Generator Media defines audience science as managing vast amounts of audience data safely collected from a variety of industry-leading sources and translating this into tactical and actionable media targeting, generating media efficiencies and effectiveness as a result. In today’s session of the Rise|Set Summit, we host a panel of experts to discuss one of the most dynamic and evolving trends within our industry, audience science and media targeting. From privacy legislation and COVID-19 to the Metaverse and how to predict the future, we discuss the hot topic items that you need to know when approaching the ever-changing subject of audience science.


Our Panel:


Google – Justin Mann, Head of Integrated Media | Originally from Atlanta, GA – Justin joined Google nine years ago and currently leads our Integrated Media team working with advertisers and agencies on bringing brands online with a specific emphasis on guiding the transition from traditional media to digital. Justin completed his MBA at Columbia Business School.


AcuityAds – Seraj Bharwani, Chief Strategy Officer | Seraj is responsible for advancing the state of omnichannel journey marketing. Seraj brings over 25 years of experience in the advertising technology industry with prior stints as co-founder of Strategy & Analytics at Digitas and CSO of Visible Measures where he led the development and adoption of third-party measurement for online video in partnership with Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Seraj is a graduate of MIT Media Lab.


Viant – Gianna Oropall, Account Executive | Gianna is a programmatic expert helping marketers drive business outcomes through closed-loop attribution analysis of cross-channel media, including Connected TV. Prior to Viant, Gianna worked in linear TV at Viacom, and is excited to now be more focused in the evolving ad tech space.


ENGINE Media Exchange (EMX) – Michael Zacharski, CEO | As the CEO of ENGINE Media Exchange (EMX), the programmatic technology solution, data platform and trading desk that powers ENGINE’s media business, Michael Zacharski leads the overall vision, strategy, culture, and development of the business. With his leadership, EMX solves complex challenges and drives measurable business results for agencies, advertisers and publishers by providing solutions across full service and programmatic practice areas.


Question: Why is this topic of Audience Science important today?


Justin Mann: I think audience science for Google is all things real-time. For us, real-time means real-time examination within the marketing funnel, that’s powered by Google Search, Maps, YouTube, etc, as all of our platforms are fully connected. Through this, we build privacy-safe audiences, life events, custom intent, in-market, etc. For us, it’s really making sure of the right ad, the right user, at the right time.


Michael Zacharski: I think technology is first and we all have made tremendous investments in technology. But there’s also the people side of being able to utilize the technology and also be able to extract the data out of the technology to be able to then measure and understand both what is happening at a scientific and precision level, but also at the story level. So, we’re going to translate that information to brands to marketers to consumers, so they have a human and consumer, and a more general understanding of all the things we’re talking about here. You know, we all and you all being practitioners in the media space, have a tremendous amount of knowledge and we need that, but we also need to be able to translate that out and make it understandable so others can make decisions and give choices based upon that knowledge and utilize a lot of that great technology that’s available.


Gianna Oropall: Audience science can mean so many different things in terms of how you go and create different segments, whether that’s reaching people based off TV viewership or reaching people based off of their in-store purchases. Specifically, for buying, I would say that it’s really about the ability to tie many data points back to an actual identifier, and then creating an audience segment that’s likely to drive those market outcomes.


Seraj Bharwani: For us, it’s really more about whether you think of the perceptual or behavioral aspect of the consumer as essentially all a journey. The metaphorical journey that we keep talking about and the fact that, progressively, many more channels have become more addressable, just means you have many different points from where you are grabbing information about the user. I will say that the only thing I can incrementally add to what my colleagues here are saying is it is just as important to be able to understand the need-state of the user and where they are, but it’s also to understand how much of our marketing is influencing both the perceptual change and the actual change. I think I consider audience science to be a very holistic closed-loop assessment of the consumer or the audience, which is what are we trying to achieve? Where are they? And then, did they do what did we expect them to do? I think where we are evolving on the science aspect of it is about closing the loop.


Question: How is an increased importance on consumer privacy impacting how we are targeting media? How are you feeling about these changes?


