9Dialogues Provides an Inside Look at the NinthDecimal Culture and the Amazing People Behind Its Success
In this installment of “9Dialogues”, we speak with Stephanie Vandenberg, VP, Head of Agency Partnerships at NinthDecimal, and hear her thoughts on agencies, strategic partnerships, and the importance of understanding and leveraging data.
What’s the most important thing you’ve noticed agencies are looking for in a strategic partner?
Agencies are looking for partners who can give them a competitive advantage. We all have competitors in our respective space; vendors have competitors, agencies have competitors, and agency’s clients have competitors. For agencies, there is constant competition with other agencies or holding companies to retain and win business. To continue to bring value to their clients, they must be able to introduce new ideas and products that will ultimately drive market share. This is the key to a successful partnership – delivering innovation and new products that solve their client’s marketing problems. And not just innovation and new product ideas for one client, but products that scale across the agency or a specific vertical like Retail, QSR, or Finance. This can come in a variety of forms: either a product that already exists that fills a gap in their stack, or technology such as location data or a measurement solution that can be leveraged as they build out their own unique technology solution.
Through our strategic partnerships, NinthDecimal leverages existing products, but ultimately the goal is to create new products that solve agencies’ clients’ business challenges, in turn making agencies more valuable to their clients. It’s a true, circular relationship.
What do you see as NinthDecimal’s role in the marketplace? And what is your role within NinthDecimal?
NinthDecimal serves agencies and brands by providing them with a holistic view of their customer through physical world data – a data set that agencies and brands are just now leveraging in a broader, more strategic, way outside of the traditional geo-fence. The market is starting to embrace the promise of location data across their full marketing strategy inclusive of insights, analytics, activation, and measurement, not only for digital but for all media channels. As an extension of this data, we are providing the marketplace with a holistic measurement solution across media channels that goes beyond CTR to answer the question: did the consumer actually physically visit a location/store “incrementally more” than they would have if they were not exposed to the brand’s message? Ultimately, we are making marketing strategies smarter by filling in that massive gap of knowledge about customers – where do they go in the real world?
From my position as Vice President, Head of Agency Partnerships, I primarily work with executive leads at the agency holding company level, as well as leaders at the executive level in individual agencies that comprise the holding company. My secondary clients are my agencies’ clients since everything I do is focused on providing value to the agency to extend to their clients. I essentially treat my role as an extension of the agencies – I’m literally on their team with skin in their game.
How do relationships evolve over time following the initial engagement? What’s the best way to continue to build the relationship positively?
Creating relationships of value takes time, as relationships are based on trust and integrity. Building relationships with the agency and holding companies is a team effort from the executive level to the regional sales managers. I see myself as team captain working closely with the NinthDecimal executive team, regional leadership, and sales reps who own the “day to day” relationships with each agency, to make sure we have a solid understanding of the agency’s challenges and are offering the most valuable solutions to make a difference to their business.
It’s an ongoing process to drive the partnership in a positive direction. It’s a matter of providing best in class customer service, positive performance, seamless execution coupled with continued innovation through delivering “never been done before” products that align with the agency or holding company’s strategic direction.
What is the biggest hurdle in developing agency partnerships?
The biggest hurdle is understanding the unique needs of a specific agency or holding company based on their client roster, tech stack, and strengths and weaknesses. In addition, finding a single owner of the partnership can also be a challenge. There are often so many stakeholders that it’s difficult to identify the person who’s going to be the champion and drive the partnership.
It’s also important to get the right group of people to agree on what the partnership should entail and what the objective of the partnership ultimately is. Once the partnership is solidified, success is dependent upon adoption by the teams across the agency. Adoption is driven by a sound marketing communications plan to educate the teams who will ultimately be selling the partnership and offerings to their client.
With your years of senior leadership experience, what is the biggest shift you’ve seen in the agency world over time?
The growing abundance of data is the driving force behind the shifts I’ve seen in the agency world. CMOs are receiving more share of IT budgets to execute data-driven marketing and build out data tech stacks and capabilities. In turn, agencies are being held responsible for becoming data experts. They have new competitors – the big consultancy firms such as Accenture. And they are expected to know how to market to customers with the right message, at the right time across devices and channels, providing real-time optimization strategies on ever-changing data. This requires a new set of talent.
Understanding data and how to leverage data from programmatic to DMPs is causing restructuring within agencies as well as creating new positions overall. A few years ago, programmatic buyers didn’t even exist and today you see programmatic buyers embedded within the strategy and planning teams. Chief Data Officer and Analytics positions are in high demand, and agencies need to find people with the unique skill set of understanding data and marketing.
What do you like most about working at NinthDecimal?
The people! I work with the brightest, most creative, dedicated, high integrity, loyal, and interesting people in our industry who have a great sense of work-life balance and that family ascribes to the “family first” mantra. I also have the freedom to make a difference with a seat and voice at the table. Everyone contributes to the mission – flat organization with the execs being accessible. It’s the reason I am here.