NinthDecimal’s Staas: Programmatic Will Become a Strong Opportunity for Small Business Owners

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People may know NinthDecimal from its previous iteration as JiWire, a mobile advertising company that served ads on airport Wi-Fi networks. The company rebranded in 2014, emerging as a mobile audience intelligence platform. It’s no longer in the Wi-Fi business and has gone full-bore into the burgeoning programmatic media space.

At an Advertising Week XII event this week, Street Fight caught up with NinthDecimal president David Staas, who’s been with the company since the JiWire days, to talk about how NinthDecimal has evolved and where he sees opportunities for small business owners as digital media becomes progressively more automated.

NinthDecimal president David Staas

In the company’s previous iteration, you were an early entrant in the location-based marketing space. Can you talk about the factors that led NinthDecimal to move beyond the Wi-Fi-focused model that JiWire was known for?
The thing that’s most interesting about the original Wi-Fi data product was that it was the first location signal available in the marketplace. So, back when the days before you had GPS signals coming off mobile devices, you had a location signal at scale coming off Wi-Fi.

That was really what we built the business around — how do you build audience based on a historical signal of location data? As the mobile ecosystem began to develop and build out, app developers started to develop location-based apps that tapped into the location signal on the device. You now had signal and scale and mobile.

We extended the platform to take advantage of that, but around the same business model of building audience based on where you go in the physical world.

What did shifting the focus to mobile enable you to do differently?
By tapping into the mobile, it really opened up a firehose of data relative to what you had with Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi was a really interesting business, but it had limited scale. Mobile is infinite.

We had to evolve our solutions to tackle the big problems and challenges that advertisers face in mobile, such as: How do I build a rich understanding of my audience? How do I measure and create attribution around that? How do I start building insights and analytics around understanding my audience whether it has to do with advertising or just understanding my business?

Another way we extended our products is by thinking of mobile as the glue. Location provides a linking capability to bring together other types of media. Everyone talks about cross-device and the idea of being able to connect a mobile device to a desktop, but you can also connect all of that to TV, to direct mail, to out-of-home, to radio, and other forms of media, and now you can begin to build that understanding of audience and measurement attribution of campaigns across all of that — the entire ecosystem, that omnichannel platform. That’s really what we’ve built today is an omnichannel platform for audience and measurement that’s solving that exact problem.

Is that an approach aimed primarily at larger, national-scale advertisers with budgets to match?
You can think of the ability of data to scale up or down. If I’m a small business owner, I want to understand who the audience is in my specific part of the market that shops and lives within proximity to my store because that’s my business, whether it’s an individual store or a national chain of small businesses like a franchise model.

On the other end of the spectrum are the big advertisers that are looking at national campaigns that run across all types of media. They really want to get beyond the siloed approach they’ve had to a place where they can grasp how effective a campaign was as a whole. I can run a mobile piece, I can run a desktop piece, I can run a TV component, but I will have to look at each one of these as a standalone. Being able to now understand how each of these works across each other changes the game.

You do that by starting to utilize things like a common currency in measurement, such as our foot-traffic attribution solution, LCI [Location Conversion Index]. You don’t have a click-through rate for TV, you don’t have a click-through rate for out-of-home, but you can apply that foot-traffic attribution as a common form of measurement across all those types of media, apples to apples to apples. As an advertiser, I can gain a richer understanding of all the touchpoints of that campaign. We can benchmark and compare them and understand what’s really working, what isn’t working, and make real-time decisions based on that signal.

When we think about location and its role in the marketing ecosystem, targeting used to be about where consumers are in the moment. Now, audience development seems more focused on understanding where they have been. To what extent does NinthDecimal’s evolution tie into the changing emphasis in location-based marketing?
It’s an interesting combination of both. If you think about current location, it’s not as much of an indicator of audience as historical location is. If I can look back over time and understand how an individual or an audience goes about their daily life in the physical world, I have a much richer understanding of that person or that audience.

Current location can be applied as context. Think about a retailer that wants to reach somebody within a mile of their store. Well, just because I’m within a mile of a particular brand’s store doesn’t mean I have any affinity to that brand or any interest or desire to ever shop there. That’s a wasted impression.

If I want to reach somebody who frequently shops at my store, why don’t I find people who frequently shop at my store and then reach them wherever they are? That’s one aspect. If I want to reach people who frequently shop at my store, than when they’re in proximity to my store, now I’m tying audience with context and that combination is more powerful. It’s definitely about audience first.

How can small business owners take advantage of these trends and get access to some of that knowledge and data and apply them in an effective way to improve their business?
One of the challenges is a lot of the tools around the ecosystem have not really been built to scale for the small business owner, and they still require a lot of sophistication in understanding how to buy and sell media.

The opportunity is in looking at how some of these platforms are evolving. I think programmatic will become a very strong opportunity for the small business owner. Think about a scenario where I’m a merchant and I want to put in a couple criteria and execute my campaign. What I really need is a programmatic platform where I can tie into some rich media creative that I can customize very quickly to my particular store location or brand and create a couple simple targeting mechanisms around who my audience is. Increasingly, that data is becoming available in those programmatic platforms. That creates the right way for the small business owner to take advantage of programmatic.

The ecosystem still has to evolve those tools, and simplify so small business owners don’t have to deal with ad creation as well as figuring out the targeting, but some of those tools are in the market today and its starting to give the small business owner a lot more flexibility and capability to take advantage of all of this.

Noah Elkin is Street Fight’s managing editor.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.