With Originators, Assists, and Converters, C3 Metrics Targeting Attribution Says CEO Hughes

C3 MetricsMark Hughes is CEO of C3 Metrics, an online advertising attribution company.

AdExchanger.com: What are some of the key learnings that you had as VP of Marketing at Half.com (sold to eBay for $300 million in 2000), that have come in handy at C3 Metrics?

Both eBay and half.com embraced a data-driven culture for media buying and customer acquisition.  Sometimes it was a pressure cooker, but pressure makes diamonds.

What problem is C3 metrics solving?

Today’s ad tracking systems are predominantly the same legacy systems from the late ‘90s…giving 100% conversion credit to the last-click or last-view.

Example:  if four Internet ads contribute to a transaction, current tracking systems allocate entire credit to the very last ad, completely ignoring the first three…even though they drove your revenue.

Zero credit to revenue drivers…100% credit to the last ad.  It’s frightening.

C3 solves this problem with a SaaS attribution model, collecting and attributing credit to media sources as Originators, Assists, and Converters–transaction-by-transaction, in real-time.

The elegance of C3 is its decision engine…taking thousands of transactions, and making the complex simple and actionable.  Instead of grueling weeks of analysis, using C3’s decision engine, it takes minutes.

How do you view the attribution competitive landscape? What are the different silos?

We view competition positively.  $28.5 billion will be spent on Internet advertising this year…$70 billion globally.  We believe 30% of those dollars are unfortunately wasted with prevalent last-click & last-view metrics.  The more players educating the market, the faster the market eliminates waste for agencies, brands, and publishers.

Where does C3 fit – and how does it differentiate?

We’re rifle focused on attribution model analytics, it’s our passion and expertise.  C3 is designed by media buyers and technologists who know media.

We differentiate in four major areas.

a)     Platform agnostic & independent.  You’ll find a lot of attribution model providers only work if you use a certain ad serving platform.  Will you have to switch?  What about affiliate channels?  And what about Social, which doesn’t go through an ad server?  What about offline DR data, which doesn’t go through ad servers?  C3 accepts any media channel and was designed with universal acceptance from the beginning.

b)    No Touchpoint Limitations.  You’ll also find attribution model providers that have capture limits of the 10 most recent touchpoints, and will only attribute those 10 recent events—nothing further.  But if you’ve got a handful of clicks and half a day’s worth of view impressions…you’d only be using two days of data for attribution, which is crazy.  C3 has unlimited touchpoints.

c)     Display expertise.  This is perhaps the hardest aspect of an attribution model, yet the most important.  We’ve cracked the code, and attribute view impressions and click impressions in real-time. Now as display becomes more RTB, and as less people click on banners each year, display attribution becomes paramount.  We spent six months getting certified by Yahoo!, and today we run on 20+ networks.  We view networks as partners because they want campaigns to work just as much as advertisers—but unless you have a decision engine with simple and actionable metrics to see what’s really going on, display is very hard.

d)    Decision engine.  We have a proprietary decision engine making the complex very simple and actionable.  We’ve seen attribution model systems which are data dumping grounds, but we know how the real world works.  Boss calls at 2pm saying $125k has to be cut…need the plan in three hours.  This is real world and C3 is designed for the real world, combining robust power with simplicity.

We have 16 total advantages on our site, but these are C3’s prime differentiators.

What’s the perfect client for C3 Metrics? A particular vertical, ad spend level, etc.?

Anyone who’s paying for analytics or tracking has enough media dollars at stake to see huge returns when using an attribution model like C3 Metrics.

Looking at the various digital channels, which is the most complex in terms of trying to provide accurate attribution modeling?

Right now, mobile.  With a smart, like-minded partner, we think our approach solves this very well.  As smartphones and tablets explode—tracking across disconnected devices is hard.  We’re very excited about our approach to mobile.

In your mind, is there a difference between media mix modeling and the channel attribution C3 is doing?

We were once asked, “can C3 tell us how to optimally allocate an incremental 8 million dollars online?”  Our response was: the real media world doesn’t work that way.  An analogy:  imagine you’re pouring water into a glass.  At a certain point, the glass fills up…and the water you keep pouring overflows. Each media buy will see that point of diminishing returns.  C3 can’t solve these human issues, but it can recognize the point where ROI diminishes.  But at the end of the day, it has to involve real media dollars, not vapor.

Some say the “view-through” conversions are invalid considering the many variables that lead to a final conversion. Where does C3 stand?

That’s like saying TV doesn’t work.  Of course TV works, but not all TV works.  Terrible creative gives terrible results.  Terrible targeting gives terrible results.

Of course view-through conversions work—but not all, and C3 is the robust tool to finally uncover which are working and which aren’t working.  And from an actionability standpoint, scale the good, and reduce or remove the bad.

Some attribution systems shy away from solving this hard problem, but C3 has cracked the code incorporating view-throughs into our attribution model–most importantly doing it in real-time, so we can provide that data feedback to the networks.

Old ad tracking systems have trained the networks to play at the bottom of the funnel because that’s where these outdated systems give 100% credit.

Once you’re liberated from being stuck at the bottom with last click & last view, it allows dollars to be spent to originate and assist incremental revenue vs. competing for consumers already in the funnel.

It’s the only industry I know of where people compete for last place.

Can C3 help with understanding traditional/offline spend? How?

C3 helps with offline DR, and when online activity drives an offline conversion.  For example, I needed winter tires and wheels for my car.  I went online, did my research…but it was a complex, highly involved purchase and I didn’t want to make a mistake. So I called the 800 number on the site.

Typically when a call center rep closes a sale taking the credit card over the phone, all data is lost.  Meaning, those online ad dollars which drove them to purchase which happened to close by phone—typically vanish from an attribution perspective.

But with C3, we connect those online media dollars which would’ve forever been lost.

The call center rep asks you for a special numeric code appearing on the bottom of the website…call center rep records that number in their own system, but we join that data in C3 nightly with a simple datawarehouse feed.  Now we know which online media sources drove the revenue which would never gotten credit.  The exact same is true when a customer prints an online coupon, bringing it to a store to make a purchase.  We simply join the unique store coupon ID with a nightly feed from the data warehouse to C3, discovering which online ad sources drove the revenue.

Where is the company today in terms of profitability and funding?

As we grow and hire, we dip into capital to fuel growth.  The company is currently funded by Funded by founders, family, and Angels.  Early on, some Silicon Valley marquis names chased us.  We wanted to maintain focus on building the best product and listening to customers, politely telling these marquis names, ‘No Thank You’.  With the capital markets so hot now, we’re now going to take advantage and hire more outstanding people with outstanding principles and drive.

A year from now, what milestones would you like the company to have accomplished?

Hit our numbers…and this may sound hokey, but we want to create heroes.

Imagine six months from now, you walk into a conference room presenting slides detailing your 36%+ ROI improvement through decisions made with C3.  And in 12 months you’ve produced millions of dollars in savings using C3.  It’s not imaginary, it’s very real and very tangible.  What happens?  You become a hero.

This is why we get up in the morning.  We’ve got a special tool that can create heroes.

Follow C3 Metrics (@C3metrics) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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