Episode 153: Matt Arkin, CRO at Sojern on Applying Data to Dynamic Display Ads

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Matt Arkin knows online advertising. He's been in it since the beginning and has brought a level of sophistication to the strategy of combining solid display advertising with the targeting from data mining.

Sojern is a travel network that leverages the data from leading travel companies like American and United Airlines to find those almighty segments such as the affluent business traveler or the luxury vacationer and targeting messages to them across the web.

Think behavioral meets segmentation meets data mining, all applied to the next generation of dynamic display ad insertion.

Matt's interview is one of the DishyMix "Mukety Muck Insights" series recorded on location at ad:tech San Francisco.

Transcript

Susan Bratton: Welcome to DishyMix. This is your host, Susan Bratton. I’m here at AdTech San Francisco and this is the continuation of the Muckity Muck Insight series. You’re going to get to meet Matt Arkin. Matt is the chief revenue officer, no pressure there, of a new company called Sojern. And I’ve known Matt for many, many years. He’s the consummate pleasant wonderful sales guy. And we’re going to hear about his latest venture, Sojern, as well as a number of other things that he’s been up to. So welcome Matt.

Matt Arkin: Thank you very much Susan. How are you?

Susan Bratton: I’m great. It’s good to see you. It’s good to see you in real life, you know. 

Matt Arkin: I know, it’s been a while. It’s usually email exchanges…

Susan Bratton: It totally is, exactly. So first of all, tell us a little bit about Sojern, ‘cause it’s a new venture for you. You’ve been with some amazing companies. You’ve been with Dakota, you’ve been with – gosh, what was the other one – Market Watch, you worked with Scott for a long time, you’ve been with AOL Platform A, always running the media sales organizations. That’s what you’re known for, being an awesome, Forrester I think named you one of the best sales leaders and having the best sales organizations in the industry.

Matt Arkin: Wow!

Susan Bratton: No pressure….

Matt Arkin: Yeah, all these kudos, huh?

Susan Bratton: No pressure.

Matt Arkin: So I think the best way to describe Sojern is to basically go from one of my last jobs at Dakota. We had, we’d been putting together that great behavioral network for, you know, for a couple of years and obviously we got scooped up by AOL, and I would suggest that we were basically taken out of market if you will, scooped up by AOL before we’d really gotten the job done. There was still so much that we could’ve done and…

Susan Bratton: Did it come to a standstill with AOL launching or…

Matt Arkin: I’m not necessarily suggesting that….

Susan Bratton: Okay.

Matt Arkin: They’re still using the technology, etcetera, but what’s interesting is there were only a couple industries that were making up 80 percent of our revenues at Dakota meaning that we had only really focused on a couple of areas even though we were more of a, we’ll call it a horizontal behavioral targeting network, right.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Matt Arkin: And there was only, we were bringing in great revenues out of two verticals just predominantly.

Susan Bratton: What were those two verticals?

Matt Arkin: It was…

Susan Bratton: Finance?

Matt Arkin: It was auto and finance to be specific, yeah.

Susan Bratton: Auto and finance. That would’ve been the two I would’ve chose.

Matt Arkin: Anyway, I guess the point being is it was great, the AOL experience was terrific, but I’m more of a start up guy. And to have the opportunity to join Sojern, which really is a vertical behavioral targeting network…

Susan Bratton: Travel.

Matt Arkin: that’s based on the airline data. And so what we’ve done is we’ve basically brought half the band back together from Dakota to really, if you will, take to the next step in terms of not only the depth of the data that you’re gathering, but also what you do with it and how you use it out in the market place, how you report back to not just advertisers, but publishers themselves, your actual partners being the airlines. So basically Sojern is comprised of equity owners of the airlines. So there’s six airlines that own upwards of a quarter percent, a quarter of this company, excuse me. So it’s the American’s, it’s the Delta’s, it’s the United Airlines that own our, you know, a part of the organization. And the organization was started as we’re the boarding pass guys. We were going to put content and relevant advertising based on where you’re headed, so…

Susan Bratton: Right, I heard about that. Yeah.