Gianna Oropall: We all talk about the cookie deprecation as if it’s coming in the future and it’s looming. The reality is that it’s here. We analyze the bid-stream. Constantly. We have tools to understand all the major bid requests coming through. A majority of bid requests actually don’t have third-party cookies available. If you think about all the different environments like Safari and Firefox, CTV, mobile in-app, etc., cookies just aren’t available. It’s really cookieless now, and in terms of how I’m feeling about this, super optimistic. This industry change is going to benefit both the marketer and also the consumers. In terms of the marketers, I think that cookies were never really ideal. We’re all being forced to pivot together from the status quo. We can look at this as a digital Renaissance and pivot together. Our co-founders actually call this “the new open-web.” So overall, we do feel super positive. In terms of our consumers, I think that this is a great opportunity for them to take back control of their data, to understand who is collecting the data and how they can action off of it. It’s just going to open up a freer, more open web that is going to drive a better consumer experience overall.


Seraj Bharwani: We generally, as an industry, are very optimistic. We are in a phase right now, where we are going to see, in the short term, some sort of a setback in terms of what the total scale of available access points are. Overall, we definitely see some very positive changes.


Justin Mann: I think we are upbeat, we’re very excited. Cookies were made back in 1994 when we were using Netscape as our browser. So, I think we can all agree that it is time to move to a new chapter in this space. Google has a responsibility to get this right. We feel that responsibility. We believe that all of these privacy-centric advancements in marketing are the steps in the right direction. We are really trying to make sure that we can regain as well as keep our customer’s trust in that their privacy is in good hands. It’s a brand new world, especially right now, the past two years have been a once in a generation digitization event and so we’ve got rapid tech advancement along with reduced consumer trust and so I know some of those may feel like we’re all trying to play catch up, but we will get through this together and I’m pretty optimistic.


Question: How has the global pandemic of COVID19 effected how we are addressing audience science?


Michael Zacharski: What the pandemic forced brands to do is really think about how they are connecting with consumers and I need that gold in terms of how do we deliver a relevant message now that things are different and changing. Also, how do we get more out of our advertising? I think, for the most part, all verticals were impacted. We, as a specific vertical, need to be cognizant of the fact that we’re marketing in a period of disruption, both in terms of how consumers are consuming media, how consumers are spending their money, and obviously how companies are spending our money. I think a focus on ROI on channels that, before maybe weren’t as scrutinized, absolutely, to deliver ROI, are now part of that conversation. I don’t think that’s going away.


Gianna Oropall: Yeah, I totally agree with what Michael mentioned. COVID impacted all different verticals. We could go on and on about, you know, how consumers change their grocery purchasing habits and impacted travel, the list goes on. So just being cognizant when strategizing, planning, and targeting, who your consumer is and how your key audience has changed, is super important. But secondly, I think that as we all slow down and reflect on how the pandemic impacted our day to day lives, our immediate consumption has drastically changed most significantly in emerging channels like CTV and digital audio. I personally bought two smart TVs endemic. I’m a major streamer, I’m sure you know many others, and numbers show that many others have pivoted their digital footprint as well.


Seraj Bharwani: Building on what Gianna and Mike said, because we are a journey marketing platform, we are constantly evaluating how the journeys are altering. One of the bigger things that we are noticing, if you look at specific industries, mega transformation is happening. Let’s say an automotive industry, for example, dealers are where all the sales were coming from. We begin to notice communications moving upstream and directly to the consumer and bigger movement towards direct-to-consumer channels. Then as the supplies and the inventory started shrinking because of all the supply chain issues, suddenly, they moved towards more reservations. They actually made a binding reservation for 250,000 people who have actually paid a deposit on a vehicle that won’t even be available for another year. I mean, this is how much control the brand is beginning to exert directly in communication with the consumer, which means the science that’s applied here for the audience is much more indicative of the consumers interest in the ways you engage which will lead me to one of the bigger trends of all the things we’ve talked about so far is the movement to first-party. This is how the OEMs are beginning to acquire first-party data, direct relationships with the consumers and, boom, now this is the beginning of the transformation. I think that is the trend that we are beginning to see: more collection of first-party data, more consent, more relationship building, and that will lead us in a very positive direction across the board.


