“Brands don’t like guessing where to advertise,” says Dave Hendricks, channelling Lord Leverhulme or John Wannamaker or whoever it was that actually first complained about not knowing which half of their ad budget was wasted.

Hendricks is President of LiveIntent, a New York based start-up that facilitates the real-time programmatic buying and selling of ads in email sent by brands and publishers. And he says that publishers have the ability to fix the advertiser’s age old problem, if only they can get to grips with their own data.

He describes LiveIntent as a platform that is using email as the channel to make carefully programmed matches between publisher and brand audiences. The basic idea is that if someone opens a publisher’s email newsletter and their name is also on the advertiser’s customer list, LiveIntent can see the match in real time and place an ad that is aimed at the user shared by the two parties.  He refers to this as ‘CRM Retargeting’.

“Publishers collect subscription information, it’s at the core of the business model. They all deliver newsletters to drive traffic – audience equals email addresses,” says Hendricks.

“What if you’re Amex and you can remind the readers of the country’s biggest newspapers or magazines that belong to your rewards programme that if they click across to your website right now, there’s a sweet deal waiting? It’s matching, in real-time, two identical and matching pieces of first-party data: publisher and brand,” he explains.

Launched in 2009, LiveIntent started out helping people make meaningful connections on social media, but quickly pivoted to focus on email services that give publishers and brands the opportunity to buy and sell newsletter advertising inventory in real-time, for the first time.

“Back in 2010 there was no way for publishers to buy and sell newsletter advertising inventory effectively in real time. LiveIntent created the ecosystem – technology, methods, workflows – for publishers to do it the same way they were doing it on the web,” Hendricks explains.

The business, number 45 on Forbes list of ‘America’s Most Promising Companies’, works with 600-plus media owners, deploying ad tags in 4,000 newsletter templates managed by the ESPs that the brands and publishers contract to send the actual email. Ads are served based on dozens of signals dependent on the time of open and a mix of custom and industry standard demographic data; matches are made within 300ms to 600ms. “That seems fast but that’s pretty slow,” laughs Hendricks, “You should see what some of the financial trading desks are doing in 10 milliseconds.”

The secret to success for Hendricks isn’t just the LiveIntent technology, it’s the first-party data that publishers can collect.

“First-party data allows publishers to expose their audience to brands, and it lets us serve people ads from brands that they already like.”

The system cuts through what Hendricks calls the ‘crappy proxy’ of buying ads against broad publication demographics. “If I buy an ad in Homes & Garden I must be targeting women. What about all the guys that read Homes & Garden?”

By collecting, cleansing and curating their own audience data, publishers have an opportunity to create and monetize very valuable audiences and fight against the race to the bottom in CPM rates. Where individual properties are not particularly big, LiveIntent can aggregate inventory across publications and publishers.

“The larger the logged in audience the more likely a brand is to get a match,” Hendricks says and by March this year, LiveIntent will reach 90 to 100 million unique email addresses on its platform, somewhere in the region of 60-70 million individuals.

LiveIntent’s focus on email addresses removes what is seen as the increasingly outdated reliance on cookies from ad tracking. “Cookies are not really first-party information. They have a short half-life; users can clear their cache, or work across different devices and different browsers. Email is a person, it makes them findable and reachable,” Hendricks says.

Publisher and advertiser data security teams might be getting a little twitchy at the thought of LiveIntent holding 100 million email addresses somewhere off in the cloud; but it doesn’t hold any. Instead it makes matches using email hashes, a derivative data string useless for doing anything but matching.  The data belongs to the publisher.

“If you found a hash string on the street you’d be like ‘What the hell is this?’. Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible couldn’t do anything with it,” Hendricks reassures.

He is adamant that publishers should be collecting and curating first-party party data like it’s the most valuable asset they can possess, because now they can offer brands a match and serve ads that people already have an affinity with.

“We’ve had RTB, which was basically about dumping remnant inventory, then premium programmatic through private exchanges that let publishers deal direct through prearranged agreements. Next is Programmatic Identity – a means for second party data to be activated across the web,” says Hendricks, “all the efficiencies of a programmatic buy/sell but with the power of real personalisation.”


Image courtesy of Georgie Pauwels via Flickr used under a Creative Commons license.