Omnicom Alum Josh Jacobs Hopes To Kik-Start Data-Driven Advertising In A Messaging Platform

kikWhen Canadian messaging platform Kik, which aims to become the “WeChat of the West,” hired former Accuen CEO Josh Jacobs as its president of Kik Services, many wondered why someone who had been so ingrained in advertising would pivot to messaging.

Or maybe it’s not such a pivot: After all, Jacobs will supervise the new division Kik Services, responsible for building out relationships with developers and publishers, and bolstering its ad business.

Kik’s ad offering includes Promoted Chats, which lets users connect with brands and send keywords to improve conversation relevancy. Kik also works with publishers like BuzzFeed, The Washington Post and NBC News, who communicate with users through updates and interactive features.

Jacobs spoke to AdExchanger about what he sees in messaging.

AdExchanger: Why messaging?

JOSH JACOBS: I’ve spend the last chunk of time working with large advertisers on how to understand data they had, data that was available and how to build data-driven marketing strategies for brands. When you look at messaging as a category, you think about building relationships. We’ve been talking about this in the programmatic media space for a long time.

Messaging is a way to move beyond an exposure-driven relationship to a contact-driven, conversational relationship. That plays into that data-driven strategy of, “Do I know who my consumers are, do I know what’s important to them and do I have an ability to connect with them around that?”

What’s valuable about Kik to advertisers?

Kik’s scale is amazing. There are over 200 million users. Coming from Omnicom, I’m very respectful of how important scale is to advertisers. The part that plays into advertising is that Kik is built around fostering and enabling one-to-one relationships. It’s not a broadcast medium. It looks much more like CRM than traditional advertising.

The messaging space in general feels like a step change in how Internet services are delivered. The rise of mobile in the US is a part of it, but the second part is what we’ve seen in Asia. The way the Internet grew up in China and other parts of Asia is different because it started on phones. The notion of a “next-generation” Internet that is mobile, local and social at its core was really exciting to me.

What kind of data does Kik have?

We have an amazing concentration of younger consumers. Because we’re working with brands to build these conversation-based relationships, we have access to the content of those conversations. We don’t provide that in aggregate for privacy reasons.

But if I build a relationship with a million consumers, I have the ability to drive conversations around topics of interest, and to mine data to understand perceptions and favorability around products. There’s a tremendous power to get beyond simple awareness questions and to get to the depths of understanding relationships we have with consumers.

What’s Kik Services’ purview?

Kik Services will build all of the supportive tissues for Kik. We think that chat-powered experiences will be a huge part of how consumers access web-based services. We want to make it possible for developers, agencies and publishers that want to deliver some service or content to consumers in a chat-based way.

What’s challenging about the messaging space?

Any messaging that happens with a brand is done on an opt-in bases, so we’re not interrupting with unrequested interactions. But the conversations are between brands and a consumer. The challenge is to be relevant and to bring value into conversations. I think the danger is in not respecting the power of relationships.

How will Kik achieve its professed goal of being the “WeChat of the West?”

WeChat has a user base that begins and ends each day with chat. They’ve learned how to interact very quickly, in short bursts, with the digital world around them. People bank, shop, order food and movie tickets, all within a chat environment. Businesses build official chat presences before they build websites because its a much more relevant way for them to engage with audiences.

When we think about building a “WeChat of the West,” it’s about bringing about a version of that same kind of power. Chat is amazing because it’s fast, it’s location-aware and it’s deeply integrated into social graphs.

Think about the way you write an email to an acquaintance versus the way you chat or text with a friend. Imagine if not only your friendships but also your commercial relationships were just as easy and expressive. We look to the East for validation that people who are mobile-first love extending this kind of behavior from personal relationships into lots of other aspects of their lives.

How does that theory fit into consumer patterns in North America?

My first computer was an Apple II. When I got my first iPhone it was very much an accessory to my main computing device. I’m a desktop-first person who is becoming more mobile. But I watch my niece and nephew, and their first computer was an iPad. They were using it at 2 years old. By the time they’re teenagers, there won’t be a desktop computer in their house. Their formative exposure to the Internet and to services is going to be delivered through much smaller devices.

In a year’s time, what would you like to have achieved in your new role?

I’d like to be able to point to a growing and vibrant community of firms building their own businesses in ways that are powered or enhanced by Kik. We want to have great stuff available on this platform, but we also want people to build companies that are independent and profitable on Kik.

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