Brand Networks Contends With Adobe on Global Facebook Offering

Since we kicked off our series of Q&As with Facebook Ads API badge holders (scroll down for full list), Facebook’s partner regime has continued to shift. Most recently it created a new class of Preferred Marketing Developers called “Strategic PMDs.”

Brand Networks is among the 12 companies promoted to that new program. The company was around at the very beginning of Facebook’s preferred vendor program, back when partners were called “preferred developer consultants.” The company brings a focus on Pages, Apps, and Ads for national retailers and other brands with hundreds or thousands of regional outlets — and a corresponding need for localized presence.

We spoke to CEO Jamie Tedford.

What is Brand Networks’ back story, and how do you use the Facebook Ads API?

JAMIE TEDFORD: We started as what was then called a Preferred Developer Consultant [PDC], as one of the first 35 companies admitted to the PDC program. That program was really related to apps, and app development.

We are now certified with the Apps badge, with the Ads badge, and with the Page management badge. We are one of under 10 companies who have been certified in three badges. Of course, I believe there’s still only one that has four, and that is Adobe.

That’s an important part of our story — that we are relatively new to the Ads API space, and came at it from a considerably different direction than most of the early companies. Most of those early leaders were bringing social to a suite of search tools. We were coming at it as Facebook developers who added ad management into our tools.

What was the company’s history before you joined that early developer program?

We were formed in 2007. The company was always meant to be a hybrid between a software development shop and agency service provider, but always focused on social, and to be even more focused on the Facebook platform. Really to have our roots in development, and extend it into more full‑service services, and also a wide variety of tool sets.

What’s your primary use of the Ads API?

Our primary use is to support integrated assignments on behalf of clients. I say that because we don’t necessarily compete with the other Ads API partners for media‑only RFPs. That’s not to say we won’t, it’s just to say where we started and where we are today is really having a more holistic approach to your marketing efforts on Facebook.

As an example, we believe that there are advantages to leveraging our Ads API tool, which we call Story Amplifier, or Story Amp for short, for those clients for whom we’ve built a major application.

An app is only as good as the stories that it generates. Regardless of whether it’s something highly commerce driven, like “Link, Like, Love,” which we created for American Express, or something like the social booking application, another one of our apps, the discipline that goes into the design of that application has to revolve around, are we generating the story?

In the case of Link, Like, Love, when I add an offer to my card, that generates a story. That story then, as a user who has installed that app, goes out to some percentage of the people who are my friend. The granularity of media planning now in Facebook requires you to be thinking about story generation in both the development of an application and then having deep integration into that app.

So, our pitch to our clients is, because we built your app, because we’ve engineered it and designed it in a way that creates a ton of stories, we’re going to get in there and actually sync up the media‑buying process and make it very granular and very action oriented. We’re going to amplify every single story that that application creates. We don’t think that anyone else is positioned to do that as well as we are, if we built your application.

What about Pages?

With Pages it’s similar. We’d always done Page management on behalf of a number of different clients since our inception, but really got into the Page management toolset business when we created an application we call Go Local. Go Local is a page‑management system that specifically focuses on retail or multi-location businesses. It was initially used by Starbucks to create… check‑in promotions that can aggregate across hundreds or thousands of stores. Similarly, Go Local was leveraged for managing promotions across JetBlue terminal locations. The JetBlue locations would go with the Go Places application, which is still live, and earn points.

Our largest client of the Go Local platform is a big box retailer, and Go Local is being used to power publishing across 4,000 store pages. Things that have local relevance but are centralized. Also now enabling store operators to post and create their own hub page from their store that are very sensitive, very customized and to do some automated posts that are very much related to price and promotion.

We’re actually leveraging data from a very large big box retailer in order to push out, and publish to pages, very specific things. So, “this product is on sale, at this price, at this store.” And that’s done programmatically, but is another means of publishing.

That is a lot to say, in advance of saying that where we believe and what our tool is being used for today is highly localized amplification of stories.

We’re not trying to compete with Buddy, Vitrue and Page publishing tools for one page. Our entire focus is on publishing to what’s called the parent‑child relationship between a national page and their multiple retail locations, and the amplification of the stories generated locally.

