"What we’re living through right now is an era where the innovation’s happening."- Matt Spiegel
Matt Spiegel, EVP of Strategic Planning and Head of the Media Vertical at TransUnion, speaks with Allyson and Brett about everything from identity-enabled businesses to data utopias and the role shopability plays in the traditional set-top box.
Learn about Spiegel’s career to date, the biggest trends on his radar, and what New Orleans funk has to do with machine learning and heavy-duty math.
Allyson Dietz: You may have heard the exciting news that Neustar was acquired by TransUnion and that we are now officially a part of the TransUnion family. With that in mind, we wanted to kick off the new year with a special guest, our new colleague, Matt Spiegel. Matt launched the media vertical and marketing solutions business at TransUnion, and Matt is no stranger to the advertising community. He founded Resolution Media, an integrated performance marketing agency, with CEO of Omnicom Media Group Digital, CEO of Annalect Marketplaces, and the managing director at MediaLink, prior to joining TransUnion. Matt, welcome to No Hype.
Matt Spiegel: Yeah. Thank you. Great to be here.
Brett House: Matt, thanks for joining us. So, we just got a brief history, a snapshot, a dummy-proof version of your background. What would you highlight as the pivotal, maybe transformative moment in your career that sort of set you on the path that you're on now?
MS: Yeah, well, that background definitely hit on some of the key pieces for sure, in many ways. I was extremely lucky to get into this business. I happened to, right out of school, get into this digital marketing business in the late 90s, at a time when the question was, does this internet thing matter? And the company that I first joined, long story we won't tell, was gone pretty quickly, but I was hooked on this space. And that was really truly kind of a lucky accident that I ended up in this category. And then there's no doubt that my career took what I think is the most interesting part of the trajectory when I founded Resolution Media. One, being an entrepreneur, getting to start a company, super interesting, super fun. Doing it in 2003, 2004, at the really early days of search, which is really exciting.
The way I anchor it is there were all of four or five people in the Chicago Google office when we started the company. Now, they have their own building. And then selling that to Omnicom was really, really huge. And me being able to take on a bigger role with Omnicom. I spent six years in total inside the agency landscape. And while certainly, I often joke that I consider myself an accidental agency guy, the time of my career being inside there was super, super valuable. Really got me to see how do big marketers think about how to evolve in this space. And so, I would say that was the era of time which really set my career in this trajectory that I think, since, have been pretty happy about.
AD: And as many of our listeners might already know, you've been actively leading TransUnion's marketing solutions business in the media vertical. What inspired you to make this next big step in your career? How'd you get into TransUnion and how'd you get started?
MS: Yeah. So, before I came to TransUnion, I did what a lot of people do when they don't know what they want to do in life, and I started consulting. And so-
BH: We've all been there.
AD: I understand. Yeah.
MS: Yeah. So, I had spent six years in the agency landscape and I had then went back to some startup route, and that didn't go as planned, let's just say. And then I found myself not sure what to do next. And so I'd hung my own consulting shingle, knew most likely that that was going to be a temporary step in my time horizon, but then was fortunate to connect with the MediaLink guys and had really, in total, four years at MediaLink and one year on my own, had really kind of five years of really doing some interesting consulting. And for me, what was so interesting about that is I got to watch a lot of cool things, in this industry, evolve. And a lot of the head of the curve, if you will, or head of the marketplace, both big marketers, big media, big tech.
And I had a very cool seat at the table, in many cases, advising on management strategy, to tech strategy, to data strategy, and the like. And so, having done that, and actually, TransUnion had become a client on that journey, I started to see that the industry was ready for what I probably would've termed the next generation of identity-enabled businesses. And I was pretty excited about that because my intersection of strategy has always been at that data and tech meets media. And so, what I saw in TransUnion was a company with really, really great assets to play in that space, but not yet at a business being developed. And so, as I got to know the team at TransUnion and leadership at TransUnion, it was clear they were super committed to building the world-class business that we're now all part of.
