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Inside #StartWithThem – the new advertiser pitch helping Twitter win on Wall Street


By Katie Deighton | Senior Reporter

April 23, 2019 | 9 min read

Twitter’s first quarter earnings have all but cemented its comeback on the Street, topping analyst predictions with year-on-year revenue growth of 18%. Behind the scenes, the company has been working to foster advertiser spend with a global roadshow and campaign promoting the quality of its audience.

Twitter #StartWithThem

Twitter's #StartWithThem events kicked off in Paris

The social brand today (23 April) posted total advertising revenue at $679m, an increase of 18% year-on-year, while overall income grew by the same vector to $787m.

Ad sales in the US dominated other markets, increasing by 26% year-on-year to $363m. In a letter to investors, the board noted that North American strength lay in the “continued execution across product and sales, coupled with broad-based advertiser demand”.

It’s this demand – as well as education on said products – that Twitter is hoping to cultivate outside of the US. Despite climbing 10% year-on-year, international ad revenue was posted at $317m in Q1 – signifying enormous growth potential in markets where advertisers are mulling cutbacks in duopoly spend after a multitude of brand safety hits.

Sarah Personette is leading this international push as the global head of client solutions. A former Facebook exec twice over, she was brought on board in October after Matt Derella was elevated to the expanded role of head of customers. Her team’s goals are ambitious: double the business by 2020, become advertisers’ most recommended partner and make Twitter the number one place to work.

Personette hopes to achieve all three through the lens of #StartWithThem – the company’s latest pitch to advertisers. “Them,” Personette explains, is “the audience that matters most,” a definition she and her team have spent the last six months preaching at events and meetings from Tokyo to Dubai to Las Vegas.

“I've been in maybe 10 different markets around the world talking with customers about this and in each one I say that Twitter moves at the speed of culture and it moves at the speed of conversation,” she said. “This is why people come to Twitter each and every day: to lean into what's happening. “So, if you are a brand or business that is looking to launch something new ... or to connect to what's happening in culture and in conversation today, Twitter is where you should start, because this is where you will find the most leaned-in audience, the most receptive audience.” This message has manifested in Twitter’s decision to stop disclosing monthly active users and focus on its daily user base instead. Jasmine Enberg, a senior analyst at eMarketer, noted the move is “in keeping with its value proposition to advertisers – a committed though not very large user base when compared with other social platforms.” #StartWithThem has now evolved into a fully-fledged B2B campaign comprising out-of-home, digital and experiential, having quietly launched internally last August. The live element, which Personette described as “a beautiful, museum-like exhibition,” was unveiled at the company’s expo in Paris last December and will continue to tour internationally in the coming months. “We physically bring to life different tweets,” explained Personette, referencing features such as a mini gallery of art posted on the platform and a literal conveyer belt of 280-character musings. “We have, from a materials perspective, certainly brought a lot of the feeling, depth and emotion of our audience into the way we build our collateral and the way we tell our stories.”

On a call with investors today (23 April), chief financial officer Ned Segal was positive about the success of the central campaign, hinting that the team behind it might grow in the future.

“We feel like the messages that we have been talking to advertisers about are really resonating,” he said. “We continue to invest in the tools and the people who are connecting with advertisers, as well as working on the products that they are selling, to make sure that we are best positioned to help advertisers.

“This is an ongoing part of our strategy and we are pleased to see how it's playing out.”

This marked pivot to elevating the quality of Twitter’s audience over its quantity plays into two market shifts: the ongoing bad actor storm facing rivals Facebook and Google on a weekly basis, and Twitter’s overarching focus on health.

Founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey described the metric as his “first and foremost priority” and re-emphasized its recent clean-up tactics on today’s investor call.

New tools include the simplification of its reporting process, and the implementation of AI that deletes abusive tweets. The platform has been cleaning up its act for brands, too: Personette said Twitter is continuing to invest in partnerships with the likes of Moat and DoubleVerify “that help to deliver against the needs of brand safety.”

“We’re not ... [painting it] on an out-of-home billboard,” she said, when asked how the company was communicating this sweep to advertisers. “But brand safety is just one of the top topics we continue to lean into proactively with clients in order to make sure they understand what we're doing, the measures that we take, the way we move quickly, and that we deeply care about their business.

“That that's not connected to a value proposition; that just is the core to who we are and what our business is.”

Nevertheless, Twitter is hoping that a healthier platform will eventually translate to revenues.

“Over the long term, we do believe that work will ensure people find a place that they can contribute, they can participate in and want to do that more and more every single day,” said Dorsey. “So, health is a number one priority [and] we believe this, ultimately, will lead to growth.

“Advertisers know that you come to Twitter ... because we have the most valuable audience when they are most receptive. They come with a specific campaign objective in mind. They come to launch something new. They come to connect with what is happening. And they know exactly what they are buying.”

As for what’s next – advertisers shouldn’t hold their breath for a shiny new product reveal in which to deposit their innovation budgets.

While Segal noted its ad load is still “more demand constrained than supply constrained” and admitted the platform can “do better” with its Direct Response API offering in particular, he tactfully managed advertiser expectations of a big, quick fix.

“We know that there is more that we can do for them over time,” he said, “but this is going to be a rolling thunder, not a big reveal. You will see ongoing improvements from us as opposed to something that happens all at once.”

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