9Dialogues Provides an Inside Look at the NinthDecimal Culture and the Amazing People Behind Its Success
In this installment of “9Dialogues”, we speak with Sable Mi, VP, Head of Research and Insights at NinthDecimal, and hear her thoughts on advertising and where the industry is heading.
Can you share a bit about your career/background prior to working at NinthDecimal?
I’m an advertising person at heart. For most of my career, I’ve worked in various roles in full service agencies, everything from Account Supervisor to Copy Director to VP of Research and Strategic Planning. I’ve also spent a bit of time in academia, achieving two master’s degrees while teaching full time (the subject: advertising, of course!) Then, a few years ago, in the face of the rapid changes in our industry from the explosion in online communication, I faced a choice – stay in my comfort zone or do something completely new.
At the time, ad tech was an uncharted area for me, but I saw it as an exciting opportunity to start over and flex some new muscles. I took a role with BrightRoll, and was able to apply my extensive agency experience there. I was hired to establish an online currency that could be applied across traditional TV and online video. In fact, the first whitepaper I wrote at BrightRoll was for iGRP (online GRP). When a great opportunity to work in the exciting world of location data with NinthDecimal presented itself, I chose the future and joined the company.
So, as an “Advertising Person,” what about the advertising space is most exciting to you right now? Where are the most innovative companies heading?
I’ve been in this industry for longer than I care to admit, and during this time the definition of advertising has evolved a lot. It used to refer to a carefully crafted, paid brand message, delivered to a specific target audience through one-way, pre-scheduled mass media. Since no one really wants to see advertising, our mission was to create ads that were relevant, informative, and entertaining. Fast forward to the 21st century, and with the proliferation of social media and the “mobile take over,” any message from a brand can now be perceived as “advertising.” In the adtech world, we got so good at delivering impressions to a device that we sometimes forgot about the truth of advertising- people don’t really want to see it. We traded user experience for efficiency. Now we have to deal with ad fraud and ad blocking.
Well, it’s not all that bad. For me, what’s exciting about today’s version of advertising is that we have an unprecedented amount of timely data to play with. Back in the day, you had to rely on TV ratings, monthly print circulation numbers, and survey data that took forever to collect. The data we had back then was limited in timeliness, scale, and representativeness. This made it really challenging to assess whether and how advertising worked, not to mention how to make timely marketing decisions based on those insights.
The benefits of big data come with challenges: big data does not always mean actionable data. The most innovative companies are the ones who truly understand the data sources, and applications to sift through and use that data to focus on consumers’ ultimate needs, wants, and desires. These are the ones that leverage data to find an effective, non-intrusive way to communicate.
Do you think this innovation will continue? Where do you predict the advertising industry will be in three years?
There are definitely some trends that I believe will continue. There’s a lot of current interest in multi-touchpoints attribution, and I believe that will only become more important as more channels and potential touchpoints emerge. There has been a lot of progress in this area over the past few years, and we’re getting closer, but there are still limitations from data to models. The big challenge is that models are built based on logic, and humans are naturally illogical (I can give you a lot of examples, but let’s save that for the next happy hour). Nonetheless, I do see that trend continuing and the technology catching up to deliver on the need.
Another trend I predict will become more important is the focus on user experience. We spent a long time playing around with “big data”, but we need to go back to that focus of being relevant, informative, and entertaining. As technology becomes more advanced, it will help us create more customized user experiences and being able to see and adjust it in near real time, which is very exciting.
I also predict that there will be a lot of consolidation of companies within the industry in the next few years. And along with this consolidation, I think demand will grow for the “giants” of the industry, the walled gardens like Facebook and Google, to be more open to other partners and transparent about their data and measurement. The demand for transparency is inevitably increasing over time whether they like it or not.
All this said, the structure of our society is also likely to change quite a bit in the next couple of years. There have been a lot of political and social changes, both nationally and on a global scale, and this has created a lot of uncertainty. So while I’d like to say that we’ll continue the progress we’ve made as an industry, it remains to be seen what the landscape will look like.
What trends do you see in the industry that you wish would end?
There are a few. One that comes to mind is relying solely on demographic data for targeting and measurement. It has been done for decades, so it won’t disappear overnight. However, there are many other indicators (like behavioral data) that are just as easily accessible if you work with the right partner. It all goes back to what we are trying to achieve: for example, is the end goal to reach more females 25-54, or to sell more yogurt? The reality is, men eat yogurt too.
Another one – click through rate (CTR)! This is a metric that was adopted due to ease of accessibility, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s been shown time and time again to have no correlation with actual conversion. While it is easy to optimize for CTR, it really does not help the overall marketing objective. I would strongly advise advertisers to, instead of optimizing on CTR, focus on a metric that’s more indicative of actual marketing success!
Finally, and this is a bit less specific, but over the past decade or so I feel that there has been too much focus on technology and not enough on the human experience. We’re starting to see the effect of this in the rising of ad blocking. While marketers have been focused on trying new, cool ways to serve advertisements, we’ve forgotten that consumers are humans, not just impressions. We can approach this challenge in two ways: applying the L.E.A.N. principle to speed up load time, and making advertising more relevant, informative, and entertaining. (Yes, I switched back to “professor mode”- repetition, repetition, repetition!)
Finally – what is your favorite part about working at NinthDecimal?
That’s easy – it’s the people. I really love the people here. It’s a mature startup, so there’s so much room to improve and to grow, but we have the most genuine, kind, and fun-loving people. I really enjoy working with them.