Corporate Innovator: Dave Scrim, SVP of Product and Pricing at Conversant

Steven Loeb · September 21, 2018 · Short URL:

Conversant has begun expanding to CPRM with the launch of its Mesobase platform

While everyone wants to be the first to discover the next big company, to be the one to discover the next Facebook or Twitter, oftentimes the major technological shifts are coming from the big companies, the players that have been on the scene for years, if not decades. Those companies have survived because they know how to pivot, and they are the ones getting ready for the next waves.

In this column we talk to those companies and their innovators who are preparing them for what's coming.

One space that has seen a major shift is digital marketing, thanks to a proliferation of big data that have given brands and marketers greater insights into their customers. Not to mention the proliferation of devices, allowing them to send ads to their customers at literally any time of day, on any device. 

One company that is taking advantage of these trends is personalized digital marketing company Conversant.

Recently, the company has been expanding beyond CRM to offer CPRM, or Customer and Prospect Relationship Management, with the launch of Mesobase. The new platform allows campaigns to be launched across multiple platforms across multiple devices and platforms, while allowing marketers to reach new prospects at the same time.

I spoke to Dave Scrim, SVP of Product and Pricing at Conversant, about how digital marketing has changed, how Mesobase is different from what the company offered before and how different platforms affect digital campaigns. 

VatorNews: Thanks for taking the time to talk. I’m excited to hear your thoughts about the digital marketing space.

Dave Scrim: It’s such an exciting time in digital marketing and, while it’s a competitive space, with everybody from Google to Amazon to Facebook in it, which is a lot of smart companies and a lot of resources, it really just makes it more exciting. There’s always something going on.

VN: They say that 90 percent of all the data out there now has been collected in the last two years. So how has digital marketing shifted in recent years thanks to the proliferation of big data?

DS: There is more data than anything now. There really are different levels of quality of data, and I think that’s something that people need to pay attention to. Not all data is the same, obviously, but that’s a whole interview in itself.

I would say the big data really is allowing companies do two things they never could before: one is targeting, finding the right people, finding the right individual to talk to. The inputs that they have to do that, whether that be massive amounts of historical data on the history of individuals, and understanding their purchase patterns and buying behavior and likes and dislikes, but also the real time data that’s able to be captured in real time and the triggers and the leading indicators, all are really helping with the ability to find the right audience, at the right time versus the old mass marketing, ‘I’m going to hit everybody and hope something lands.’ So that’s one.

The second part of that is not only finding them but then personalizing to them. When I started out in the digital advertising space at least 10 years ago, I’ve been doing databases long before that but digital advertising for 10 years, we were evangelizing the concept of personalization. We were talking to companies and they’re like, ‘Why do I have to personalize?’ It was really a new thing but personalization itself has just become a tablestakes now in the industry, and people get it. They get why it’s important, they get why it’s valuable. Big data allows you to personalize as well.

There are two other themes on top of the big data I do want to call out. One’s kind of related to the big data, but it’s that closed loop data that’s coming in, the transaction data, the event data. Not just communicating to people but understanding if that communication is working and I think there’s been a great amount of progress in the industry in starting to get more measurable and accountable. You remember the days, I’m sure, when all you ever reported on were clicks, and clicks are fine but they don’t put money in the bank. So I really see the industry moving more to performance based and measurable programs and that’s a plus.

Then the last big one that we’re only at the very beginning of right now, the beginning of the cycle, but it's going to be a huge impact on marketing in general is privacy. Privacy-centric, being a good steward of consumer’s data. All of this big data we now have, how are we treating that in the right way, and how we are going to be privacy first, is really going to be big theme going forward in marketing.

VN: How do you deal with personalization in the era of data breaches and the Cambridge Analytica scandal? How do you make sure that all information is safe and the audience feels secure?

DS: It’s a question every company needs to ask themselves. For us, it’s clear and simple: at Conversant we don’t collect any personal data, no personal, identifiable data. There’s no way we can ever map back to who a person really is. We get the benefit of personalization, and making sure that individuals see the right message at the right time based on their profile, but that’s anonymous data.

We really think the industry either needs to go one of two ways: they need to treat data anonymously when they have that much data on somebody, and there are companies out there who aren’t doing that who have a lot of data. Then the second thing, or the opposite thing, they can do is you can hold PII but just don’t hold as much of that data, as much sensitive data. I think it has to be one or the other in the space today.

VN: How has the way brands interact with customers now different from how they interacted before thanks to all this data? How has this affected their ROI?

DS: It’s totally flipped the traditional stream of branding and connection with consumers. Brands can now have a direct relationship with their consumers; Nike can literally be having a back and forth, one-on-one relationship, with a customer versus having to go through only Dick’s Sporting Goods and Footlocker and what have you, and not having that direct relationship with the customer. So I think it’s had a big affect.

It allows those brands to personalize for those customers and to actually understand them better and it also allows them, I think, to build stronger loyalty. When you have a tighter, more personalized relationship, it really affects the loyalty you have with your customers; you get instant feedback, you start to see things directly, versus through a third party. And so I think it’s really changing the relationships and I think the brands that are going to be most successful in the world of the Amazons and the mega sellers who can sell anything, the ones that will be success are the ones who do develop that relationship with their customer, and there’s a real reason to connect with that brand versus just a pair of shoes.