Matt Arkin: We’re checking in online, you know, and…

Susan Bratton: Yeah, all that extra space on the eight and half by eleven piece of paper you print out boarding passes all advertising possibilities.

Matt Arkin: Exactly. 

Susan Bratton: Uh huh. So that’s where you started.

Matt Arkin: So that was really the vision of my boss, Cordin Witton…

Susan Bratton: Okay.

Matt Arkin: As he’s traveling all over the world, he’s thinking “Okay, well this is a lot of wasted space….”

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Matt Arkin: And if you know what these people are issued…

Susan Bratton: Which you do.

Matt Arkin: I don’t need to know who you are, but I certainly would like to, you know, give them relevant information and advertising based on where they’re headed.

Susan Bratton: Exactly.

Matt Arkin: ‘Cause people obviously, where they’re traveling they’re traveling for the first time, they don’t know a lot of things and so it was very applicable. It’s a great business as a standalone in terms of just boarding pass, but it doesn’t scale. In today’s world, you know, we should really talk about scale at some point, right, but it has to be a very scaled situation. So if you combine all the airlines but you also are able to target those people behaviorally outside of just the tangible assets of the airlines, that’s what we do. We’ve created pretty significantly sized audience segments and we target those people again, not only on the assets of the airlines but also out on the web much like we did at Dakota in terms of using network partners to really go find that person that’s international traveler or that road warrior. We’re going to go find that person out on the web, wherever they frequent – cnn.com or cbs.com – wherever it might be, then we’re going to go find those people and target them accordingly.

Susan Bratton: So give me an example, one or two examples Matt of a perfect storm of an advertiser who can take advantage of Sojern in a way that they could do it in kind of your wild fantasy of super high level sophisticated leverage of what you’ve built.

Matt Arkin: Sure. So obviously from an endemic standpoint, meaning travel advertisers, it’s fairly obvious; if somebody confirms a flight on united.com we obviously, the hotel chains love to be able to go target that person, message that person, trying to get what I like to say is ahead in the bed, right…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Matt Arkin: I mean they’re trying to basically get their occupancy up. Ultimately what we’d like to be able to show those endemic clients is more, what types of people they have going through their websites, what types of people are going through their hotel chains based on the data and the information that we have. Again, what percentage of road warrior, what percentage of leisure traveler are they seeing based on specific type. So I think the endemics fairly obvious on what we’re trying to achieve there and there’s great money there from an advertising perspective in the endemic world. What excites me more is being able to, if you go in any airport these days and you see the business to business advertisers, the anything from an Exenture to an Oracle to you name it, that’s what excites me ‘cause there is a lot of waste being spent on traditional advertising and I think there’s some very effective advertising in airports, but I really think at the end of the day Sojern has a data set that really eliminates the waste and really gets to the core person that they’re trying to reach. So Oracle, as an example, is trying to reach the business decision maker. They’re also trying to reach probably an IT professional where you take the layer of data that Sojern currently has and you basically layer on top of it or assuage that content of that data with other pieces from other sources. You can really, I’m not trying to be one to one marketing kind of situation, but I do think we can find those ultra significant data points that will really create just enough scale to make it profitable for us or make it, you know, ultimately targeted for the advertiser.

Susan Bratton: Exciting. And it’s such a great audience, the business traveler and the leisure traveler. It’s a bright opportunity. I can see why Sojern made a lot of sense to you with you behavioral targeting background. It’s like you could really, it’s meaty, you know. You can get your hands onto.

Matt Arkin: Sexy, right? I mean in terms of…

Susan Bratton: I wouldn’t go sexy, but I would go meaty. You Matt, you’re sexy. Sojern, we’ll see. 

Matt Arkin: True.

Susan Bratton: He’s blushing…

Matt Arkin: Yes, I am.

Susan Bratton: You can’t see it but Matt’s blushing.

Matt Arkin: It’s maybe a little bit a sunburn…

Susan Bratton: Yeah right, nice try. So what do you think’s the most exciting area of internet marketing now?

