Quantcast has opened up its services to seven Asian markets, using Singapore as its regional commercial hub.
The AI marketing business was already operating in Australia and New Zealand, and had an engineering hub in Singapore, but it has now expanded its office to accommodate client demand and connect with local opportunity.
Speaking to The Drum during the opening of its new office last month, Quantcast co-founder and chief executive Konrad Feldman said in a short amount of time the Asia region has normalised in terms of the maturity of its data-led advertising industry.
In explaining why the business has waited until now to build out commercially, he says: “We are now ready as a business but the market here has developed a lot in the last couple of years. If we look at the growth of what we we tend to think of in terms of data-driven marketing (which i think is too narrow and limited), which is programmatic, it really grew first in the US, and the UK was pretty close behind.
"Other markets were a little slower, but the markets that started later caught up quicker. They didn’t stay lockstep in terms of where they are and I think many have normalised quite quickly.”
Feldman adds there are few differences in markets from a maturity level now but this means that all markets are sharing the same issues around programmatic and data-driven marketing, which is leading to either a lack of confidence or a more pragmatic analysis into technology investment.
“I don’t think there are vast differences, though there were significant differences when I first started coming to understand the market a couple of years ago," he explains. "This was particularly when looking at the idea of using data at the impression-level, that was still quite new, that is now more generally accepted everywhere. I think along with it there is a level of maturity in the market where I think that a lot of brands and ad buyers are paying a lot of attention to get beyond the hype.
"It all sounds great – ‘data-driven marketing’ – but I think in a lot of cases, if you look at the amount of money that’s being spent globally on data-driven advertising, it’s 10s of billions a year, and yet at the same time that the money is being spent, brands are having a growth crisis. Something has not been working and I think as people are digging in deeper, I think people are understanding that there’s been a lot of hype around, in particular, the use of third party data and the reality hasn’t always matched the marketing."
The idea that something has not been working is a key element in an increasing number of brands putting agencies under review, questioning their supplier chains or even taking parts of the business in-house. The brand crisis has seen even the biggest networks, such as WPP, putting their entire model into restructure, in order to be more flexible to changing technology and client needs.
Feldman believes it isn’t just a post-hype period that’s leading to this questioning of advertising and marketing technology, though that’s a key part, but it’s also the need for brands to be more pragmatic and outcome-focused in the first place.
“I think part of it has been driven by excessive hype generated in the market but I think part of it has also been generated by, in some cases, there being an opportunity for more discipline in term of how brands themselves make their investments,” he says. “I think also people went out and bought technology and did work to deploy it, having some general idea of what they wanted to do, but not specific examples.
"It’s often done the wrong way round - you end up with a solution looking for a problem and you should really be starting with the specifics of wanting to solve certain problems and working back to find the minimum viable way of finding solutions to those outcomes. That helps an organisation build up its experience of how to use these technologies and do it in a focused way. You then start generating a real return from those investments to give everyone the confidence to continue down those paths.”
Brand confidence is a key focus for many in the programmatic market now. While there is a threat of in-housing at some brands, the majority still want an agency to do the work, or at least want to work with a trusted martech business to consult on technology. Feldman says he welcomes greater pragmatism, calling it "healthy" for the industry.
"It is reflected in terms of some of the consolidation that is taking place in the market," he says. "It is clear from that all the claims weren’t true, so all these things together give people pause for thought. In general I think it’s healthy, I think there is a realism coming in and people are asking the right sorts of questions and expecting more in terms of a real return, or proof points for the investments they are making."
For Quantcast the answer is often education, of which its been investing in for more than five years in its Real-Time Advertising Academy. However, Feldman believes the next stage of that is around AI.
“One of the emerging technologies that’s on everybody's lips that is hyped, over-hyped and will also be completely transformational is AI," he says. "And I think there is an opportunity, I started my career in AI. It’s 25 years later and now I can say, finally, it really is mainstream and it will be utterly transformational for every industry but it doesn’t mean that every application of AI is going to work.
"There is a lot of misunderstanding about how it works and there’s an opportunity for education."