Drawbridge CEO: ‘Programmatic Has Led the Charge for Cross-Device’

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Increasingly sophisticated location technology — an inevitable by-product of mobile’s dominance — is dramatically influencing the advertising industry, and programmatic in particular is emerging as a powerful force. Drawbridge sits in the confluence of location, mobile and programmatic, providing cross-device solutions. 

Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan founded Drawbridge in 2010 after a stint at Google, which had acquired AdMob, the startup she was working for. Sivaramakrishnan spoke recently with Street Fight about Drawbridge’s solutions, the ever-changing nature of mobile targeting, and the constant misinterpretation of the word “programmatic.”

How have cross-device tracking and omnichannel developed in the last year or two? What can you do now in connecting people to devices and actions that you weren’t able to in the recent past?
Let’s dial back to about five years ago. The conversation was around the need for identifying the consumer across multiple devices, because the fragmentation and emergence of mobile devices was already underway. The notion of understanding who a particular user is and what device they’re on — are they on a browser, are they on a native application, how are they engaging with a brand — those questions weren’t trivial, because the only methodology was through a registration handle, a log-in handle, an email handle that deterministically ties you or identifies you. And there are a lot of questions around how prevalent these handles for identifying consumers are. Every marketer is well aware that it’s hard to require registration from every consumer even remotely interested in their brand. You have the highly engaged ones who have transacted in some way, shape, or form, and you have some sort of identifier for them. But outside of that, the ability to understand the larger consumer base is limited. Someone like a Google or a Facebook, on the other hand, has tremendous access to consumer IDs, because your Google or Facebook handle is precisely that. From an emergence perspective, what’s happened over the last five years is building technologies to enable an entire system of brands and marketers to have the same power as Google, Facebook, Alibaba, Amazon. That democratization of identity capability is a monumental achievement over the course of the last five years, enabled by building technology-based solutions.

Where does location fit into these advancements?
We use “mobile” as a sort of catchphrase for every non-desktop device. Your laptop is a mobile device. Your phone, your tablet — all mobile, by definition and in nature. And mobile devices have the ability to capture location. But for location to be a substitute for a consumer’s identity, it has to be so precise to come into the realm of personally identifiable information that we don’t believe it’s the best way to evolve an identity solution. From our perspective, it’s possible to construct an identity solution without having to tap into the precise geolocation for that particular user on their particular mobile device. So while location is a very important ingredient that helps us understand consumer behavioral patterns, we don’t view it as a substitute for identity. Our focus is a lot about anonymous identity solutions.

We see location as something that [helps to] solve attribution. If we’re able to connect a user across every device, screen, and platform they interact with, one of those environments they interact with is effectively the physical world, and the physical world is best captured by location. That location is best captured by a mobile device, and that mobile device is connected to other devices. We can understand the relationship between that digital identity and that physical location. That’s how location plays into our solution. In certain interpretations, it’s possible to think about location, if derived very precisely, as a substitute for identity. But that’s not our approach.

Widespread use of programmatic is new enough to the advertising landscape that people are still grasping it as a concept. Do you think programmatic is misunderstood?
There’s misinterpretation and abuse of the word “programmatic.” I once heard someone say that programmatic is just a fancy word for automation. In a way, I think that’s the simplest way to describe it, but that doesn’t subsume a lot of the nuances and competence that make programmatic pop. Yes, the simplest synonym for programmatic is automation. For example, when a marketer buys into a Facebook or Google environment in an automated fashion using their API, that’s programmatic. But the real-time bidding ecosystem, wherein targeting is much more precise because it’s an open economy under which targeting capabilities are enacted, is also a programmatic implementation. So there needs to be an understanding, from a marketer’s perspective, that when we say programmatic it does mean automation — but what kind of automation, what type of data and control and transparency do we get against a programmatic strategy?

I’m so glad that over the course of the last couple years programmatic has become more and more mainstream. It’s not relegated to being a performance strategy meant for the middle-tier. It’s being adopted as a mainstream strategy that large, premium publishers and developers and that entire digital economy has to pay attention to. So while there’s the possibility of misusing and abusing the word programmatic, it’s more exciting that it’s becoming mainstream. I think programmatic has led the charge for cross-device. Where do you find cross-device being implemented today in an open-economy fashion? In companies like Drawbridge that have leveraged the programmatic ecosystem and built programmatic technology to build cross-device interaction.

What have been some of the big changes in mobile targeting?
To my other point, a mobile device is every device that is attached to you and travels with you from A to B, so there’s a lot of evolution happening in targeting capabilities in digital. It’s happening on the browser, in the form of display or native advertising. It’s also happening in mobile in the form of native advertising, and it’s becoming more seamless, rather than [being considered] as a separated ecosystem that has its own reality. Mobile was deemed to be a reach device where you spray and pray and hope that you get the upper-funnel attention of the consumer, and at some point the transaction may or may not happen on mobile, or it will happen on another digital device or offline. There was no real visibility in understanding how that measurement would be manifested. So the value of mobile was being undermined by the fact that, well, I’ll spend some dollars in mobile and check a box because it’s a part of my comprehensive digital approach. That has changed. Because you’re now enabling it with an identity solution, it becomes an integral part of every device and screen the consumer interacts with. It has become much more measurable. It’s less about targeting and more about understanding how impactful mobile is in understanding how consumers interact in mobile itself, on another device, or offline.

Annie Melton is Street Fight’s news editor.