Matt Arkin: Well, so being the biased on the display side of the business…

Susan Bratton: Yeah, really.

Matt Arkin: I would say, I would have to go with dynamic ad creative right now.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, uh huh. Who’s doing that best?

Matt Arkin: Well…

Susan Bratton: Anybody yet? ‘Cause I mean, we’ve been talking about that for 15 years Matt.

Matt Arkin: Yeah, I would say the jury’s still out. I like some of the things that Dapper’s doing.

Susan Bratton: Dapper? I haven’t heard of them. I’ll check that out.

Matt Arkin: There’s a lot of companies. I think the number one thing is obviously there’s incredible amounts of data out there, right. And we all talk about the rice in the bottom in terms of CPM’s, which drives me bananas because data can be a commodity if you let it be. If you’re the publisher and you’re selling your data to, excuse me, but Blue Kai, it’s got to be commoditized very quickly. If you protect your user base, if you look at Sojern we’ve got a very valuable audience, and I think it compliments some of the other sources where you can get travel data out there and you can go buy it from Blue Kai. I think that’s one thing. But if you can target for Marriott – lets use a Sojern example…

Susan Bratton: That’s where I stayed last night.

Matt Arkin: Did you? Okay, so…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Matt Arkin: If you look at Marriott, they have nine different, ten different chains underneath their corporate umbrella, under Mattiott….

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Matt Arkin: So, you know…

Susan Bratton: Product line extensions.

Matt Arkin: Exactly.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Matt Arkin: If I know that they’re leaning more Courtyard by Marriott to be the long term stayover type of guy versus, you know, the Marriott in general being more the business person that they’re trying to target, if I can sell Marriott a nationwide buy and basically serve dynamically based on the data sets that we have…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Matt Arkin: and the audience sets that we have, that makes it so much more efficient for everybody, publisher, advertiser included. So it – and obviously the publishers were replacing the ads. So I think when you ask who’s doing it best, it’s got a long ways to go. But if you can manipulate the data correctly and you can create behind the curtains of these organizations, if it’s not too crazy and not requiring too many people to pull it off and you’re using cloud computing very well, I think that’s really going to be a major, major situation going forward for this business.

Susan Bratton: Awesome!

Matt Arkin: It makes ultimately display advertising, I don’t want to say we’re trying to compete with search. I don’t think that’s what we’re trying to do – that’s probably another discussion point here. But I do feel that that’s, it’s going to be very beneficial for the internet in general.

Susan Bratton: So the high availability of cloud computing gives you the possibility of much better dynamic generation of ads, is that it?

Matt Arkin: Well it’s being able to basically hold the data and being able to manipulate the data accordingly. There’s just too much data out there…

Susan Bratton: Uh huh.

Matt Arkin: to where being able, trying to manipulate it, you know, and all these organizations have it…

Susan Bratton: Yes.

Matt Arkin: or you, where do you store it, how do you pull from it…

Susan Bratton: That makes sense.

Matt Arkin: I mean there’s a lot of decisions to be made. And so, you know, there’s a lot of data that gets wasted…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Matt Arkin: and not needed, but there’s still a lot, it’s not known which data points are always best, etcetera, so…

Susan Bratton: So it’s cooking up at AdTech. The speakers lounge is getting busy.

Matt Arkin: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: We’re going to have to really pump it up a little for our listeners. You’re speaking at AdTech this week. Give me a couple of your golden nuggets from your presentation.

Matt Arkin: So the presentation that I have this afternoon is kind of in some of the same vain what we’ve been talking about. It’s is data commoditizing everything? Is it making it to the race to the bottom? Is display advertising just going to ultimately be 50 cents per thousand and it’s automated and you don’t need sales people to do it? Look, I’m a big proponent of data, the right usage of data. I think it’s humongous, but I’m also the proponent, as I said earlier, if you control your data, if you control your audiences and if you find what’s valuable in those audiences, it’s not a commodity at all. So I would say a couple of the things that I’m really pushing is the content still is king. And content generates those valuable audiences, and you need to really control that and own that as a publisher. It’s really easy to sell out… I don’t know, you remember when pop unders were so prevalent and all that…

Susan Bratton: Oh yeah.

