The Digital Anthropologist: Brian Lesser on Big Data’s Future

Brian Lesser was Global CEO of Xaxis in 2013. This article originally appeared in The Advertising Technology Review in 2013.

Brian Lesser is Global CEO of Xaxis, a leading digital media company experiencing explosive growth in the 26 markets it services across North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America. Brian sat down to discuss his company and the future of programmatic buying in an uncertain ecosystem.

Are we on the precipice of an ad tech implosion? Many journalists and even a few VC have said that the ecosystem, as it stands, can’t continue. What needs to be done?
Big Data and programmatic provide increased benefits to advertisers, so spending in this discipline will continue to rise. It will ultimately drive increasing numbers of investors and tech entrepreneurs into the ad tech space. As agencies, we need to serve as the trusted advisers, holding the client’s goals as the focus point and helping to shape the landscape accordingly. Not all ad tech companies offer unique services or proprietary data and these simply do not need a spot at the table.

There is a saying that today it is “Math Men” vs “Mad Men”—ignoring the exclusion of female creatives and engineers from that statement—is there an inherent conflict between Big Data and Big Creative that can’t be resolved? Is this about budgets, culture, warring ideas, or something more?
With the growth of programmatic, art and data are actually more closely connected than ever before. Technology and data analysis allow advertisers to reach only the most relevant consumers wherever they happen to access media. Putting the right message in front of those audiences makes this equation even more effective. However, the right data and execution can make up for most creative shortcomings. That isn’t to say that we look at them as two distinct entities. In an ideal relationship, we see it as an opportunity for collaboration – creatives are able to get feedback that’s much more specific and useful to clients, allowing them to refine their approach to get the best returns. Relying exclusively on creative or technology is never going to be as successful as a combined approach.

Some voices are stating that Big Data is simply too overwhelming for many marketers—from local marketers to CMOs. How can we reduce the fear factor for marketers without oversimplifying the rich complexity of data and its importance in building solid strategy?
Big Data – the raw material describing hundreds of billions of interactions – is only as useful as the ability to pull actionable insights out of it. The barometer marketers need to apply is actually very simple. Namely, can I use this information to drive better results? And the answer, as shown by the explosion of companies utilizing Big Data to drive their advertising campaigns, is a resounding “yes.” Xaxis helps its clients make sense of the mountain of information referred to as Big Data, analyze it together across sources, and drive more successful advertising activities. It’s not a question of looking at every single data point – it’s using the power of large numbers to draw useful conclusions. And it works.

How has this year been for Xaxis considering the ecosystem’s general uncertainty?
2013 has been an extremely strong year for Xaxis and for the programmatic industry in general. While there’s still a learning curve, we are seeing an increasing comfort level from both buyers and sellers when it comes to incorporating audience buying into their overall strategies. Publishers in particular have become much more open to audience buying technologies, which has led to a proliferation of private publisher exchanges. We see no value for our clients to play in the auction space, so we have worked directly with publishers and media owners to create private exchanges that are only open to Xaxis and GroupM clients. These advertisers get preferential access to premium inventory at scale; and publishers see increased performance for their ads. Specifically, Xaxis is continuing its expansion in international markets, seeing growth of its client list to more than 1,500 advertisers and introducing several exciting new products. This May, we launched operations in Latin America, introducing the first, fully featured audience buying solution for reaching the region’s more than 300 million connected consumers. We’ve also opened offices in Taiwan, Thailand and Hong Kong and are on track to be operating in 28 markets by year’s end. On the product front, Xaxis had a number of exciting firsts in bringing audience buying to new digital channels. In the US, this includes Xaxis Radio, the first programmatic audio buying product for the digital radio market, and Xaxis Places, which allows brands to sync their online and mobile efforts with their digital-out-of-home campaigns. More recently, we debuted Xaxis Mobile, the first solution to allow brands to sequence and analyze their mobile ads in full coordination with the rest of their digital spend. By year’s end, we will have served more than 500 billion impressions and expect even larger numbers in 2014. And finally, and perhaps most gratifying, we were recently named by Crain’s New York Business as one of its “Best Places to Work in New York City” for 2013. The knowledge, skill and dedication of our people are what makes Xaxis great and we look forward to what the next year will bring.

Brian Lesser is Global CEO of Xaxis, a leading digital media company

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