Can Social One-Up Behavioral Targeting?

Media6Degrees is a social targeting company that made waves this week by hiring top Google ad sales executive Penry Price as its president. Price, formerly head of global agency sales and partnerships at Google, will help the company break into the top ranks of marketing and agency executives, according to Media6Degrees CEO Tom Phillips. The opportunity, he said, is to use social signals as a way for marketers to find their likely customers in places they “cluster” online. New York-based Media6Degrees has 80 employees and has taken about $34 million of venture capital, about $24 million of which went to its operations, according to Phillips. He spoke with Digiday about what lies ahead for the company, why social data is improving behavioral targeting and the troubles that Facebook could run into doing something similar.

What sort of metrics can you give about how big of a business Media6 is and its potential?
We’re at a run rate of $35 million. Most people BS about that or talk about being big but don’t name a number. We offer performance at scale using social targeting. We’ve just scratched the surface. We take a customer base of a client and we find where those browsers are clustering on the Web that’s disproportionate to a random audience. That method is comparable to Pagerank for search. It’s a breakthrough. It says stop relying on the old method mandated by tradtional media. In search it was library science, which AltaVista was based on. We think what we’ve done is comparable for finding audience for brands. Throw out demographic and contextual and the old ways of finding who you think your audience is and start fresh with something empirical and driven by the digital medium. We can use the power of the digital medium and data science to find who those prospects are, who we expect will be your future customers.
It’s always unclear where you and competitors like 33Across get your data. Reading it, I’d say they’re pretty much the same sources. Does it matter?
It matters. More data is better. We get mapping relationships from publishing partners, but it is confidential. But what we do with it is the key. I view the data we contract for as low-test fuel. The engine we’ve built is a highly sophisticated engine that works on it. It’s commodity data, but the more of it there is, the better. It’s what we do with the data that distinguishes us. The data science that figures out how to score a browser is really complex and highly empirical. We started with theories then we developed methods that drove conversions.
Is this necessarily better than the behavioral targeting the industry has used for years?
[Behavioral targeting] still has a place. It got its big boost five years ago from the auto industry. It was finding intenders. They ended up responding better than non-intenders. The problem is you’re trying to sell Mercedes and your intenders end up being people interested in Chevy Camaros. Our view is it doesn’t scale very well and if you push it to scale it doesn’t perform. We’ll take those intenders and find the people who share brand affinity because we’ve been able to identify a proxy for their interest based on where they cluster on the Web. It’s more powerful and scalable. We always say put it to the test and see how we do.
What can you do that Facebook can’t?
They haven’t done any of this work. I honestly wish they would. They have a lot of data that they won’t share and shouldn’t. They have a risk area where they know too much. We don’t. They know so much more. It could get in front of the privacy train. We know so little we’re happy to tell anyone who cares what we know. They haven’t started down this path.
This seems ripe for privacy freakouts. Concerned?
I do think the focus on it is important. Ultimately we all want consumers to feel comfortable with what’s happening. The industry needs to get religion in terms of notice, transparency and opt out. The adoption needs to be better. We went in early and put notice in all our ads. We’re a leader in that arena. We think it’s important. The Wall Street Journal has provided a service by shining a light on it. I tend to think they’ve gone overboard at times. But I think reason will prevail. We’re trying to deliver more relevant advertising to consumers on behalf of marketers, Everyone will benefit if we do it well. Politically the politicians will end up judging it as interesting but complicated and an area where they need to be careful of not stopping innovation.

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