Matt Arkin: It’s really easy if you start selling your data out there in the world or you get that monthly check and it’s hard to let that go, right. It’s hard as a publisher to let that go. So I think as a publisher you have to really, the power of no, you have to use it. You have to say no, that I’m not going to do this and I’m going to, you know – ‘cause if you’re thinking long-term as a publisher, you better reevaluate your audiences and what you can put together to really present a well thought through campaign for advertisers. 

Susan Bratton: So it sounds to me like Matt’s a really good resource if you’re an online publisher, to understand how you can decommoditize your data and create more value out of it. I would definitely go talk to Matt. And I want to, I have another question for you Matt. You know, on DishyMix we like to talk about the business and the personal, and you’re such a successful salesman and sales manager. What’s one thing you’re doing right now to improve yourself personally or professionally, ‘cause I know you’re a man of constant growth?

Matt Arkin: Well I am, I…

Susan Bratton: And I don’t mean you’re getting fat.

Matt Arkin: I do, yeah… 

Susan Bratton: And there’s that beer gut now, you know…

Matt Arkin: That’s right. Well I do read a lot. I don’t tend to read fiction. I just, I feel we don’t have enough time to even read on our own industry, right. But what’s interesting is, as you mention that question, I think one of the things that I’ve been doing in the last couple months, I’ve been putting on a sizeable addition to this house, and I was cleaning out an area of the house and I was going through a bunch of old work materials that I’ve been on and all my previous jobs here, and I’ve been in this thing for, you know, 15, 16 years. And I got to tell you, it’s as much as things are changing Susan, as much as things are changing, they’re staying the same. And…

Susan Bratton: Territory management…

Matt Arkin: Going to the notes…

Susan Bratton: Cultivating clients, uh huh.

Matt Arkin: Yeah, I mean just doing your homework. 

Susan Bratton: Uh huh.

Matt Arkin: Doing your research on clients…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Matt Arkin: What is their core marketing need? Who are you targeting? Who are you going after to really get that through? Are you basically trusting the agency to everything? Nothing against agencies overall – they’re very, very important. However, you know, what are you really doing to get across your overall value proposition. There’s just some basics that continually ring true. So yes, we’ve got mobile, we’ve got… I mean we’ve got all these things that are changing in this space, but at the end of the day it’s what you’re taking and packaging together for clients and really presenting the right way. It’s basics. So what am I doing to improve myself? I’m actually going back to the future if you will, right. I’m going back and I’m looking at what was important back then and how can we use that still today, and it’s not that different. It’s not that different.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, we get in love with the technology and the data and the information and the possibilities and we have to remember to keep it to the basics, so you know the basics of sales. Here’s my magic wand Matt.

Matt Arkin: Okay.

Susan Bratton: Fix something, create something, change something. You choose, one wish.

Matt Arkin: So if this was 17 years ago – when did Al Gore invent the (unintelligible)?

Susan Bratton: I don’t know. Well you and I started probably, started in ’96, so what is that, 14 years ago.

Matt Arkin: Yeah. So I would say at the advent of the internet I would have, if I had a magic wand I probably would put much less emphasis on the measurability or specifically the click on the internet. So I love the fact that it’s measurable and I love the fact that we can get more data and research and understanding of what makes people tick, but it has make it such a direct response. Even to this day, I mean we talk about how do you brand online, I mean it’s been talked about years and years and years. But really…

Susan Bratton: Ad nauseum, as they say.

Matt Arkin: When you really look at how much money’s being spent on the online and how what little percentage is real about changing brand perceptions, getting people aware of your product or your service, there’s, it really is what takes away from targeting the right audience, right. A click is not a click is not a click. A, you know, and an impression is not an impression. And we still to this day don’t have that well indexed in the space, meaning what had a value publishing or specific types of audiences, etcetera, there’s companies that are starting to get there, which is improving…

Susan Bratton: Like who?

