Digital media platform Smartology’s mission is to provide a reputable site network for blue chip advertisers. CEO Mark Bembridge explains.
1/When did Smartology start and why?
While advanced taxonomy and machine learning techniques existed in the broader technology sector, news brands weren’t using these to improve their readers’ online experience. In 2010, this looked like a business opportunity waiting to happen.
I’d cut my teeth in mobile personalisation, and initially set up Smartology on FT.com creating ‘Recommended Reads.’
2/How has the company changed over that period?
At first our tech was focused on editorial contextual recommendations on publisher sites, then in 2013 FT.com approached us to see if we could refocus our platform on digital advertising. Increasingly brands wanted a safe, timely way to surface their branded content. This resulted in SmartMatch.
Three years later we’d added several more top publishers including Reuters, The Economist, WSJ and Bloomberg to the platform and were starting to run campaigns globally.
We’re constantly updating our tech, and the biggest change was rebuilding our base technology to rely solely on machine learning and natural language processing. Now we can programmatically match our clients’ branded content with editorial in sub 100ms.
This has been utterly transformational for us and Smartology plans to double the size of the company in the next 12 months. .
3/Smartology has a number of blue chip advertisers including big financial services providers on its site network. What are the key benefits you offer them? And publishers?
We work with many of the world’s biggest financial services and B2B clients. They’ve spent decades building a trustworthy reputation and they don’t want this corroded through poorly placed advertising. Brand safety and appropriate ad placements are key to them. We only work with the top tier of media, Financial Times, Reuters, The Economist etc and we’ll only buy on viewable placements above the fold.
Beyond this they need to make sure they’re getting the most out of their branded content investment and with SmartMatch they see increased engagement. This works by having the clients’ branded content matched into dynamic creative, which is served alongside relevant publisher articles. This is done at the moment when the reader is focused on a specific topic and as the branded content is directly relevant our engagement stats are through the roof.
Clients benefit from having total control of their campaigns, they choose from across a white-list of 70 premium publishers and can specify spend across each publisher, channel and geographical region.
Last but not least, Smartology always believed that context would be a key in solving increasing privacy concerns. With GDPR now in place and other regions considering how to tackle intrusive advertising based on third party cookie data, SmartMatch offers higher engagement without any user data; we simply match a piece of client content to a relevant premium publisher article.
Solving these challenges benefits everyone in from client, media agency and ultimately the publisher who’ll see higher yields with less tech taxes and can stop worrying about GDPR issues.
4/How do you differ from an agency trading desk?
With SmartMatch the whole media spend can be transparently tracked from client to media agency to Smartology to publisher. This has proved immensely popular and is starting to scale very rapidly with both media agencies and direct clients. We have our own trading desk capability and we set up campaigns through our own proprietary demand side platform which means fees are lower as we’ve merged trading desk and DSP into one.
We have our own bidder that uses matching algorithms on the fly to bid to buy the most contextually relevant article level inventory based on available branded content from clients.
Smartology has in the past considered integrating with trading desks. However, we were constantly being asked to synch up using cookies which flew in the face our desire to protect people’s privacy.
5/In a rapidly changing digital media world will there always be the triumvirate of client, agency and media owner?
Increasingly clients seem to be bringing some capabilities in house especially around programmatic. However, media agencies are learning from this and re-structuring to become less opaque, more transparent and efficient.
Agencies are huge forces to be reckoned with and they have access to key skills needed in the digital era while some clients may find attracting talent harder. They also have best-in-class media strategists which most clients won’t be able to access. So agencies will remain key.
6/What’s next for Smartology?
We’re looking to grow our international business. Our genuinely innovative approach helps solve several of the big challenges faced by the marketing sector: engagement, brand safety, transparency, viewability, ad fraud, fake news, and now privacy. We also believe heritage media brands have a lot to offer and the world needs quality journalism. Smartology helps support this by increasing the publisher’s slice of the pie.