Justin Mann: Yeah, I think it builds on what I just said on the once in a generation digitization event and so I think, for us, consumers have sky-high expectations, their behaviors have changed. On the YouTube side, for example, we now see the connected TV screen as our top device. I was at Google when desktop was the primary watch source of YouTube. A few years ago, mobile surpassed desktop and now we’re at the point where TV is surpassing mobile. That’s an example of that trend. I think on the privacy side, three really big things help us. One is, if you talk with your Google teams and Generator teams, enhanced conversions are a really big thing. That’s going to ensure that you’re getting the best modeling of actual conversion data out there. We see partners who are adopting enhanced conversions really seeing a lot better attribution. Google Analytics 4, that is going to be our next generation of analytics, available for free, allows you to build on what Seraj was saying with first-party data. That’s going to allow you to control your data, ingest that into Google ads where relevant. Google Analytics 4 would be something you’ll be hearing a lot from us about over the next year. The last thing is automation. We’ve been doing automation for many many years now and that’s only going to continue to be more and more important in terms of products like value-based bidding. Using our algorithms to ensure we’re getting the right value attribution is going to be really important. From a Google perspective, that’s where we’re thinking on what’s available today.


Question: According to eMarketer, over 100 million users will use AR and VR technology by 2024. As platforms evolve (like Meta) and continue to shake-up the advertising industry, how do you foresee marketers reimagining the way they target?


Seraj Bharwani: This is this is a very interesting topic and I’m so glad you brought this up. I think it’s a bigger question here and there is amazingly good news that I’m hearing repeatedly over last eight or nine months since the Metaverse was announced. I would say the term “interoperability of data” is being used with more frequency when it comes to these new sort of universes that are being built and so forth, which frankly, is very encouraging because it is the only way to be universally connected if that’s the way we evolve. What you’re doing is connecting spaces. For example, right now there are very narrow choices like in-game environments. We all get excited about how people are in-game and therefore we can get to them because they are so intuitive. They hate advertising getting in the middle of the game. That audience doesn’t want it. So, what you really want is to connect the experiences and spaces where they are more receptive to really wanting to hear from you, that’s going to require a lot of analytics in terms of understanding where they are more receptive and where they are not. I will say though, the nice thing is we do have a little bit of a runway here, because the people in these environments today are a much more of a younger niche audience who are more excited about these experiences. But if you really want mass adoption and so forth, I think we have a little bit of time to get it right. So, I’m encouraged by that a little bit, but I’d love to hear from our panelists here. The thing that I learned the most here in the last couple of years was eSports and the audience’s that are part of eSports are much older. They are more spectators who love to watch other people play. I think that’s really when you get a colorful array and a full spectrum of audiences to go after.


Gianna Oropall: Yeah, I think we’re absolutely seeing increased demand for AR VR and more uncluttered environments. It’s really driven by marketers trying to shake things up, find more unique ways to engage with consumers, and drive that brand awareness in the right way where they’re not annoying audiences as Seraj mentioned. Specifically, for in-game advertising. I mean, I was just reading the Wall Street Journal which had a whole article about how video gaming is the next big channel. I think that we all assume it’s 18 year olds in the basement on a beanbag playing a video game. Actually I think 80% are over 18. So, in terms of audience science, we want to understand who’s within these channels. That’ll continue to evolve, you as AR and VR take off. I think there’s a long runway for that to really become saturated in the market, but it’ll be cool to get some good findings and a case study and continue to build off of those insights.


Michael Zacharski: I think of things both in the application world and how people use things but also in the hardware and software world. They’re like, “Oh my God, how many more servers are we going to need in order to support more and more devices?” 2022 is the year of “more and more and more” and we’re seeing more devices coming online. We’re seeing more data signals passing back and forth. We’re feeling more responsibility to the marketing consumers and as we get our technology and data conversations right, systems talking back and forth in spaces that are more private, we have to be more cognizant of how that’s going to change how consumers think of that space. But also, I think it gives us a new canvas to be creative in ways that we haven’t thought about before. I see the need for all the things we’re doing now, and I think the data and data science teams play directly into a world that’s more interconnected, more universal, more digital, and I do think it’s inevitable. It’s an inevitable future. In general, as a society, we’re going to be more connected, data is going to continue to be, as a consumer, the currency that we utilize for access to different devices to different programs, and so forth. So, I think it’s a really relevant topic for today.


Justin Mann: We’re excited. We love change. I think all of these new areas that are popping up are really really exciting and I think AR VR is just one example. I think Gianna said we can learn a lot from gaming. YouTube, gaming is a huge destination for watch time there. All of these new emerging technologies are gonna keep us on our toes. We’re already on our toes. So, we just have to continue to stay that way. I think it’s gonna make sure that, as marketers, we’ve got to study holistically where our audiences are spending their time and money and we have to make sure we’re in front of them, whether that be through a headset or through a phone or through a TV.