Matt Arkin: There’s a couple. There’s a company called Jovian. It’s a small startup down in San Jose…

Susan Bratton: Okay.

Matt Arkin: and they’re really starting to be able to maybe look at how they’re going to index specific types of sites and audiences in terms of different perimeters, but I would say that it’s going to allow you to really again value certain things differently. Again, a click from, you know, I think you understand my point.

Susan Bratton: I do.

Matt Arkin: It’s just not, it just doesn’t have the respect as a traditional vehicle. We’re held to completely different standards. So I would wave that big wand I think if I had any chance to do that. 

Susan Bratton: Well it sounds like the wand will eventually be waved, so…

Matt Arkin: Well I don’t know if I’ll be still here, but maybe….

Susan Bratton: I hope you’ll be long retired down the golf course by then.

Matt Arkin: That’s right.

Susan Bratton: So last question. You spend a tremendous amount of time managing your team, on airplanes, in front of customers, speaking at events. I’d like an efficiency trick from you because you’ve always struck me as a very organized person. Maybe one efficiency trick about coping with the onslaught of email or, you know, something that you use to feel like you’re in control, maybe even if you aren’t.

Matt Arkin: Well personally, I would say personally am with my staff, something that they get so tired of. My staff gets so tired of me saying, but out there in the sales field it is, time management is so important. It’s, you know, you see a lot of publishers and their sales staffs, they get down a road where they get on the treadmill, where they get into this direct response and filling out RFP’s and they’re on their emails and they’re responding within minutes. Is it really important that we’re on email all day long? No. I mean I really think we have to manage our time, we have to look at, as a sales organization specifically you have to look at where is my time being spent, who are my targets and what needs to get done to really do it well. So it gets back to doing homework, doing research and really understanding what makes your clients tick. The only way you’re going to be able to do that is being efficient with your time. You have to absolutely mark down time when you’re going to work on email, you got to mark down time when you’re going to work on client x,y,z. So I would say the secret to email is shut it off.

Susan Bratton: Yes.

Matt Arkin: Just shut if off, schedule three times a day when you’re going to do it. If you emailed me at 8 o’clock this morning is it okay if I get back to you at noon? I think it is. 

Susan Bratton: Absolutely.

Matt  Arkin: I mean lets just face it. As much as we’re a real time median, we don’t have to be that real time, right. So I would say that’s probably the best way to do it.

Susan Bratton: One of the things that I just learned recently from Pierre Khawand, he runs a company called People On The Go. I’ve had him on DishyMix a couple times, he speaks at AdTech, you know, I’ve brought him in here to speak. He said that there’s this concept of the results curve. And, you know, the iPhones now, they have a countdown timer on them, which is awesome, and he says set your countdown timer for 40 minutes when you need to focus on a project. Turn off email, turn off everything, ignore the phone, shut off your phone, do anything you can and put your countdown timer on 40 minutes and don’t do anything but that task. You’ll find that by the 30 minutes in you’re totally in the groove and the last 10 minutes is when you get the real work done, and when that timer goes off at 40 minutes you’re like “Whoa, wait a minute, I’ve got like so much more” and often you’ll just keep going. And it’s a way to get maybe to quell your attention deficit disorder…

Matt Arkin: Exactly.

Susan Bratton: around the constant interruptions and I really like that he has a video on YouTube that you might want to send to your team. It’s called Results Curve.

Matt Arkin: Great.

Susan Bratton: Yeah. It’s really good. 

Matt Arkin: I will absolutely do that.

Susan Bratton: Awesome! Well Matt, thank you so much for being a DishyMix Muckity Muck and sharing your key insights today. 

Matt Arkin: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Susan Bratton: It was really fun to get to see you again and I hope you enjoyed getting to know Matt Arkin, the chief revenue officer of Sojern, and that’s s-o-j-e-r-n, so you can find him. All right, we’ll be back soon. Thanks.