Solariat recently received a patent covering the insertion of messages into conversational flows online and using digital media, including devices. Solariat’s efforts evidence how the display ad industry is in a race to make targeting more intuitive and effective. Jeffrey Davitz, CEO of Solariat and co-designer of the technology, spoke with DIGIDAY: Data about the patent and its relevance for the industry at large.
Can you explain what is unique about your patent- and what it means in layman’s terms?
It’s about recognizing intent in conversational content and being able to directly respond in relevant and effective ways. Google search ads work because they don’t interrupt the user. They fit the intention of the user, who is looking for something and because they also match the user they are relevant to that intent. Ditto with us and that’s the thrust of the patent. It extends this model to social. The cool thing about doing this, and also part of the patent, is that there is a lot of different kinds of intent in social which gives marketers a really broad pallet of responses. You can try to answer a question, or address a comment or even connect people to each other. But it’s always driven by what the users want. Our patent shows how you can accomplish various marketing objectives in social in ways that users have been shown to accept.
Can you give me a practical application of this technology, and how this scenario differs from conventional advertising?
Social media is really being looked at carefully for lead generation. It’s a great channel for many reasons. First, it’s relatively low cost and second, there’s growing evidence that the leads can be really high value, even in some cases much higher value than the leads you get from search. So let’s say somebody expresses an interest in a car, and maybe around a theme of customization. If you provide a link around that explicit or implicit intent that takes people to a page where they can build a virtual car, you get great leads and high engagement. We’re working right now with a company that is looking at social as a lead generation channel. The problem that they had is how to deliver highly relevant information in response to intention. They tried banners and the results were bad, so bad that they just stopped buying them. Search is ok but doesn’t have the engagement of social. So the patent is about a technology that tries to get the best of both worlds, with the engagement of social and the intent and relevance of search.
There is a lot of talk about context in targeted advertising and its importance. How does this technology speak to context in terms of practical strategy for a CMO?
The big problems for CMOs when it comes to context, especially in social, are two fold. One it’s hard to figure out and two, in social, it changes. Social is a fast medium and faster to a point where it’s a change in kind not just degree. This is another way that search has been such a paradigm shifter. It allows for much more rapid marketing cycles and because it the user interaction was restricted to ‘the box’, you had some useful context. Again, the whole idea of the patent was to present a way to get back the speed and contextual power of search, but in conversations. A lot of folks have treated social as just ‘a lot of text’. But it’s not text. It’s a form of conversation and conversations have a lot of specific properties which our techniques take advantage of. And because we can interact with conversations at a fine grain of resolution, and continuously, we also get the speed of search.
How will this type of technology develop in the future, based on what the industry has already accomplished?
Ultimately, our direction will be guided by our customers.. but if I dare predict, I’d say that different marketing campaigns are going to require response strategies to different kinds of intent and even related to that, sentiment. So I believe that we are going to be pushed to picking up more signals about intent and more metadata about that intent– like sentiment. Search is the right way to start. Everyone always uses approaches based on the last media they knew, like films started out by being recorded plays! As we get more experience with the new medium, we’ll learn how it offers up new possibilities. The cool thing about the patent is that it provides a framework for this evolution. It’s going to be a blast filling out this framework and solving lots of different kinds of marketing problems in new ways using our basic mechanisms.
How will the advertising industry evolve around technology that offers faster, more efficient tools to marketers?
I really encourage marketers to read Everything is Obvious by Duncan Watts. The book is partly about how common sense isn’t what it’s cracked up to be but there is a much deeper message in there for marketers. My take on the message is that top-down marketing isn’t going to work very well. The new tools – not just ours – that are evolving enable a completely different model, one more clearly based on sense and respond. In order to do this, marketers need to be inside where the dynamics are actually taking place, that is the conversations! If you can sense and act in that context then I think we’re a lot closer to what Watts is talking about. I think to some extent technologists are getting meaningfully closer to what marketers have wanted to do for a long time, namely get into the conversation, where judgements are shaped, decisions made. Technology is now making it possible to get inside the ‘room’ and more than that, participate. The first model for how to do this is search – which is of course grafting on more and more social aspects. I believe it will work as long as the conversation is respected, and the messages are tied to intent and relevant – meaning they clearly add value. That in a nutshell is what our patent is fundamentally about accomplishing.