Marin’s Search For Display: Slow, Steady, Social

Chris Lien, MarinMarin Software is a stalwart of the search space and a minor player in what it calls “performance display.” Ten percent of its revenue comes from nonsearch channels, primarily the Google Display Network, Criteo and Facebook. (It’s a Preferred Marketing Developer).

CEO Chris Lien spoke with AdExchanger about his company’s baby steps in programmatic and social media.

AdExchanger: How has your display business evolved?

Chris Lien: Performance display for us is a growing part of our business but it’s still a small part. About 90% of revenue is from paid search globally. That’s Google, Yahoo, Yahoo Japan and Bing. The other 10% is broadly divided between social – Facebook ads – and performance display. The primary way we participate is through the Google Display Network, and then we also have a partnership with Criteo for remarketing.

Fundamentally, Marin is enabling advertisers to tie the cost and click data at the ad level or keyword level back to the revenue and conversion information that results from that particular ad placement. That way an advertiser can figure out the financial performance, they can figure out better business insights, and our platform offers time savings.

The other aspect of our display, for tier-one display, is we do allow customers to use the Marin platform for reporting and analytics purposes. Symantec uses us for display and search, to manage those platforms together. But if it’s not API enabled or digitally addressable, all we can provide is reporting and analytics.

How did the Criteo partnership develop?

They were the largest when we started with them, and they’re a good group of people. Their technology operates globally and at high scale, and that matches well with what we do in that we service many of the world’s largest advertisers and agencies.

We support retargeting in the Google network as well.

Why not bring a retargeting solution in-house? Grab some of that arbitrage?

There are two fundamental approaches that set Marin apart. One is, we are not and will not become an advertising agency. Second, we don’t engage in media arbitrage. Our financials are all subscription or professional services fees. We don’t see ourselves moving into a media arbitrage or ad network play. We’ll be partners with all of those because we see them as publishers. Criteo to us appears as a publisher, much like Google or Yahoo or Bing. You’ll see us partnering with more retargeting or remarketing providers in the future.

So no service layer at all?

No, that’s not our business. Half of our customer base by revenue is from agencies, and we just always want to have a clear line that we’re aligned with our agencies or with our advertisers, and not muddy those rules.

How do you think about the display channel strategically?  Are you content with a 90% focus on search, and then capturing whatever low-hanging display revenue happens to orbit around that search spend?

Our approach is to position ourselves so we can meet the needs of today’s digital marketers. Digital marketing programs span multiple channels. We think of the channels as search, display, social and mobile – although mobile cuts across all those channels. Embedded in there would be video as well. We started in paid search because that was 100% API addressable, and by that we mean we could provide our three buckets of functionality – “measure, manage, and optimize.”

You can do 100% of that across all search inventory. You can only do “measure, manage and optimize” across a small portion of the display channel. We are growing our business across performance display, but that will take time – both for us to grow it and for that category to mature. We use a lens of our customer needs and also a lens of where the media spend is. When we look at the Magna Global numbers worldwide, search is about $45 billion. Display is the next largest category, but performance display is between $3 billion and $8 billion annually. Each one of us would love to have that many jelly beans or cookies, but it’s a fraction of the size of the search market. It is growing at a rapid rate and therefore we want to be a relevant player in that category.

Mobile has grown faster than performance display. What’s interesting about mobile is the leading players in mobile advertising are the mobile search providers. It’s Google, Yahoo, Bing, Yahoo Japan, and therefore we have a meaningful participation in mobile already. It was about 23% of the media managed on our platform in the second quarter.

Talk about Facebook and the changes you’ve seen since becoming an Ad API PMD.  

Facebook continues to go through a period of high dynamism and experimentation, highlighted by changes in ad coverage and the sunsetting of certain ad units, which they announced a couple of weeks ago. Marketers are seeing growing success with Facebook advertising, and every marketer realizes that some portion of their total online marketing budget should be devoted to paid media on social. But it varies, according to vertical and marketer, what social advertising makes sense.

It’s a small portion now but it’s growing.

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