best DSP in the world will not perform well if they are not going after the right audience in the right environment. Assuming you understand your customer, start with the data inputs that best represent the audience you are trying to reach. From there it becomes a lot easier to build smart marketing campaigns.