VN: What are some of the initiatives that Conversant has put together to help facilitate that relationship between the brands and their customers?

DS: As you probably know, we have been personalization from day one, and so we started off with display personalization, that was the first thing we ever did, we moved into video personalization, we can talk a little more about that later, and then really extending it to websites is another thing.

A couple of new products we’ve been working on, related this whole theme, one is called Site Decisions and really what it does is it take all of that big data that we have, all that identification that we talked about, that we traditionally pointed at display, and it lets you personalize the website in real time. I know someone will say, ‘Well, that’s been happening for a while, there’s software that lets you personalize a website when someone comes on,’ but most of that software is really just looking at what the behavior on the site session is and personalizing to that because they don’t really have strong identification. Most folks, because identity is a real underpinning of this, and as you know that’s our strongest asset, is our identity graph. And if you don’t have identity you can’t personalize, so if you’re only recognizing 7 percent of people on a website, then, at best, you can only do personalization for that subset of people.

On our end, we have a product that now calls from the client’s website right to our profile and lets you personalize. So if you’re a sporting goods company, for example, and it’s Fall, some of your customers are going want to see ads for soccer, and some people are going to be thinking about hockey already. So which one do you put in front of them? Based on the historical transactions, and the behaviors of the customers, you can really tailor that site, not just a display ad, to an individual. So that’s one new product we have.

A second big one we have is really starting go beyond just display and Web, and starting to manage the customer journey across all channels. We’ve got a new product, it’s probably the coolest thing I’ve worked on since I’ve been here, it’s called Mesobase and it really allows you to start looking holistically across all channels, for not just your customers but for your customers and your prospects. Imagine having of all this data we talked about on all of your customers and all of your prospects in one place, and then being able to push that out across any channel, and starting to really get to true personalization. Because personalization today in the industry is still talked about on a siloed channel basis; when we’re talking about personalization we’re talking about that consistent experience across any interaction point the customer might with you.

VN: Why is it important for Conversant to enter the Customer and Prospect Relationship Management category? What’s the opportunity there?

DS: We’ve been in CRM for a long time, customer relationship management, that’s what Conversant’s core has been, we always have brought in the customer database, as well as doing their digital marketing, so that’s really one of our tenants at Conversant. What we’re shifting to, and it is Mesobase, I think we’re onto a new market which is CPRM, that’s customer and prospect relationship management. It’s looking at both your customers and your prospects holistically, not just going and buying a prospect file and loading it in or just doing retargeting. It’s about looking at all of these individuals in one place, in one environment, that you have access and full transparency on the performance on those individuals in one place and all of their profile data and then market to any of them any time.

VN: How does Mesobase different from your previous products and features?

DS: Before, Conversant was primarily focused on display media and most of our products, if not all of our products, were focused on delivering display media. One of the big shifts for us in Mesobase is to focus more on the identity of the person, aligning identity across all devices and channels, aligning the profile in one place on individuals so that you can now execute campaigns where you talk to audiences whether it be across display media, your website, across social media, across e-mail, across direct mail, addressable TV. So the Mesobase is connected to over 500 different output providers where you can send those audiences. And that’s a really unique and different thing in the industry

Now, on top of that, I can look at my best customers and immediately look right beside them and find prospects who look just like my best customers, all in one environment, and then push that out. That’s really unique too. All at this individual level that are backed by real people. Of course the output is sometimes an e-mail, sometimes a cookie, sometimes a direct mail unit, all anonymized, of course, but it’s based on real people. And there’s not many people doing that. In fact, I don’t know anybody who’s got a product like this right now.

VN: How does mobile fit in? Display ads don’t work well on mobile, do I have that right?

DS: I hope they do! We deliver about 50 percent of our inventory on mobile and I think it’s a critical part of the journey.

For too long people have looked it as, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta do this mobile campaign, or I’m going to do this desktop campaign,’ but you want to do a customer campaign. And if that customer shows up on mobile one day, then you should show a good, relevant ad there. If the customer shows up on their tablet or their desktop at work or home, you should show that same consistent, maybe not the same ad but that sequence, that journey, that messaging that you want to show them, that should be consistent across the channels. So I don’t think as much about mobile individually on how it performs, I think about mobile as an important part of the journey in consumer’s path to purchase. And, because in this Mesobase environment you can track all of that, we actually see that, on the path to purchase, a typical person is hitting mobile ads 42 percent of the time on the way to that purchase. So it’s not one channel, it’s the combination of channels that work together to drive a sale.

VN: How important is social? Is social becoming more or less important to marketers as these platforms mature?

