Drawbridge is famous for having raised venture capital from two of the most esteemed firms in the valley – Sequoia Capital & Kleiner Perkins. The company also announced in May the completion of another $25M Series C round, with plans to take its cross-device identity tech beyond advertising. Can you share more on the initial vision of the company, and how it has evolved to where it stands today?
We live in a time of unprecedented device proliferation. People use many different devices and in different environments throughout the day. As consumers, this has made our lives so much easier – we are always connected to at least one device. But if I take off my consumer hat and put on my marketer hat, this is a nightmare! Because now my customer is moving between web and app environments, across social media and search, between my site and other sites, and switching devices the entire time. It’s really hard to figure out who’s who, which makes it hard to reach the right consumers and measure results.
From the beginning, Drawbridge understood the need for cross-device identity, but the technology was unproven. In the early years of the company, we faced a lot of skepticism. The applications for advertising technology were an important entry point because they demonstrated the value of cross-device identity in concrete terms. Now that we’ve seen traction in market, we have moved from skepticism to early adoption, and more recently, to demand from brands and enterprises that want to reach their customers in new, relevant ways. Drawbridge has evolved to meet those demands, now offering data licensing and a software-as-a-service platform and other services that go beyond the traditional retargeting and attribution applications in adtech, to greater martech applications like product recommendations, site personalization, and even beyond martech with applications like fraud detection.
Ultimately our vision is to be the universal currency for digital identity – something that can be used by every brand, agency, or enterprise that has an opportunity to improve customer experiences on the Internet.
Your CEO Kamakshi – a former AdMob scientist – has been evangelizing about a need for a democratized cross-device identity layer for years, with Drawbridge now being seen as the dominant player in the space. How do companies (adtech companies, publishers, others) partner with Drawbridge to best leverage your cross-device tech?
The kernel of our technology is our data, or what we call the Connected Consumer Graph. That’s the core cross-device identity foundation that our entire technology stack is built on. The graph is available for licensing by all sorts of companies – Oracle, LiveRamp, Kenshoo, The Trade Desk, and MarketShare by Neustar come to mind as current customers.
On top of the graph, and what we first came to market with, is our Cross-Device Platform, which is a dedicated cross-device DSP. That’s available for traditional managed-service customers, as well as in a self-service SaaS model for larger brands and agencies, such as Lyft or M&C Saatchi Mobile.
And within the Cross-Device Platform is our Cross-Device Insights suite, which gives marketers the complete picture with real-time cross-device campaign performance and attribution metrics – not only on media running on our platform, but also on any media running through other major DSPs or networks. It has some industry-first reports, such as cross-device path-to-conversion and multi-touch attribution reports.
Many of the core platform players like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn (and even to an extent Pinterest & Twitter) have most of their audiences logged-in on both mobile and desktop, which give them a huge advantage as to tracking, and targeting users across devices. Can you explain more on how Drawbridges‘ cross-device technology works and how it stacks up against deterministic players?
Facebook and Google definitely have an advantage because those platforms are so pervasive, and they force a log-in, so they are able to understand identity at scale. For that matter, Amazon or Netflix can claim the same advantage. Those platforms all offer HIGHLY customized, personalized, seamless environments across devices. For marketers, the data that these platforms have is incredibly valuable because consumers have provided it as part of the logged-in experience. But the data is locked in. It’s a walled garden. It’s great while you’re in there, but it can’t be used anywhere else.
This is the challenge that Drawbridge is solving for: How do we personalize the rest of the Internet? There’s a great opportunity for an independent, accessible, scaled solution for digital identity across the rest of the Internet. We’re democratizing digital identity, and thus becoming a universal currency for cross-device.
We take a probabilistic approach, meaning we look at non-permanent, user-resettable identifiers like cookies and device IDs, and over time our machine-learning algorithm is able to pick up trends that tell us with a certain degree of precision that two or more devices belong to the same person. For any probabilistic solution to hold water, it needs to have comparable precision and scale to the above deterministic solutions. Today our graph has over a billion consumers across more than three billion devices, and we’ve had third-party precision validation done by Nielsen that found the graph to be over 97% precise. We think those numbers make us a legitimate alternative to the Facebooks and Googles of the world.
Facebook launched the Facebook Audience Network last year, much to the chagrin of regular ad networks and even some adtech companies. The ability to use 1st party data about Facebook users, but now on off-Facebook inventory, could be terrifying successful and put the rest of the industry in an existential crisis. What are your thoughts on FAN and it’s impact on the industry at-large?
FAN is interesting because it helps advertisers leverage Facebook’s user data for targeting – but there are a lot of blind spots with this model. First of all, consumers are on multiple devices, and this is a mobile-app only solution. It seems like it could be a strong tool for mobile performance campaigns (i.e. app install), but anything brand related often requires a cross-device strategy, and likewise, for attribution, marketers will require some sort of cross-device conversion measurement. Secondly, this extends reach to off-Facebook properties that are in their network, but that’s only a small fraction of the total web and mobile apps that are out there available in programmatic. This is really audience extension. Granted, it’s a large audience, but considering that it’s for in-network properties and mobile-only, I don’t think we’re facing an existential crisis at all. We’re talking about a subset of a subset of an audience. Plus – and this is what really chafes marketers – it’s a black box. There is no transparency or data portability. Marketers don’t get back from FAN anything to leverage in other channels or through other DSPs. It’s a classic walled garden, versus the other, democratized-data solutions that are available today.
