The number of display ad tech companies "of size" has risen sharply in recent years as mammoths like Google and Adobe are joined by hulking no-longer-startups such as BlueKai, Rocket Fuel, Collective, and AOL's Ad.com, among others.
Demand-side platform Turn should certainly be included on this list. The profitable company employs 250 and works with many of the major agency holding company trading desks. Additionally, it has become the DSP partner of choice for many media agencies that choose not to work with their corporate trading desks -- either for their own reasons or because of client concerns.
This week the company launched a tool called Flextag, designed to help large advertisers quickly designate which page elements on their websites to collect data on. It's a seemingly minor feature that gets to a big pain point for marketers -- dealing with enterprise data requirements.
"We saw an opportunity to make the whole process much more intuitive and efficient. Instead of multiple tags and working with IT departments and in code, now a marketer can simply 'point-and-click' over any object in a website from which they’d like to collect data," according to Turn CEO Bill Demas.
AdExchanger recently spoke with Demas about Turn's growth and product plans.
AdExchanger: What can you tell us about the growth at Turn and business metrics?
BILL DEMAS: We are a global company with markets in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. We’re working with the top five agency holding companies, and we’re continuing to grow our business there. Brands are directly approaching us as well. Our growth rates nearly doubled year over year, over a very large revenue base. But I'm more excited about our vision really coming together: becoming that CMO dashboard, that Bloomberg terminal that can basically aggregate all of these different data exchanges, and then use our analytics to help brands connect to their ever-changing, on-the-move audiences. It's exciting to see the fulfillment of the plans we laid out several years ago.
You said you have five trading desk relationships. How have those relationships evolved over time?
We work across the board with basically all of the major agency trading desks today in the United States and Europe. What's evolved over the last year is how much the partnerships have deepened, culturally and technologically. The agency trading desks are pioneers of what they do; we’ve been a pioneer in terms of the technology and offering that we’ve created. Our focus with them is to be their technology partner across media execution for video, social and display, as well as increasingly on the Audience Suite side to collect offline and online data, aggregate it and provide audience segments on the fly.
Our partnerships have deepened; several of these partners have been with us almost four years. Together with the agency trading desks we help provide real benefits to marketers, identifying audience segments far better than they could before, making adjustments in real time, offering a dramatic improvement in their return on investment versus the classic network model from several years ago.
Do some agencies prefer manual optimization to your machine optimization algorithms?
We have a platform that can make up to a million decisions on behalf of the marketer every single second. It's a staggering number. Imagine all the page views happening in the world every second, and a decision being made against every page view. It’s an enormous scale. I think the agency trading desks want to take advantage of that. We continue to invest in the bidding optimization to get the right user or audience at the right time, at the right price, in the right context and on the right device. This is a core part of what we do and what our algorithms solve for.
The brand or the agency-trading desk always has the option to override the algorithm, if there is a manual optimizer who’s an expert in a certain area or knows the clients well. In general we don’t see a whole lot of manual optimization. Six months ago, some clients of a large agency switched to Turn. They never had a chance to do the manual optimization they wanted because their results with Turn have been so much better than their prior DSP.
Have there been any changes in the revenue contribution from corporate agency trading desks, relative to individual media agencies or brands you work directly with?
I would say the ratio is basically the same.
[From a platform standpoint], a year ago most of our business was display, and Audience Suite was coming up the pike. And social, video and mobile -- those ratios are much higher than they were as well. The ratio of clients are the same, but Audience Suite, video, social, and mobile are growing faster than our display business.
Speaking of social versus display, what impact will Facebook Exchange and all the new impressions coming to market have on the standard display market and pricing?
It's almost like a new channel. Both FBX as well as our own Facebook social advertising have been successful; both have led to high client satisfaction. They are both exceeding our aggressive plans. The return on investment has also been higher than expected, so it’s a nice way of growing our business and delighting our customers.
Where do you stand with funding?
We’re in good shape right now. We did our last round of $20 million back in 2010. We are running a fast-growing business where we’re investing a lot, but we’re doing so in a profitable way. We’re not in fundraising mode right now. We’re happy where we are.
What are your thoughts on impression fraud, fraudulent digital advertising and the role that the demand side companies play in policing that stuff?
Remember, all of what we do is from an RTB basis, so we obviously review with our key SSP partners, both generalists as well as video and mobile specialists. We have a big emphasis on quality. For Turn, one or two quality issues may come up over the course of a year. When that happens, we deal with the ad exchanges directly. Since we are the largest independent DSP and DMP, we can exert some pressure where it’s needed.
With mobile and video, what do you think the opportunity is? And how do you rate your offering?
Both markets are really large opportunities. We basically started at zero, and by late summer they’re now a substantial part of our revenue stream. A more important concept for marketers, in my opinion, is that having separate technology partners - one doing video, one doing mobile, one doing social, one doing display - is not how CMOs can understand their audiences better.
The important part is to provide a story about your audience segments and what your customer is doing. One of the problems we're solving right now is multi-touch attribution. Was it that last click that mattered, or is it something that happened earlier in the campaign? You need to have all the user data across social, video, mobile, display, and -- down the road -- TV and radio.
The notion of video and mobile as separate businesses is going away, and technology companies like Turn are trying to figure out how to provide insight to that CMO whose tenure is only 24 months and who is swimming in gobs of data.
You mention attribution. Are you content to cede that area to pure plays like Adometry and Visual IQ, or do you have designs on that space yourselves?
The need to do multi-touch attribution is really a core part of what Turn offers and it’s an area that we’re absolutely in.
You announced your first APAC customer in October. You also pushed into Latin America last year. How’s the competition in those places, and what’s your go-to-market strategy?
We have people in our Hong Kong headquarters, Singapore and Sydney. Our biggest data center is based in Hong Kong and does a lot of the ad-serving and real-time bidding that we do. We’ve obviously signed up a number of clients since then. I would think of APAC today as being where the U.S. was in 2009 or 2010.
We will be in additional countries shortly. We’ve been running campaigns out of Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Southeast Asia and Australia, and the feedback has been positive.
In Latin America, all roads lead to Brazil. We’ve been serving that market remotely but we are beginning to get feet on the street as we grow in the Brazilian market as well.
Our grand vision doesn’t happen unless there’s a real commitment to being a technology partner and embracing the concepts of software as a service. That’s the other lynchpin of how Turn is run today. The big advantage we have over all the independents out there is that we’re based in Silicon Valley. Last Friday, for example, we were recruiting an engineer who had offers both at Google and Facebook. That person, to our delight, chose Turn.