SAS On Ads: aiMatch Turns Into SAS Intelligent Advertising, Launches New Products

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SASBack in January, enterprise analytics company SAS took the plunge into the online ad ecosystem and acquired publisher-side ad server aiMatch.  Read the Q&A with SAS' exec Wilson Raj.

Now that aiMatch has been "swallowed," SAS is launching new advertising products (read the release) led by aiMatch's former CEO Jeff Wood, who is now Senior Director, SAS Intelligent Advertising, and Andy Bober, Director, SAS Customer Intelligence Product Management. They both discussed the implications of the acquisition and the new products during an interview with AdExchanger last week.

AdExchanger: aiMatch has been traditionally a publisher‑side ad server, and SAS has been working in service to the marketer. Why do aiMatch’s solutions make sense to the marketer? Perhaps, advertisers are becoming publishers and publishers are becoming advertisers, for example?

ANDY BOBER: We all share that same general sentiment, or even more broadly, “What's the difference between an advertiser and any other kind of marketing offer?” But, from a near‑term focus, we do see a natural marriage between the lack of analysis on a number of fronts in this space and what SAS has in spades. While they're not perfect analogies, SAS as a company offers revenue management solutions for the likes of Fairmont Hotels and Hilton Hotels. Very similarly, they want to figure out how much to charge for a specific room on a specific day – it’s a very good parallel to an exchange. “When do I charge a premium? When do I allow conventions? When do I do commercials?” etc.

That's a very complex, mathematical problem that means big dollars for those kinds of organizations.

But we've solved the problem in that space and in the retail industry. Kohl's, Macy's, all these large companies are using SAS to price their merchandise. They figure out how to mark down their merchandise. They figure out where to place a certain promotion, and what that promotion should be, in a coupon book, an old‑school newspaper circular and so on. We've got a lot of different directions to go, but a lot of our focus now is on taking great analytics and applying it to a space that lacks analytics, lacks good data visualization, and is in dire need of a strong alternative platform for publishers.

JEFF WOOD: From aiMatch’s perspective, publishers can’t know enough about their audience, so they're constantly trying to gather more data to describe their audience. We help them with that. We can help them [understand] the data they're collecting that describes their audience. And, we also have tools to allow them to bring in third-party descriptions of that data to build it out. The more you know about your audience, the more RFPs you can say “yes” to on the direct sales side. And the more you know about your audience, the more data you can pass along to the Exchange.

Do you still target publishers today or is it now supporting the marketer strategy at SAS?

JEFF WOOD: We're definitely laser-focused on publishers today. Hopefully, that'll expand as time goes on but what we have is a great solution for the publisher today.

ANDY BOBER: There is a good intersect from SAS’ client base in terms the marketing side and the publishers that aiMatch either had or was in the process of targeting.  There's obviously a lot more we'll be doing in the future.

AdExchanger: When people hear "data visualization," they think of something visual, of course - as in a graphical image. What is the reality of data visualization for advertising data?

JEFF WOOD: It’s a lot more than that - I'll give you an example with an operations dashboard. Our own solution is quite a few steps past spreadsheets.

It’s an interactive scatter plot where all the different elements on that scatter plot are different “flights,” so you can see how the different campaigns are performing. It's interactive - you can zoom in or press “Play” to see the [campaign] move through to completion.

Right now, most traffickers manage this through a report called an On Schedule report or a Schedule report, so it's essentially an Excel list that has every flight and shows its priority and [how close it is to being filled]. You can do some filtering with it. But the problem is it's hard to just look at that and figure out where you should be focusing your attention because campaigns start at different times and represent different dollar amounts.

With our solution, you can hone in on, "This is where I need to spend my time. This is what's important for me to focus on."

How does data visualization play a part of SAS's other tools?

ANDY BOBER: It's a huge area of focus for us. One of the big initiatives for SAS for 2012 and 2013 is around high performance analytics and big data and on top of that, real-time data visualization. So it's all a great marriage of the data that we can pull from our intelligent advertising platforms and then segmenting that data, assessing it and analyzing it in every which way.

At a high level, marketing organizations want to understand their customers and they want to understand the effectiveness of all of their marketing activities. I think that for a variety of historical reasons ad networks grew up separate from real-time decision systems, campaign management systems and a number of other of different ways that organizations use to engage with their customers. We see all that coming together.

When you get down into, say, the social media level or within the interactive marketing organization, they'll want to understand which ad is more effective than this, that and the other. Not just based on clickthroughs, but also based on social media commentary, purchase transactions and so on. And as unsexy as offline is, guess what? I want to understand who is buying in my stores as well as buying online.

Is SAS Intelligent Advertising the new name for aiMatch at SAS?

ANDY BOBER: The short answer is yes—we'll be using the SAS in place of aiMatch, and 'Intelligent Advertising' for the products that came over with aiMatch. This of course ties in well with SAS' presence in analytics, and pays homage to aiMatch, where the 'ai' stood for 'advertising intelligence'.

When I spoke to SAS’ Wilson Raj after aiMatch was acquired, he said that SAS doesn't make an acquisition unless its clients require it. Can you be any more specific on what that client is at SAS, who is requesting aiMatch’s offering?

ANDY BOBER: Yes. Generically, to the earlier point about organizations looking for comprehensive marketing suites, at SAS we service a lot of different industries. Obviously, the media companies that are our clients are the same companies who either have a level of dissatisfaction, or who are forward thinking in terms of the application of analytics to their broader marketing span including advertising and publishing are the kinds of companies that are pushing us that way.

JEFF WOOD: We already have customers that are retailers that are using our products to cross-sell and upsell and part of the thing that's exciting to them is that we have technology that we call Audience Server, which is our method for collecting all of that audience data. Retailers have a lot of registration and transaction data and we have a method for them to push that into our system so they can use it.  Telcos, banks, retailers, media companies – they all have a lot of data that we can help them use for targeting  - and then we can bring in the analytics, the business intelligence, the data visualization, and predictive analytics on top of it.

How will social play a part of SAS/aiMatch tools?

ANDY BOBER: This is another part of the rationale of our acquisition of aiMatch… We see a good parallel in advertising with what SAS has seen in other industries. For example, in retail, instead of an advertisement pushed out on a new product or set of products, [marketers] would utilize social media feedback. The best example is “What's hot and what's not” “Order more orange, cancel the pink” kind of thing. The same thing applies here from an advertising perspective. If I could get that feedback in real time and then incorporate that in my rate cards and incorporate that in my selling events and get buyers – that will be great source. So, we aren't buying on that today but give us 12 months.

Do you guys spend time thinking about how you’re going to leverage Facebook, specifically, on behalf of your clients? Do you feel like you have a Facebook solution, if you will?

ANDY BOBER: Facebook is still an interesting one for us and I wish I had a better story to tell you today. We see more contextual placement, and more interesting opportunities, outside of Facebook at the moment. That's a discussion area, of course.

By John Ebbert

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