What is the Drawbridge Connected Consumer Graph, and what are some applications of using a cross-device identity layer outside of advertising?
The Drawbridge Connected Consumer Graph is essentially the technology that observes and processes vast quantities of device data and attributes them to a unique user, all without requiring their personal information. As I mentioned, the Drawbridge Connected Consumer Graph can reach more than one billion consumers across more than three billion devices, with precision measured at over 97 percent. This allows brands and enterprises to better understand their consumers’ behaviors across devices and environments.
Cross-device identity data is the glue that cements every action on the Internet and makes the bigger picture comprehensible. As such, there are numerous ways digital identity data can help brands reach their business goals, whether its for content optimization, website personalization, e-commerce, risk and fraud detection, closed-loop attribution, marketing automation, and/or programmatic advertising. Basically, any company that has consumers interacting with their website or app on more than one device can work with Drawbridge to better reach existing and potential consumers, without requiring the users’ personal information.
Many of the large platforms have become ‘Walled Gardens’ that horde user data, and inventory, only for media buyers that work directly with them. Do you see this changing at all over the coming years?
This is exactly what we’re referring to when we talk about ‘democratizing identity’ – making the data widely available. But it goes beyond just data and certainly beyond inventory. Every industry goes through its gold rush, and then there will be consolidation and a few winners left standing. I think we’re still in the gold rush – there are so many options for not only identity, but programmatic, attribution, etc., plus every imaginable niche market. Adtech and martech have almost become commodity markets, and it’s becoming tougher and tougher to prove value. What does help show value is scale and differentiation. We think Drawbridge has both, and when the dust settles, we’ll still be standing because of our technology chops.
Our expansion in the last 18 months into the enterprise market has demonstrated just how much global demand there is for anonymized digital identity. This is particularly true in China, which has explosive mobile device growth and where mobile advertising has already surpassed desktop ad spending. One of our recent partnerships was with Miaozhen, China’s leading third-party data marketing technology firm, in order to create the first large-scale, anonymous cross-device identity solution for the Greater China market. But China requires a different approach than our more familiar markets though, because it’s 1) so mobile-heavy; and 2) IP addresses rotate much quicker. The big brands and agencies are all trying to figure this market out.
There has been an explosion in the last few years of the sheer number of adtech / media players an agency or brand can work with. Do you think this is sustainable, and how do you see it evolving over time?
If you look at the LUMAscape it’s obvious that there are too many adtech vendors claiming they do too many things for too many people. It’s turned adtech into a commodity market. That’s not good for anyone. But the need for adtech isn’t going away – in fact it’s becoming more and more relevant with the shift to digital and increasing device fragmentation. All of the same problems like targeting and attribution are only getting more complex, but brands and agencies are getting smarter, asking better questions and doing due diligence to vet out real solutions that work. Those winning solutions will get traction and find a place in the ecosystem. All the money will never go solely to the big name vendors – brands and agencies want choice, ownership, visibility, insights, learning, and most importantly, they want to own the data.
Many publishers are seemingly becoming more reliant on social platforms for distribution of their content, and some like Vice or Facebook are even taking a platform-agnostic approach to both content distribution or even monetization. What are your thoughts on the adoption by publishers of this cross-platform branded content approach?
Platform agnosticism is a smart move, because now the publishers are always in play, versus being a destination. Vice is a great example – Vice is everywhere, I see it every day, yet I rarely go to vice.com – I don’t need to.
What will be interesting to watch is how these publishers start to weave in an identity layer with their content. All of a sudden content will get more personalized and customer experiences will get better regardless of the platform. That will drive value for those publishers, and ultimately they’ll be able to command a bigger share of ad budgets. Right now Vice hits me several times a day, but I’m not convinced they know that. It’s almost like the old spray-and-pray tactics, just evolved for the modern cross-device world. But is that any better? If Vice knew this was the third time I was seeing something from them, they might be able to personalize it to a theme that I was interested in. I think we’re on the cusp of some of these smarter publishers starting to adopt this more widely.
Lastly, what is your take on the future of how brands and enterprises will utilize cross-device identity across all their data applications?
This is tough, because we have brands and enterprises coming to us every day with applications for cross-device identity that we haven’t even thought of. We have financial institutions using our ID capability to flag potentially fraudulent logins, so they can put in an extra security layer, like a captcha or security question. As a marketer, that really excites me because it just blows the doors open on the possible applications that we haven’t thought of.
We see a lot of content personalization, site optimization, and certainly attribution and targeting, but something like fraud detection is another really cool application that shows the unlimited possibilities for this, even outside of anything related to marketing. Enhancing all sorts of customer experiences is the biggest opportunity for brands and enterprises as they weave an identity layer into their data applications.
Drawbridge is a collection of super smart folks building technology that helps brands connect with people. We’re revolutionaries. We’re visionaries. And it’s in our DNA to disrupt established industries with new solutions. We’ve built a company that gives brands new ways to intersect the consumer journey at every stage of the purchase path – from research to sale – no matter what device they’re on.
When we deliver the exact right message to the exact right person on the exact right screen at the exact right moment, we’re making a strong connection between a brand and a person. So people get what they’re looking for, and marketers reach and exceed their campaign goals. After all, what’s a journey without a destination?
Drawbridge is headquartered in Silicon Valley with offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin, and London, and is backed by VC heavyweights Sequoia Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, and Northgate Capital.
For more information, visit us at www.drawbridge.com.