Typically, who is your point of contact at the client or agency?  

It has evolved as the importance of social media has evolved. All contacts do go up to the CMO level because of the integrated nature of our relationships. In some cases we find ourselves in digital marketing groups. In some cases we find ourselves working through a social media team.

In the best-organized organizations, we have that anchor relationship within the marketing team. Then we have a media contact that works with us on the Ads API side.

Is “services” a dirty word to you?

To us, it’s never been a dirty word, and I understand in ad tech it has been. We don’t want to license our tool to 500, 1,000 agencies. That’s not our business model, never will be.

We want to be the integrated provider of software, services, and media to the top 50 spenders on the Facebook platform. We don’t believe that that group of marketers is looking for self‑serve. In fact, we know they’re not. That group of marketers is looking for partners, partners who don’t just provide services. We’re not competing with the consulting agency model out there, the Big Fuels of the world who provide social strategy or just content management.

We want to be the complete provider, so we want to have software that’s scale that helps them get to market quicker and be more efficient. We want to round that out with services that we consider to be world class, because you have to design an application to be effective.

I’ve seen it happen in ad tech where tool sets get commoditized. I understand efficiency, but I think that can become a race to the bottom, of commoditization and price competition. I’ve heard the margins continue to slim on the Ads API side from my friends throughout that industry, and we haven’t seen that kind of price sensitivity when you’re providing integrated services.

Who do you put in your competitive set?

We have a lot of competitors I suppose because we play across all three and hopefully soon to be four of the badge categories. On the Page management side, you could certainly say that Vitrue, Buddy, Envolve or Wildfire to some extent, but again we’re much more focused on local so really the main competition we see there is Hearsay.

On the App side we really feel like we are the industry leader and I think the work that we’ve done in that space has defined that. Interestingly, our main competitors in the app development space used to be Vitrue and Buddy before they sort of pivoted and went…all publishing. They used to create custom applications on behalf of current Brand Networks clients.

Then on the Ads API side, gosh I guess all of them to some extent but the ones that we are watching the most closely are the ones like Adobe who are coming at it from an integrated approach because we think that’s the approach that wins.

The fact that Adobe has four badges and it’s creating a social suite in the way that we envision a social suite, makes them our number one competitor. Like I said, I think we’re madly moving towards getting that fourth badge and rounding out the Insights part of our business, so we are one of the very select groups of four badge players.

Anything you can share on your future from a business or organizational perspective ‑ do you stay independent?  

We are really fast growing. In the last year alone, we’ve added our Page publishing software as well as our Ads API.

We are heads down, growing at a pace of over 100 percent per year. I’m sure it does open some eyes in the context of what’s happening in our industry, as you can imagine. But for right now, I think we’ve got a lot more milestones to achieve and growth to see before that really becomes a reality for us.

I think it also points to our strategy versus our competitors, who were really easy to fit into one of those tool sets. I think what we’re creating is pretty unique, and it’s probably not as simplified a fit as one tool set might be. The answer is we love doing this independently, but we’re cognizant to what’s happening around us… Certainly it would appear as though there’s an opportunity for holding companies to really become players. But so far, it’s been largely dictated, or dominated, by software companies.

The media space is interesting. Non‑traditional companies getting into that, whether it’s publishers like Meredith, CondÈ Nast or Gannett, getting into this space through the acquisition of API partners. It’s an interesting dynamic happening in the marketplace, and we’re having fun being right in the middle of it.

What does the new Strategic PMD label deliver for you and your clients, and what will it accomplish for Facebook? 

We’re really proud and excited to be a Facebook Strategic PMD. This validates that our approach of bundling enterprise social software and killer marketing services is working for our clients and is valued by Facebook.  Our participation in the sPMD program is going to benefit our existing clients through enhanced product support and early access to innovative new features that help build better connections between brands and their customers.  So in that sense, the customer wins when we do this right. Being part of this elite group of only 12 companies recognized by Facebook is a huge boost for our company and likely to fuel even more rapid growth.

Follow Jamie Tedford (@jamietedford) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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