BH: And I love that reference; the identity-enabled businesses. And some people have pooh-poohed TransUnion as a consolidator in the marketing solutions space after all of these acquisitions through Optic, through Signal, iovation, Sontiq, Neustar, which I don't think is a fair statement. What would you say the real value, to kind of expound upon what you were just talking about, of these acquisitions and of these identity-enabled businesses are?
MS: Yeah. I guess to the extent that consolidator has some bad connotation, I don't think we'd appreciate that point. We've made a bunch of acquisitions, and I don't think there's any... Listen, big companies often need some external impetus to really get started in new areas. And if you look at where TransUnion was a decade ago, was really anchored, squarely still in, being a credit reporting agency. A decade later, that's still a huge piece of what TransUnion does, but it now is just a piece. And in order to, I think, pivot the company, that wasn't my doing, I've just been part of, into truly a much more, as we talk about it, a global insights and information company, there had to have some innovation from the outside to spark some of those changes and to make some of those moves.
Now, I think it's certainly fair to anyone that is... If the notion is people from the outside say, "Well, hey, you've got to innovate from the inside as well." Totally agree. And I think now, we've got the teams and the assets to make that possible. And certainly, I think you're going to see, from what is now our combined business, a ton of innovation in a lot of areas.
AD: So, all of these acquisitions that you've been talking about, and obviously, some of the assets that TransUnion brought to the table as well, all kind of bundle up into this idea, this concept [00:08:00] of identity. Can you talk a little bit about why identity matters? What makes that data so valuable to advertisers?
MS: Yeah. And I think what's really important is, across all of TransUnion, the idea of identity matters to all the different businesses that TransUnion's in, outside of just marketing; in our fraud business, in our credit business. In our consumer business. And it's different flavors of identity. And in marketing, we typically think about it as identity resolution; that's the word that we most often [00:08:30] put behind identity. How do we know who we are, connected to different devices, what are connected households, what are the connected relationships, et cetera? And listen, I think we've entered a world where... And this has been true the last decade... where marketing effectiveness is fueled, by data. And I think that... Why is that true? Well, I don't think there's any rocket science, but a lot of people, I think, don't think about it like we do, day-to-day, which is, it's just been proven that precision marketing drives more marketing effectiveness, whether that is targeting more of the right people, whether that's offering more tailored messaging, whether that's creating personalized experiences.
And now if you want to deliver that, if you, as a marketer, as a company, as a media company, whatever it is, if you want to engage with consumers in a personalized way, in a friction-right way; is the way we at TransUnion often say. It's not frictionless, but it's friction-right; just enough friction. The only way you make that possible is through detailed understanding of identity and consumer data. And so really, I don't think it's an understatement to say that the idea of identity resolution and, broadly, identity, is a key underpinning of a digitally-driven world, both from commerce and advertising.
BH: So, we've noticed a lot of confusion, I think, in the industry, in terms of that term identity. And I'd like to use the Socratic method of like, "Define our terms. What are we talking about?" Depends on who's talking, in a lot of cases, who's actually talking about this notion of identity. So, do you think it's another word for people or is it simply an attempt to stitch signals together to approximate a person?MS: Yeah. And I think you're right that when you just say identity, it means 5,000 things to 5,000 people. But I think it's pretty clear to say, if you're talking about identity resolution, you are talking about the understanding of individuals, and or households across multiple touchpoints. And that has to span the both physical world as well as the digital world. So, certainly, when we think about performing identity resolution, it is about name and address and phone number as much as it's about a hashed email or a mobile device signal, or a home IP. It's about being holistic and thorough about understanding the link between people.
And our job in that space is to make sure that we inform banks and financial service institutions, "Is this the person that you think they are, and what's their creditworthiness?" That, at the fundamental core of it, is an identity resolution problem which has to be done with super-high fidelity.
BH: You can't get that wrong.
MS: Can't get that wrong. That's right. We have much more room for error in marketing. And the point being is that's the identity resolution game that we're interested in playing for marketing because it allows us to, again, deliver those personalized experiences we were talking before.
AD: How would you suggest advertisers and agencies navigate the many different identity solutions?