Question: How should we predict what’s coming next?


Gianna Oropall: All we can do is go into any changes with an open mind. You know, we have to have a lot of different solves and it sounds like, contextual, first party data, identity-based segments. There are so many solutions and there isn’t going to be a winner-takes-all. For me, the biggest takeaway is that cookies are already unavailable the majority of the time. So, it’s really about having an alternative identifier ready that’s able to test now and in today’s environments. Is that identity anchor scalable across all screens? Can you tie all business outcomes back to that identity as well?


Seraj Bharwani: As Gianna has said, we have to evolve. There are so many different ways of establishing that and scaling it. I would say that I raised the challenge of how hard it is usually to build a first-party data at scale, right? I would say the biggest gold mine after that is building what I call ‘data Co Op.’ The co op is what was, 25 years ago, retailers that used to partner together and create data cooperatives, because as you know, data is always like Swiss cheese, there is always holes and the way you can plug the holes is by partnering. Somebody has something that you don’t have, if you can establish consent for second-party distribution, this is a huge thing. So, I would say I would anticipate that, across many industries, the ability to build data cooperatives and be able to share second-party would be the fastest way to build up your resource of the ability to scale your data and audience sizes.


Michael Zacharski: I will challenge, though, from what I see in terms of how technologies talk to different SSPs and DSPs, there’s a lot less cookies, but there’s still a lot of reliance on cookies. I would say much more so then everyone wants to really admit sometimes, but you know, filtering out cookies and QPS and all that is still a thing. I digress a little bit. So, I think the reality is, well, a portfolio approach. I’m not the first person to say that. But as summation of the different technologies, I think Google has done a great job of communicating what their strategy is. We’ve been thinking about how do we partner with Google in the best way to make sure we can continue to work together and flow similar with Viant, similar with acuity, similar with Generator. We’re testing it all, then measuring the results, and also surveying the publishers to make sure that we understand what they are actually thinking about in terms of how they’re deploying different technologies, because they are the first-line of defense. I think listening to the publisher community is also a good clue to know where the puck is going next.


Justin Mann: You just have to be nimble. I think for marketers, we like playing it safe. I think the biggest thing to do is ask yourself every year or every planning period, “is my plan this year, within 5% or 10% of my same plan as last year? Did we copy and paste?” We know sometimes when we do, we’re not moving fast enough. You just have to be ready for it, be open to change, be leaned-in with your Generator Team and your other partners because they are doing a great job in this space.


Question: What is your single most important takeaway relating to audience science?


Michael Zacharski: I think, holistically, it’s about having an open mind. It’s about being aware that we’re in a moment of change and embracing that moment. Running towards as opposed to away is really going to make the difference. Then just make sure you’re investing in the types of talent you need to play in this game because it is going to change and, you know, there are winners and losers with every disruption. So, it’s not the most comfortable thing to say, but I think you have to have your eyes open to it in order to make sure you’re prepared. Because you don’t want to be not prepared.


Gianna Oropall: The cookie is going away, be ready to have an opt-in identity-based anchor and be able to scale that across all different screens. As we discussed, there are so many other channels and it’s important to have that identity so that you can follow ad exposure and then in turn, marketers’ business outcomes.


Justin Mann: Be nimble, stay open minded. Our growth formula is to set an objective, get ready, and ingest and learn, but most importantly take action. I think sometimes we fail to take the action part and so the more change and risk and the more uncomfortable you are, I think the better you’ll be set for success.


Seraj Bharwani: One of the biggest things I take away from this whole conversation is that the opportunities to reach the consumer are expanding immensely, which of course, is a candy shop for audience science in terms of trying to grab information, interact with the consumers, and get real quality insights. I would say that the advertisers would be missing a huge opportunity if they did not concurrently also look at the fact as to how to value them with clear attribution. That’s where the biggest science is being applied right now, to think beyond. We won’t have as tight of trackability as privacy demands that we don’t, which means we just have to be even more creative about how we find the effect of these channels so that we invest in all the right places.


For more information about any of our panelists or any of the topics we discussed during the Rise|Set Summit please reach out to your respective Generator Media team member or contact us through the website.