Digital advertising can sometimes be a black box, with little transparency on your ads – not to mention those of your competitors. With new AI tools, you can get insights into which advertisers are buying on which publisher sites and through which networks, providing ad intelligence you can leverage.
This is what Pathmatics does, and I got the opportunity to discuss this with Kenneth Roberts, Head of Marketing at Pathmatics. He has been with Pathmatics since 2015 and is responsible for branding, demand generation, content marketing, search, social, paid media, tradeshows and sales enablement.
Now, over to the interview!
What is Your Company’s Background?
The company was started by the proverbial two engineers in a garage. The founders, Gabe Gottlieb (CEO) and Tom Lorimor (CTO) met at Microsoft and through a mutual colleague at a major AdTech firm, were presented with the challenge of bringing transparency to the digital advertising marketplace.
They began work on the project and it was in 2010 when they founded Pathmatics and had their first technology to track ads. Pathmatics has since catalogued over 31 trillion ad impressions across desktops and mobile devices.
Since its first paying customer in 2011, Pathmatics has experienced triple-digit yearly recurring revenue growth with customers representing hundreds of major brands, publications, and ad tech platforms.
Pathmatics reports on desktop display, pre-roll video, mobile web, native, and social advertising. The pipeline for detecting ads and estimating impressions and spend uses machine learning models constantly updated with market data on prices, ad formats, site traffic, and our indexed digital ad data.
What Problem Does Pathmatics Solve?
Many expensive decisions that brands, agencies, ad tech, and publishers must make every day are hampered by the lack of transparency in digital advertising – who is buying, how much, on which sites, through which services – and Pathmatics provides reliable data and insights for them to make better decisions, faster.
What Does Pathmatics do, and why is it Important to Your Customers?
The digital advertising ecosystem is vast, complex, and rapidly changing. If you follow the industry, you’ll know that advertisers have a difficult time getting transparency on their own ads, never mind what their competitors are running. There are a lot of “black boxes” especially in the programmatic markets, where an ad impression can pass through a number of providers from publisher to advertiser before being filled.
Having insight into which advertisers are buying on which publisher sites and through which networks and exchanges helps a variety of players make better decisions. Publishers can see where else their advertisers are buying and get an idea how much they are spending. Similarly, ad tech companies can monitor their publisher partners and their buy-side partners to look for new opportunities.
For buyers of advertising – brands and their agencies – timely information on their competitors’ advertising can make a major impact on the effectiveness of their own marketing and advertising performance.
Pathmatics can be thought of as a really advanced search engine for ads. Advanced because indexing ads is more difficult than indexing text. Also advanced because the output is more than a list of top results. That is not to minimize what it takes to produce text search engines with the most optimized results.
But at Pathmatics, we have to contend with a much more rapidly changing ecosystem – the ads shown on a URL change more frequently than the copy – and obviously with more media types than text content.
The data that Pathmatics provides includes creatives (the ads themselves), impressions, and spend organized in reports that allow users to view by advertiser, by site, by ad tech, and across custom time frames. Pathmatics tracks desktop display, pre-roll video, mobile web, native ad networks, and paid social advertising.
A brand, for example, can know if a competitor has launched a new marketing campaign or started spending for impressions on a new site (potentially a new target market). The brand marketers can compare themselves within their category and determine if they are being outspent. Advertisers can find sites that they are not advertising on – and the most efficient channel partner to buy through. They can also monitor brand safety and detect wasteful placements to cut or reallocate spend.
Agencies, publishers, and adtech providers also use Pathmatics in their sales, business development, and customer service operations to identify opportunities for existing and new clients and partners. Access to spend and trends among advertisers helps them craft better solutions and to provide better customer experiences while saving time.
Our AI combined with the broadest scope of indexed and panel-based data differentiate Pathmatics solutions in the marketplace. Our unique technology also allows us to decode “ad paths” and discover the ad tech intermediaries on each and every ad impression at a level of detail that no competitors can match.
How Does Pathmatics use AI?
AI and machine learning play a number of roles in our pipelines. To start, in order to take a proper sample of advertising on the web each day, indexers have to match traffic patterns in the real-world – which sites, which URLs, from which locations? That sample is constantly adjusted among servers to match the real-world.
Next, each ad has to be detected on each page and identified, or fingerprinted, to know if it’s a creative seen already or a new creative. All the data associated with an ad impression is used to analyze it: format, graphics, landing pages, site, time-of-day, position on the page, and so on. These factors allow us to automatically assign ads to the right advertisers with minimal human curation.
To estimate spend, the ad impression data is used in an AI workflow along with continuous machine learning of market conditions that drive fluctuating prices. That is, we have pricing from our own continuous buying in the marketplace, plus data from partners on their actual rates, to constantly tune the AI that estimates prices for the ads we sample. This is across hundreds of thousands of advertisers, on over 20,000 sites, dozens of countries and millions of sample pageviews each day.
In Your Mind, What is the Future of AI in Business and Marketing?
From ERP to sales automation, CRM, and marketing automation, business management and marketing have been transformed with technology and data tools. The catch has been that these tools require a lot of manual tasks to administer and use them to extract value. So, AI can help to not just to automate those tasks, but to automate them in ways that apply data learning and statistical predictions in order to optimize tools at the same time.
AI vendors, as well as business and marketing leaders, should look for the areas where teams spend time on repetitive and administrative tasks that could also benefit from data-driven optimization.
In marketing, top tasks to tackle are discovering content ideas, generating copy – especially converting data into narratives — optimizing as well as personalizing the content and delivery, managing paid digital optimization, automating social media, and of course, internal reporting.
Do You Think Marketers Will be Replaced by AI Robots?
I’m very interested in the organizational change side of AI. How AI changes marketing organizations and marketing roles: What skills will marketers need? What tasks will be automated, and what will marketers do then.
In the best of all possible worlds, AI empowers marketers and creatives, without replacing them. For example, if many of the tactical aspects of optimizing ads are managed automatically by AI, the marketer is freed up to innovative on more creative concepts and campaigns to build and test. In other words – the really fun stuff.
Whether it’s a new business strategy, imagining that never-before-conceived product, or reinterpreting a creative approach to a campaign, the more “non-linear” – or human — the thinking is, that’s where people will get to work and to shine. That’s a good thing.
Do You Have Any Other Thoughts on AI in Business and Marketing?
One challenge right now is that we are in the early stages of AI in marketing for many applications. That means a couple of things. For one, we are likely in the Peak of Expectations part of the Hype Curve for many companies and ideas. That’s natural, but it will cause a lot of disruption to marketing stacks as tools and companies try to survive the Trough of Disillusionment.
Secondly, we have a lot of standalone tools that need to be integrated. That always slows down adoption. As a martech innovator, do you (painfully) integrate tools into your stack? Or do you wait for your current key technology providers to select and integrate the tools into their platforms for you?
As always, one key is to design pilot programs that test tools without disrupting the ship.
In this interview, Kenneth Roberts gave a very interesting view into how AI can provide intelligence and insights into digital ads, and how tools like Pathmatics can help make better ad investments.
I think it is safe to say online marketing is getting AI-powered right now!
I am an author, speaker and consultant in marketing automation and artificial intelligence.
Do you need help with marketing automation or AI-based solutions? Contact me and let’s discuss how I can help you!