MS: Listen, I think it's somewhat common knowledge, but when you take a step back and you see it, each company evolves in its own way. And I've now gotten to a point where I can get behind lots of strategies as long as they're moving forward. And so what do I mean by that? Listen, I suppose if I had my druthers, companies would organize top-down, around a data-driven marketing strategy that sought to align the data silos, sought to be really analytical,-driven in how they make marketing investments, would seek to be extremely personalized in their marketing efforts, and would, again, C-suite on, down, align those strategies and break down the silos and just make it happen. That seems like the right ideal way to do it.
AD: Sounds like utopia.
MS: Sounds a little utopian; that's exactly right.
BH: Start with the people, start with the organizational structure first, and then you move on.
MS: Yeah. Listen, and in a textbook, that's how you would do it, but the practical reality is, for many good reasons, that's just not how things can often evolve. And it is a people problem, it's a process problem. You can't just undo a billion-dollar business to try it new. That's just not how the world works in more practical terms. And so, from that perspective, I've gotten very comfortable, as you start consulting, where you find the pockets of innovation to [00:15:30] do bottoms up. All right. And then as long as you got some alignment and some buy-in on some interesting strategies, maybe for some, that simply means how do I take my "digital video" strategy. I want to put digital and video in quotes, by the way. No one can see me making quotes on a podcast.
AD: We know they're there.
MS: we've forgotten that test and learn is just the way to do it. Make progress, do something, try it, see what works, do more of it. And I get it's hard because there is so much noise in the ecosystem right now and there's such a feeling that have to get it right. I think the better mentality is, do something, make some progress, and you'll evolve.
BH: Yeah. And iterate.
AD: Yeah. Take a step for it. You were sort of talking about using data and measuring success, which I think is really important. And obviously, coming from the analytics space, that's something that is near and dear to my heart. So, I'm curious how do you go about setting those KPIs? How do you go about choosing what the right measure of success is?
MS: I'd want to know so much about what is your business about. And I'd get really comfortable knowing it can't all be about the bottom line. Everything can't be about the bottom line sales dollars because if it is, you're not doing any true R & D. You're not actually testing and learning if everything has to demonstrate an immediate positive ROI. Now, you then have to figure out what are the right proxies to inform that strategy. And you have to make this R&D strategy a fraction of your marketing investment, not the majority of your marketing investment. If you don't have new measurement models, you won't try new things. That, I'm confident about. Without new forms of measurement, you'll keep doing the same old thing.
And each business better go about figuring out what are they comfortable testing and trying and working to prove whether it makes an impact on the bottom line in some format. Because again, if you decide to try social or try search, or try connected television, and you just are making the same ROI calculations you're doing for your tried-and-true methods, most likely, the tried-and-true things are going to work better and you're not going to be happy, but maybe that misses the long-term opportunity.
BH: Yeah. Well, it sounds like confirmation bias. When you're testing based on going into something, a hypothesis you've got already, based on your tried-and-true methods, you might be looking for certain results that might appear differently with a different channel, a different approach. So, there's a little
MS: Yeah. Listen. As an extension and incremental growth plan, that's the right thing to do. There's nothing wrong with using your proven method is as... If again, you're not trying something brand new, you're trying maybe a new media source. Okay, we'll use the same methodologies. You're trying a new creative, use the same methodologies, but if you're trying to fundamentally shift how you do marketing strategy in... And again, the goals of marketing have not changed for centuries. There's just different ways to do it. I have client conversations with marketing clients and even immediate companies that will ask, "Well what do we do?" And my question typically back is "Tell me the most important thing to you guys to accomplish over the next 12 months. Are you having a sales volume challenge? Are you having a cost of sales challenge? Are you having a new market entry challenge? Are you trying to reach new segments for the first time?" So much of those things and what is actually that business scenario should impact the answer of what you apply, but I promise you, you're going to start with applying data analytics; is going to be the key of whatever you're doing. And I would encourage those of you listening, who are sitting here trying to figure out what to do with this stuff, is figure that out. Technology has never solved this stuff by itself. It's the enabler of some business strategy and you've got to figure out what is the business strategy you care most about.