DS: It’s super important. It’s an important channel, it’s a big channel, it gets used by a lot of people a lot of times, so it’s going to be important for the foreseeable future, I don’t see a day when it’s not. Yet, one of the reasons people are treating that one in a silo is a little bit different. I mean, those companies in that area have made it very difficult, they’re called ‘walled gardens.’ They’ve made it very difficult but I do think it’s an important part of your media and we’ve got some solutions that allow you to port our audiences out to those. They’re a little bit unique what you can do with us and how you can get your audiences out to the social networks. So I would say they are in the same kind of light, you want to be where your customers are, and your customers don’t only live in e-mail and they don’t only live in mobile and they don’t only live on the social networks. You really want to be where they are and have that consistent message wherever they are.

VN: What are some of those features on social that you mentioned?

DS: You can build an audience in Mesobase and you can, at a click of button, push that audience out. Its denanoymized, it gets pushed up the to social networks to run as a campaign literally a one-click button.

VN: So other solutions are more complicated?

DS: One of the biggest challenges, and a lot of these questions always go back to identity, the problem with a lot of the solutions out there today is they’re cookie-based or device-ID based, but the social networks are also people based. So if you really want to get scale and you really want to make it easy you have to ultimately be able to talk to the social networks in that language and not in a cookie pool type way, because then you’ve got to try to sync those cookies and social networks don’t want to do that. So I think it works so well for us because we can talk in their language.

VN: Where do you see voice enabled services like Siri or Alexa fitting in the digital marketing landscape? What issues are there still to solve for those emerging platforms?

DS: I think about them every day, because I have like five in my house. I love them, really, and I think is probably one of the most exciting areas of marketing coming up. There’s some challenges with it, though. The other day I asked one of my assistants, I said, ‘Hey, what’s some good bourbon?’ and the first thing I got up was a song by George Thurgood, One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer. The next thing I got up was a financial management company that had that name in it. In order for things to take off from a marketing perspective they just have to work when the consumer wants something. I, like probably most people, I use my devices primarily to play some awesome music, because they’re really good at that; to turn off and on the lights; to set the alarm. But I think we’re in the early days of it for marketing; I don’t think it has scale for marketing. I do think it will get there, and as soon as we start seeing that take off we’ll start building the connections because, now that we’ve built this Mesobase, it’s really easy to build to the next thing once the scale is there. We’re doing that now with addressable TV because I think it’s a little bit ahead of the voice devices.

Imagine this, and this is why I’m so excited about the voice devices: eventually they’re going to get it and it’s going to become a lot like, I think, the paid search space. Right now I type in a query for bourbon and all of the sudden I’ll get a couple of options: paid, natural, all those kinds of things will come up in one view. Well, that’s probably where the voice will go. In fact, it won’t surprise me if real soon those companies start predominantly offering video as an option. And it’s not just your Google, Alexa or Siri device in your house that’s just a standalone unit but it actually has a visual component to it, and then it will start to feel a lot more like the experience of traditional search.

VN: In October of last year you introduced Personalized Video. Can you talk to me about how that works?

DS: Personalized video works much in the same way that our other products work, so the main pieces are always the same: we identify the consumer, we understand their profile based on historical data or real-time behavioral data, and then, this is where the magic comes, and it’s a little harder with video, we get a very personalized experience on video for you. That could mean the products we show you in the video are different, it definitely could change based on the location and where we’re pushing the call to action, where we want you to convert is different. There could be a different offer; let’s say somebody’s very interested in free shipping. This is actually a great one: in the past, marketers used to ask me, ‘Should I offer free shipping or should I offer a 10 percent discount?’ and my answer always is, ‘It depends on the person. Some people like free shipping and some people like discounts better, and you can learn that over time so your ad can be personalized from an offer standpoint.’

The one thing I’ll say, though, about video is it’s a very powerful medium. You’re watching it for 10, 15, sometimes 30 seconds. You really get immersed in it and it has a very strong appeal, but that comes with a premium price as well. So it’s a very high priced ad unit. My recommendation is, again, similar to what we talked about earlier with mobile or social, is that you do a combination of formats. That the real magic is in doing some video but backing that up with some display and some e-mail, which are more cost effective channels as well. So, it’s about having the right media mix in play, which video is a big part of.

VN: How important is video to digital marketing campaigns?

DS: I think video lends itself very much more to branding than to direct response, again, because of that premium price and because of the canvas and because of the attention you can maintain. But then the trick is, I think, in this day and age almost every company needs to develop and nurture their brand with consumers. The retailers and the brands that are having trouble are the ones that are kind of generic, and they don’t really have a strong brand. The retailers that have a strong brand, they’re thriving, they’re growing. We have lots of clients who are growing, but it’s really the ones who have carved out for themselves a brand and I think video’s very effective at doing that.

VN: Is there anything else you’d like me to know?

DS: One thought I always leave folks with is, at the end of the day, you can have the best software in the world, you can buy all the data you want, but if you don’t have right identity of the consumer, if you don’t really know who that person you’re talking to is, all of that might be lost or wasted on the wrong people. So I think it’s so important. I encourage any clients I talk t  to be focused on identify first and get that right and then build up from there.

(The Meet the Corporate Innovator series is brought to you by Advsr, a startup advisory firm in the business of starting conversations and sparking big ideas.) 

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David Scrim

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Senior Vice President, Product and Pricing at Conversant