The Future of People-Based Marketing Solutions with Michael Connolly

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Michael Connolly, CEO and Co-founder of Sonobi. Michael cofounded the company in 2012 to deliver his vision for the future of Adtech. Today, under his guidance, Sonobi is the leading tech provider of people-based marketing solutions, which enable media transactions against individuals in ways that are relevant, predictable, and measurable.

Chris: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become involved in the adtech or digital media space?

“My first foray into digital media was as a publisher. I had built a publishing business, which reached 30 million people and generated 1.5 billion page-views per month. In all honesty, I think anyone entering the ad-tech / digital-media space should have the experience of working as one of the principal business parties, i.e. publisher or advertiser.

By working as a principal party, you get an insight on how important it is to keep a good “north star” as you enter into businesses like ad-tech. The experience I gained as a publisher is was what led me to the product vision that is at the core of what Sonobi is today.”

Chris: What do you think is the most interesting thing that has happened to the industry thus far?

“In the beginning, the digital media business was much like the print business. Syndicate research, such as comScore, was used to validate web properties based on audience consumption. This largely built an impression-based market, which then led to programmatic technology and began a transition to a more audience-driven market.

Initially, buyers were transacting based on who they believed the impressions represented through third-party data and retargeting pixels. When large scale platforms like Facebook, Amazon, and Google gained momentum, the market began to mature towards a more people-based market, where CRM data was being used to power a people-based advertising strategy. I am a big believer in what potential people-based advertising represents.

Looking into the future, it will be interesting to watch how marketers, publishers, and technology companies work to blossom a people-based media ecosystem.”

Chris: What are your “5 things you think will change or should change over the next 5 years in adtech and digital publishing” and why?

“Addressability for Al: Despite everyone talking about it, we’re still seeing fraud and ad transparency issues looming over the heads of the digital media ecosystem. I think this is only going to cause marketers to insist on more addressable marketplaces. Right now, we’re seeing that they are using pre-bid or post-bid blocking technologies to remove non-human traffic. In time, only web traffic will be of interest to the advertising ecosystem.

A New Audience Strategy: There’s still work that needs to be done when it comes to the walled gardens. I’ve seen that a vast majority of growth in the digital media landscape is still driven there, despite the widely reported risks around user-generated content for advertisers.

Publishers are working harder than ever to establish value in their voice and avoid being replaced by platforms without premium content and voice. I’m of the mind that addressability can further support this effort by making publishers think differently about how they acquire and retain their readers.

I believe that we’re going to see adtech address market challengers and enable publishers and brands to create effective, quantifiable advertising experiences. This will empower publishers to properly engage with the people they want to reach within the content they care about.

Transparency: Transparency continues to be a thorn in the side of advertisers and marketers in the ad-tech industry. While widespread change has been slow, every new controversy or report that details fraudulent actions will systematically change our ecosystem to be a more transparent one. Luckily, the days of daisy chaining and non-transparent fees are numbered.

Direct Market: Buyers and sellers will stop allowing blind transactions. I believe there’s so many benefits to a more direct market. First off, you can eliminate the need for a middleman, which saves costs on both sides. People-based models allow for advertisers and publishers to work together, creating more value and efficiency across the media process. A more direct market is already taking shape and we will continue to see that trend grow.

Cross-format cross-device: Despite having a massive infusion of investment into the ad-tech ecosystem, essential aspects like reach and frequency management cross-device and cross-format remain challenging. This must and will change. We are building for it. It is a governing tenant of a lot of what we are currently developing.”

Chris: Tell us something you or your company is doing to stay up to date in adtech (maybe making changes to comply with Better Ads Standards or GDPR, working on your header bidding stack or testing new types of ads)

“Two years ago, we began building out a publisher addressable marketplace with our partners at Merkle, which is now part of Dentsu Aegis. Since then, we have been working on building out our people-based ID product to support multiple buy-side CRMs, manage consent in a world of GDPR, and bring true addressability to the open web — all while being powered by publisher direct-data assets.”

Chris: Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

“Tim Armstrong would be the person I would love to share a meal with. The capabilities he is building at OATH through the combination of premium and brand-safe video powered by the Verizon data are truly impressive. I would be like to know how he foresees capitalizing on those assets as he builds the OATH brand and business.”