BH: Yeah. So, you talked about connected TV, digital video, you've talked about backing into what you're solving for before you begin to solve a problem. Television; I'd like to pivot into that area because I know that's an area that you've spoken a lot about to treat another events. It's gone through huge transformation. Consumers consume content via screen sizes of all types in all different types of environments. What do you define TV as, at this point? Is it a content channel? Is it an advertising channel, has the definition changed? And how should advertisers think about digital video advertising, television advertising, going forward?
MS: Yeah. I spent a couple of years; I was consulting, asking a lot of people to define the word television for me. And there's zero consistency. It is actually an interesting word. I think it's going to be the shorthand we use for what I think of as the business of TV, which I suppose means most when we know what we mean when we say it type thing. Which, of course, will become less and less true as people have grown up in a world of pure streaming. But listen, when we think about what is this business of television, for me, the anchor points are talking about full-screen content and not in a social feed.
AD: When you say full screen, do you mean big screen or small screen?
MS: No, any size screen, but it is the screen. Meaning I don't think of the business of television being a video that plays in a banner ad. I think of the business of television as being, I'm watching video content and it's taking up my full screen. Whatever screen that is, that's what I'm watching. So again, I'm not scrolling through a feed, watching clips. I don't think of that as the business of television. That is video advertising.
AD: There's so many terms. There's linear TV, there's connected TV, there's addressable TV, there's all these terms out there in terms of how we define television today. And there are words that we use in the industry. How do you reconcile those terms?
MS: They really are ad-buying terms, I suppose, at the end of the day. So, that is a distinction I would draw, which is, we think of the... For those that are in the business of creating distributing content, this is an amazing time to be in that business. Big media, if you will. Now, they're a lot of challenges. The ad revenue side of their business is certainly under pressure in a way like it's never been before, but meanwhile, you're creating direct consumer businesses and way more channels to distribute your content than ever before. So, you've got a lot of dichotomy there and your traditional media companies certainly have evolution to go through. I think certainly, the biggest ones are doing it. More consolidation will happen, but the NBCs and the Disneys are going to be very, very strong media companies.
Clearly, your Netflix is a very strong media company, your Rokus and your LGs and your Samsungs, the hardware guys, are now media companies.
The things which are delivered still through a set-top box, some type of linear, the classic television feed, you buy units, you don't buy impressions, and you don't have dynamic ad insertion, versus, everything that's delivered via some kind of digital pipe, some type of streaming ecosystem, is you do buy [00:26:00] impressions and you have dynamic ad insertion. That is a major difference for how the ecosystem, from an advertising perspective, works.
AD: In terms of how it's served.
AD: But how it's consumed is very different, it's very similar, and in a lot of ways, it's usually on a big screen. That's why I asked that question about big screen versus small screen.
MS: Yeah. Well, the consumer doesn't care about this distinction. You are a hundred percent right. What does happen though is the ad buying models are so different that we as an industry, unfortunately, still have to care. We love not to care. The whole discussion is a true converged video ecosystem, regardless of screen. I'm all in, that's the right thing we got to get towards. But when you do have two different buying models, it makes it really, really hard to do that truly at scale. BH: And is that because the buying model is defining who's managing that process within an organization? So, your linear guys will focus on linear. A lot of times, the digital programmatic ad-buying for television goes into the digital camp, you've got people competing for budgets. Do you see that that divide is a big one that that needs to be crossed?
MS: Nowhere near as big as it was when I was at the agency, what? Plus 10 years ago. 10 years ago, it was the thing. Today, it still exists. There are still those silos, we still have more silos to break down, but nowhere near like it was... I think most people recognize, even if they haven't fully operationalized that, that synergy, that interaction matters.
AD: Especially with reach and frequency. I mean, to your point earlier, you could hit you in two different ways. How do you make sure that you're not hitting Matt 72 different times with the same ad across linear and connected? It's the same device, it's just in a different delivery mechanism.
