Welcome to 2019.
It's the time of year for reflections and resolutions.
After approximately 20 years working on the agency side, I made what some thought was a surprising move. I joined an AI technology company. With my move announced at CES last year, it's been an amazing year of learning. Putting myself in a situation where I was forced to learn new things was probably one of the best decisions I've ever made. In fact, I often get asked by marketers, agencies and publishers alike: "What have you learned?" As we kick off 2019, here are some key reflections:
1. Don't underestimate the value of engineers. I truly believe that the biggest customer challenges in data-driven marketing can only be solved by world-class engineers. Until you have worked alongside engineers in a product-led technology business, it is difficult to appreciate the difference between leveraging data responsibly and effectively as opposed to simply getting away with claiming that is what you are doing.
2. First-party data is more important than you think. Everyone in the industry has been discussing data for years. The dirty industry secret is that most of this data is, in fact, third-party data, which can be stale or even sketchy. However, what most people don't realize is that third-party data is really bad for machine learning and making accurate predictions. If you don't have scaled first-party data to leverage, it'll be garbage in, garbage out.
3. Solve complexity with simplicity. To compete with the duopoly of Google and Facebook, everyone else must make it significantly easier for marketers, agencies and publishers to work with them. Besides the obvious power of these platforms, there's another reason why they continue to hoover up digital ad dollars: It's because their interfaces and tools are very, very easy to use. The UI is built with the customer in mind by the some of the best engineers and product leaders in the world. It is this utility as much as their performance that has allowed both of them to ride out a series of PR scandals that would have caused significant damage (in some cases probably terminal) to almost any other media company in history. This drive toward simplicity is a monumental challenge for any company looking to remain competitive.
4. Know the secret behind DTC brands. The most revealing thing about working with direct-to-consumer, or DTC, brands is actually how few people they need to get the job done and scale. Quantcast has been working with dozens of these performance-driven marketers for years, and it is shocking how small their teams are and how large their sales are growing. The levels of efficiency and competency they achieve through prioritizing growth are pretty astounding—and something all brands can learn from. The performance marketers are indeed the power users of the platforms, and they will drive the future of brand growth.
5. Get transparent about transparency. There is an overindexing on transparency of fees as opposed to transparency of capabilities. It's because the former is easy to assess and the latter is hard. It's cost vs. value or savings vs. growth. The debate about transparency should focus at least as much, if not more, on the many parts of the digital ecosystem that claim capabilities they simply don't possess or seek to add value where they cannot. This could not be more true when it comes to AI. Make sure to question everything, and ask how many engineers have actual degrees in machine learning and experience in solving the specific business problems you have.
6. Privacy risk is real. You cannot get through a full month without some headline about a hack, consumer privacy or everyone's favorite, GDPR, the General Data Protection Regulation. This is not going away. In fact, it will only grow in importance in 2019. The reality is most marketers, agencies and publishers are underestimating their exposure when it comes to privacy. And, in fact, most folks don't understand how this will impact their job and their brand at all.
I'm sure there are plenty of other learnings to share, but these are the six that stand out the most. My New Year's resolution is to help all of our marketer, agency and publisher partners tackle these issues head on. With some luck, we'll have made progress in making our industry better by next year's CES!