Heard on the Street, Episode 43: Inferring User Intent with Viral Gains

 Heard on the Street-Tod Loofbourrow

One elusive component of effective marketing is knowing what consumers are thinking. But even with advances in AI, traditional ad targeting practices often commit basic errors like showing people the same ad several times … even though they may not be interested in any way in the product in question.

This is the area where Viral Gains is innovating. The latest guest on Street Fight’s Heard on the Street podcast, Viral Gains CEO Tod Loofbourrow tells us how his longstanding affinity for robotics and AI has influenced his path to solving this problem by better inferring intent and consumer sentiment.

“We work on top of DSP players where you can buy inventory. We’re the layer where you can determine what messaging to give to a given customer. Based on what they do is what they see next.

Let’s say you’re showing someone an ad for rock climbing gear. We’ll instrument that video, and at the end say, ‘How likely are you to purchase rock climbing gear?’ For those who say yes, you know they’re in the market and you know they’re interested, so next time you see them, you’ll show them an ad about your specific gear, maybe some pricing, maybe a store locator. For those who are not interested, you’ll either suppress them, because they have no interest, or maybe you’ll show them a broader set of products that you have.

So, it’s really about turning advertising into two-way conversations, instrumenting ads with questions, getting tens of thousands of answers to those questions, and then moving people down a journey towards purchase. We do that across online video, connected TV display, and even digital out-of-home.”

This plays out in part with what Loofbourrow calls “think-alike” audiences. Compared to the traditional practice of retargeting ads to “lookalike” audiences, Viral Gains goes one level deeper to find audiences that have an expressed affinity — not just a demographic alignment — with a given product.

“IPG, one of the largest agencies in the business, did a nine-month study on our technology and they looked at the way Viral Gains sentiment-driven video targeting works against traditional models where you serve the same ad to people over and over again […] Six thousand people were involved […] and they concluded that the traditional method has about 59 percent wasted impressions […] It’s common sense: If you start with people who have interest, they’re going to be more receptive to your message, and if you can start to infer and understand what their interest is, you can send the right message.”

Loofbourrow is also a big believer in the need for holistic marketing that breaks down traditional silos. That goes for silos in disparate ad media (social, video, display, etc.) but also the silos within different operational functions of a given organization. Marketing should cut across and inform all of them.

“Ultimately, it’s about getting closer to the things that have an impact on operations. We did a lot of work for one of the top two biggest fast-food retailers in the U.S. They were launching a bunch of chicken caesar items: a wrap, a salad, and a third item. We ran their ads and figured out region by region which one was most interesting to people. They therefore were able to change the store signage, subway advertising, and all the local stuff they did to feature the ones that were more of interest in those particular regions. That’s not an advertising story: that’s advertising, marketing, and store operations, all tied in together. And we think that’s the power of this stuff.”

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This article originally appeared on Street Fight’s Heard on the Street.