MS: We are providing technology, data, and identity capabilities to solve for these challenges that reach frequency across platforms challenges, understanding who those people are across platforms, the analytics that drives performance. That is where we spend time, it's what we want to do. We want to help both marketers and sellers make that better. It's not really a data challenge. Most of the data you need exists. It's a business model operational [00:30:00] challenge. And sure, some of that's siloing as well. And different budgets and different camps, but I think more to the point is there's just a lot of new plumbing and piping and ways to work that we're still inventing. And the head of the curve is adopted it and teaching the rest of the industry how to do it, but we just have to remember the industry isn't monolithic. You've got your biggest marketers, you've got your small startups, you've got your DTC guys versus those that only sell through other channels. There's so many different types of this industry that I just think what we're living through right now is an era where the innovation's happening. BH: Yeah. So, all the sensors are pointing towards an automated dynamic ad-serving, ad delivery process when it comes to video content and other content. It's just not quite there yet due to different delivery methodologies, different...
MS: Yes. With the potential exception is, it is possible that dynamic ad insertion comes the TV, some are much more bullish on it than others. I mean traditional linear set-top-box-driven television. I'm not convinced we see that anytime soon. I'm not convinced we necessarily see it, period. And as a result of that, I think we'll still have some of these operational challenges, but what's going to happen over time is, regardless of that happening, is more and more content distribution will be done through streaming, where dynamic ad insertion and impressions is what we're operating on, so that world's going to matter more. AD: And so, do you see it as continuing to be this top- of-funnel mechanism for brands, or what role does shopability and commerce play? We just had Joanna O'Connell on the podcast a little while ago, and she said one of the terms she's hearing for 2022 is commerce, commerce, commerce. So, what role does shopability play in terms of this delivery mechanism.
MS: I think I'm bullish on commerce happening in lots of channels, without any question. And I don't think there's any reason to believe that sight, sound, and motion advertising is only good for top-of-the-funnel. In fact, we already know that's not true. Right. And listen, it got there because it grew up in an era where scaled commerce wasn't possible in sight, sound, and motion advertising because it wasn't how TV was delivered. And TV was so expensive that the only advertisers that spent any money in television were massive brand billing advertisers that therefore continued to fuel this.
If you take a DTC brands, are spending a ton of money on television now. And these are typically highly sophisticated analytically-driven marketers. They're definitely looking at whether it's a medium mix modeling or some form of attribution, to understand the impact that television's having. BH: Yeah. And we discussed, in advance of the podcast, that connecting... I've talked to a lot of automotive CMOs and other big brands outside of the DTC space, but that are great with the top-of-funnel, great with the building mass audience, as poorly targeted as that might be, and really good at the customer acquisition piece of it. So, when you're deeper down the funnel and you get that email because you've requested a test drive from an automotive OEM. But connecting the dots between top and lower is always a bit of a challenge, to go from that channel, like a television channel, that's typically associated with that exposure that brand awareness play, to the actual dealership experience. There seems to be a disconnect, and I wonder, outside of the retail media networks, outside of some of the stuff that you've just discussed, how do brands think about bridging that gap?
MS: Yeah. I mean, I think this probably brings together a couple of points we're talking about, which is, one is, this is the journey to start on, and to figure out what do you want to prove first and make some movements, that you're not going to get to perfect your first step. And be comfortable knowing that whatever you try first is probably not going to be the end all be all. And then recognize that identity, measuring in new ways, microsegmentation, understanding your audience, those things matter. Disconnect, get rid of the data silos, think about measuring new things. Those are the precursors to making those links possible because they're possible.
I just think make some progress, decide you want to take in this example. You want to take some car make model campaign tied to dealers, and you want to look at that link and create a measurement model that supports that campaign initiative, and see what you learn. If it works, do it again. If it doesn't, try something different and-
BH: Just try to add clarity to the process of how do you go from point A to point C.
MS: Yeah. Listen, this is hard to do.Most companies haven't applied to marketing, the amount of data science capabilities, rigor, and expertise, and just people; the people power to be able to do that. Most companies don't have that. And so, if you're not going to make that investment directly, find it in partners. Again, technology and the tools are part of it, but you need people and you need help there too. So either hire other people, or through your partners, get the people to be able to answer those questions.
I've learned how to ask these questions. I've learned to know that the key to data science and data modeling is to ask questions, but a lot of people haven't had that experience, and so I think you got to find the person around the table that's going to help you do that, to give you confidence that you're on that journey. And I do think it's... Listen a lot of people get paralyzed. It's a lot of new stuff to try.
