‘You just need to focus on the customer’: New Kinetic Social CEO Matt Gilbert on his new role, vision

Matt Gilbert, Kinetic Social CEO

Social marketing services and technology company Kinetic Social has announced the appointment of Matt Gilbert, a long-tenured digital leader, as CEO. The New York-based company also added Gilbert to their board of directors.

Most recently, Gilbert was the SVP and general manager of the loyalty solutions group for Merkle, a position he gained after the company acquired 500friends, a company that he founded in 2011. He will work out Kinetic’s office in San Francisco.

“The board was very deliberate in its search for Kinetic’s next leader with a focus on identifying a candidate with a proven track record in the digital media category and a history of scaling fast-growing advertising and marketing technology companies,” said Jack Wyant, managing director, Blue Chip Venture Company, a key investor in Kinetic Social.

“Matt is a world class leader who has a deep passion for the industry, clear know-how, and the intelligence and relationships to take the company to the next level. Our clients and partners will benefit greatly with Matt at the helm of Kinetic.”

From his time at key legacy digital ports of call such as Excite@Home and Ask Jeeves, Inc. Gilbert learned a valuable lesson that still resonates with him today: the customer. Though in some circles that mantra can come across as cliche, Gilbert’s 18-year tenure in the industry has yielded a deep understanding of the mission between digital and brands that begins and ends with the customer.

“I really think that it just comes down to doing great work for your clients, and literally everything else will take care of itself,” said Gilbert. “Jack Ma has a simple [take on competition]: ‘Forget about your competitors, and just focus on your customers.’”

From that foundation, Gilbert has continued his own evolution of understanding that things weren’t necessarily in sync.

“For years and years I've been saying, and many of my peers in the industry have been saying, ‘The right ad, to the right person, at the right time.’ Quite honestly, the reality of that was very limited. It was attainable at some level along the way, but the reach was so limited that it was really more promise, or potential, than it was reality,” admitted Gilbert. “I think that we are finally at a time in the marketplace, and with consumer sentiment, overall, where we really have alignment in the context of technology.

The impact of not just the technology involved, but the actual service, is a critical component as well. He noted that there can be an industry fixation on the shiny tech, but not as much on what makes that technology sing. The latter is one of the things that drew him to Kinetic.

“A lot of the companies who have tried to solve [targeting and relevance] have tried to solve for it with the technology first mantra, and even Kinetic, historically has positioned technology ahead of service, but I think in Kinetic’s culture I found a company that really exists truly to help clients navigate those complexities, and specifically in the context of social platforms today,” said Gilbert. “But ultimately it could be within the walled gardens, or outside. To really help them be able to not only create, but execute, and optimize that addressable experience, and do it in a measurable way, so that marketers really are able to see their return on the investment, here, and deliver a higher lifetime value relationship relative to their invested spend.”

Lifetime value is an important metric to consider, and one that Gilbert feels is one of the more powerful key performance indicators (KPI) that brands and marketers should take a closer look at.

“I think it depends on the verticals — in the vertical market that you focus on,” said Gilbert. “From our vantage point as a solution provider, I would say ultimately lifetime value is the metric that I most often gravitate towards, because I think that's the best measure of the effectiveness of advertising. You can look at softer metrics like engagement, conversion, et cetera, but if you are not engaging the right profile, converting the right profile, the efficiency of that spend is actually isn't being properly measured, so the only way to really do that is lifetime value, or profitability, ultimately, on that customer relationship.”

Clutter and “copycats” are also topics that are close to Gilbert’s heart and mind. The varying, and sometimes dizzying array of technologies, metrics and confusion can lead marketers to adopt similar strategies, leaving potential success at the altar of managing marketing’s stresses and pressures. The simple fact, in Gilbert’s mind, is that marketers need to get dirty and learn as much as they can — a take on the “T-shaped” professional.

“Many CMOs are really hostage to almost the herd mentality,” noted Gilbert. “They get a phone call from the CEO, who says, ‘I saw our competitors are doing this, why aren't we doing it?’ They're in reactive mode trying to decipher a landscape of solution providers that all use the same lingo. The websites read the same. The marketing materials read the same. The buzzwords are all the same. I think it's really critical to be able to cut through that for a client. How do you do that? The first thing you need to do is actually be an expert, yourself. What I found through the years is that a lot of companies will put their organizations into the field, and even internally subscribe to being horizontally capable, but not having vertical-specific understanding of client business models, and really think like the client needs to think. In order to put yourself in a position to be able to answer those questions for a client you first have the obligation to have that expertise yourself.”

That notion goes back to Gilbert’s thinking around focus. Being spread too wide or thin is the maker of many traps for marketers and can catch them looking the wrong way, chasing the “thing du jour.” Expertise breeds a core, which then can be thoughtfully expanded in other areas.

“Many clients come to the table with some preconceived notion about what it is they need, and often times it's not actually based in a sound business rationale, but rather a copycat or ‘me too’ sort of mentality — or a response to overall market movement, rather than stepping back and really considering what drives their business. specifically,” said Gilbert. “You have to have the confidence to be able to challenge members of the marketing team, and earn their trust and demonstrate to them that by letting you show them the path then ultimately they are going to be in a position internally to walk into that boardroom and credibly explain to their leadership why they are making the decisions they are making.”

Knowledge and uncompromising focus on what brands and companies do best, is a formula that Gilbert, now at the helm of the part of Kinetic’s journey, finds appealing.

“Competitors make a lot of noise. They do a lot of things,” said Gilbert. “It’s not that you shouldn't completely ignore them, depending on your role and the company, but really you just need to focus on the customer, and if you deliver for them then everything else will truly take care of itself.”

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Doug Zanger

Doug Zanger is the Americas editor for The Drum. He leads the Americas editorial team’s content activity in the growing region. Based in Portland, Oregon, he is committed to sharing the most meaningful stories that benefit the global industry and its people. A Minnesota native, Zanger has covered a wide range of brands, issues and personalities, including Aloe Blacc, Seu Jorge, Wendy Clark, Susan Credle, Dan Wieden, Jeff Goodby and more. Fiercely dedicated to diversity, equality and talent, he has interviewed several women in leadership roles through his Exceptional Women of the World podcast.

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