Chris Hulse is CEO of Inflection Point Media, a business-to-business ad network.
Any current trends that you can share in Inflection Point Media's B2B ad network business - strengths, weaknesses? And, have publisher CPMs cratered like they have in the B2C world?
Inflection Point Media's complete focus on the SMB market has been our strength. In a recession, marketers are looking for efficient ways to put the right message in front of the right prospect at exactly the right time. That's what we do at IPM. We do this by networking over 140, highly focused SMB sites and search engines. We are able to identify key "inflection points" by the type of keyword search or targeted browsing an SMB does on these sites. By valuing the audience and monetizing it off site, we generate incremental revenue for our publishers in a non-cannibalizing way.
Publishers are struggling right now. Downward pressure on CPMs in a recession is a fact of life, though the B2B vertical is a bit more buoyant than the more general B2C world. Publishers that have great content, provide real value to their users and have tight control over their own inventory will always do best in down times. We see that first hand with the publishers we work with. It's tough out there and that's why we believe we launched our company at exactly the right time.
For publishers, how do you increase their revenues without cannibalizing sales? Isn't channel conflict inevitable?
We sell aggregated audience segments of shared intent derived from many SMB sites and search engines. We're selling access to an intent driven audience, not a site. Publishers may not have enough critical impressions for that site to sell against that particular activity. IPM can bundle that activity from multiple sites to create, highly focused, sellable segments. We then retarget these segments across a completely separate network of sites. When the SMB re-appears on one of these sites we serve a relevant ad based on what we know they're looking for. So we're able create revenue where revenue wouldn't have existed under normal circumstances. We don't sell data or our segments by specific site of origin.
What's your view on ad exchanges? Using any? If so, which ones work?
Every day, there is a new and better technology being developed to give greater transparency into how you can purchase inventory on ad exchanges. Companies such as Xplus1, Invite Media, Google, Audience Science etc. are developing breakthrough platforms giving more and more control to the marketer. Our goal is leverage one interface that can access the top exchanges. Right now, through our partnerships, we are working with several ad exchanges.
How will real-time bidding and demand-side optimization affect your business?
Real-time bidding and demand-side optimization will help performance by giving IPM more transparency, flexibility and efficiencies when buying inventory to target ads.
How does Inflection Point Media address the purchase funnel for marketers?
Inflection Point Media identifies SMB decision makers at the point their intent is identified. We give the marketer the ability to put their message in front of the right person at exactly the right time. In the B2B world, most purchases are more considered than in the B2C world. The fact that an SMB user just searched for Payroll Services, Web Hosting Services, Phone Services, etc. doesn't necessarily mean they're ready to buy right now. They most likely just hit an inflection point in their business where they realize they now need a solution.
IPM delivers the marketers message to people who are "in-market". Our job is to get our marketers' messages in front of these SMB buyers and influencers as they are considering a solution for their business. So the part of the funnel we impact most is between "post intent" through purchase.
What are the challenges of running a B2B ad network versus a B2C ad network?
Our goal isn't to be the biggest audience network. This is not about sheer volume. We serve the SMB marketplace exclusively. There is still a high percentage of B2B budget being allocated on B2C networks and we'd like to gain share by creating a new solution, not just a new spin on and old one. We offer a solution that includes only quality data from best-of-breed SMB publishers. Our growth may be more gradual than some other broader B2C offerings but we are never willing to sacrifice quality for quantity.
Does licensing buying platforms make sense for ad networks? Or is it better to build in-house?
Building an in-house platform is an expensive and labor intensive proposition. The right platform will provide true transparency into media buying on network and exchanges. That is where the rubber meets the road.
We continue to evaluate various solutions but certainly consider transparency and quality as crucial factors in that decision. We are encouraged that through rapid advancement in this area, solutions we only dreamed of a year ago are now available.
How do you see the ad network model evolving in the next five years?
We see a continued shift toward more targeted vertical ad networks. There is no one size fits all solution. Ad networks are likely to build cross platform solutions utilizing other mediums - from online, to TV, to print to Mobile. The networks that understand their audience's and that audience's specific needs best will win.
What strategies do you think agencies need to implement to be successful in the increasingly automated world of media buying?
It may be an automated world, but you still need to know why something is good. With automation comes efficiencies that will give the agency person the ability to do more with less. I've been working with agencies for 15 years. Whether in direct marketing, display advertising, or search, the best agencies seem to understand the value of an impression or the value of an action. Typically, if you measure one data point, you're missing the bigger picture. Our hope is that with automation comes insight into real metrics that matter.
Any issues with creative these days? Do you see clients taking advantage of the feedback it provides? What recommendations would you make about creative?
When you consider how much time is spent on finding the right audience, it is interesting how often the creative served to that audience is the same as that used in so many other, broader campaigns. Creative targeted to specifically to in-market SMB users is always a welcome sight and almost always performs better. We would also like to see advertisers adopt creative sequencing and more dynamically generated landing pages.