BH: It's a lot of math.
MS: It's a lot of math.
AD: Math is not that scary, guys. It's just about asking the questions. I think that that was a good to tidbit.
BH: Yeah. And if we could see progress in sort of the consumer journey marketing and the journey analytics and the personalization, sort of hypey terms that we've heard about since the beginnings of digital media, "Oh, we've got all this data. We can do great stuff with it." I've yet, as a consumer, to see a lot of that really come to fruition outside of a couple of brands that I've had experience with. So, it would be good to see... You're right, we're making progress and we're moving in the right direction. And the data science acumen is certainly coming into play as a big focus point for a lot of brands.
MS: Yeah. And listen, I think you add something which is important, which is, I would put the consumer hat on as much as you can, which is, think about if you want to, yourself as a consumer, as at least an anecdote, care for... Or not typical consumers, by any imagination. But too often, we do forget what are the types of things that delight and surprise us as consumers. And I think if we can at least start there, provide some good interest and insights. It doesn't mean do what exactly we want, but we know we all prefer experiences which are easy, which feel personalized, which feel tailored, that offer me... underpromise and overdeliver. All that stuff makes us happy. If we can figure out how to do that in marketing and figure out how to measure that reality, I think you're making progress.
AD: So, we've had some really good discussion. I guess I'm just really curious. We've talked a lot about trends, we talked about identity, we talked about television. What are the three fundamental things marketers really need to pay attention to most in 2022?
MS: Yeah. Narrowing down to three is a tough one.
AD: What's the number one thing?
MS: Well, I mean, I suppose there's some confirmation bias in this answer, but I still think the core of this all starts with understanding and having a really good ecosystem for understanding who you're reaching and how you're reaching. And it all starts with good identity, and identity resolution and marketing data attributes to understand people. I just think this is a data-driven ecosystem. I still think that is the core to everything we're doing. It used to be all about scale and , and now it's all about data to enable precision.
BH: So Matt, it makes me think about when you talk about precision, when you talk about sort of data-driven decisioning, I think is a big piece of that because data helps to make decisions. Machine learning, heavy-duty math is involved in that. I think back to some of the most important experiences, I think I've had as a consumer, with the brand, and it, a lot of times, comes back to music. And I'm going to tie in the music topic. Spotify has to be the most efficient personalization engine that I've ever experienced in my life, in terms of knowing behaviorally, what my interests are and how to recommend stuff that is going to surprise me. Because we talk about surprise and delight, but I'm oftentimes saying to myself, "How did they know that? And how did I not know that artist from 25 years ago, that they're recommending to me?" So, with that in mind, what music has gotten you through... And I know you're a big music fan, Matt.
MS: I am.
BH: ...Has gotten you through the pandemic? Has there been anything that's sort of resonated with you at the core?
MS: Yeah. Well, so I do think, behind all of those systems, there's definitely identity and data, which is a great point. And yes, listen, if I could spend, I don't know how many nights a year, going to concerts, I would spend all of them. I'm a mix of things. I listen to a lot of the quote "jam band" scene, if you will. So, I am a Phish fan, which will anger some and delight others. And so, there's certainly that dimension. I'm also really into kind of jazz-influenced rock, so everything from your Southern rock to your New Orleans funk.
MS: JJ Grey is a great kind of artist. Nathaniel Rateliff. I'm into guitar meets horns, meets interesting bass and drum beats.
BH: Nice. That goes well.
AD: You guys be very disappointed in my 2021 Wrapped.
AD: It's nowhere near the level of sophistication that you guys are describing, so I'm very envious.
MS: Don't get me wrong, I'm into that stuff too. My kids certainly pushed that direction as well.
BH: Yeah. I think 2021, for me, it's been sort of a back to the future. It brought me back to the stuff that I listened to early on. Late Miles Davis being a big one.
MS: I love.
AD: Well, Matt, thank you so much for joining us. It was great to chat with you. This was a lot of fun. It was great to hear your experience, hear your thoughts on the industry, and to get to know the TransUnion family a little bit better. So, thank you for your time, and we look forward to chatting again further.
BH: Thank you, Matt.