MarTech Edge Interview with Dan Levin, Co-Founder, President & COO, ViralGains | Martech Edge | Best News on Marketing and Technology
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MarTech Edge Interview with Dan Levin, Co-Founder, President & COO, ViralGains

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MarTech Edge Interview with Dan Levin, Co-Founder, President & COO, ViralGains


Published on 8th Jun, 2023

Please tell us about your work journey.

My work journey technically began when I was about 7 years old—I would clean my mom’s friends’ homes for the whopping price of $1/room, hah. (Don’t worry; it wasn’t forced labor! I actually enjoyed it, and it was my first foray into entrepreneurship.) Throughout grade school and college, I’d started more than a dozen business ventures, mostly small. But the first one that really took off was in 2008 when I was a freshman at UMB. Through a series of fortunate events, I somehow found myself sitting on a goldmine of an idea—what if there was some way for brands to have real conversations with their customers? And that’s how the first iteration of ViralGains was born. We’re now powering some of the biggest brands in the world and making sure they’re not just talking at their customers but with them—listening and responding with thoughtful ad experiences in response to consumers’ preferences.

ViralGains recently partnered with LiveRamp; we’d love to hear more about how it is going to help marketers and advertisers to extend zero-party data.

Our partnership with LiveRamp is truly a game-changer for ViralGains and the industry. By integrating our AI-based zero-party data (ZPD) gathering & scaling capabilities with LiveRamp’s RampID technology, we’re able to match ZPD from our platform to their vast amount of first- & third- party data, providing a more comprehensive view of the consumer for advertisers on dimensions they could not find previously from leveraging existing solutions in the market. This integration enables brands to create even more personalized and effective advertising campaigns, reach a wider audience, and match audiences to over 250 million consumers in the U.S. Moreover, our partnership prioritizes ethical data management by delivering meaningful engagement through intentionally-shared data within advertising, thus enabling marketers to target a more accurate AND scaled audience in a “privacy-first, privacy-safe” way, all with the added benefit of helping them both optimize—and avoid wasting—ad budgets. Overall, this partnership greatly enhances our ability to help brands truly understand and reach their customers in a meaningful way.

How will this solution help in finding, understanding, and nurturing new and returning customers?

Fundamentally, we are bridging the gap between the power of ZPD and the human element of marketing. Instead of just bombarding potential consumers with generic ads, we’re able to turn data they willingly share into personalized campaigns that truly speak directly to them through their unique needs. All of this fosters a naturally deeper connection and trust with consumers, thus leading to more effective customer acquisition, nurturing, and ultimately better relationships with business outcomes. And the beauty of our approach is that brands are simultaneously gaining a comprehensive view of consumers, all the while doing so in a privacy-first way, a feat that most individuals in the industry would have believed to be two contradictory business outcomes, but now working synchronistically and synergistically.

What are some of the trends defining ad needs and adtech in 2023?

Two come to mind. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will start by saying that this year and in the years to come:

(1) privacy will continue to be a major, front-and-center, ever-evolving trend for consumers and an important factor for marketers to prioritize. With more and more regulations and societal concerns, ZPD will be crucial in providing an ethical and secure way for brands to gather data and create personalized advertising experiences. Additionally, (2) the integration of AI with technologies like voice and visual search will allow for a more seamless and efficient way for brands to reach their audience while also providing a more natural and intuitive experience for the consumer. 2023 will be a year of massive experimentation with AI in a way that we haven’t seen before to do everything from creative to automation of tasks like campaign optimization to ROI. Overall, the meta focus will be on providing personalized and secure advertising experiences that are easy, intuitive, and meaningful for the consumer.

What are some big challenges enterprises face with gathering and utilizing zero-party data, and what advice would you give them?

You’d be totally surprised by this—and it surprised me too initially—but the most typical challenge I’ve seen marketers face is not knowing what questions to ask their customers! The funny thing about ZPD is that the breadth of insights you can derive from them is limited only in scope to how creative the brand is in coming up with them—and marketers simply aren’t used to that. With first-party data, it’s always so predictable: it’s bland, boxed, and algorithmic. But with ZPD, you can get the sort of insights you’d get from talking to a friend in a human-like way, friend-to-friend, not marketer-to-marketer. And my advice is just that: stop thinking about your consumers as consumers. Who wants to be labeled “a consumer”? It’s yucky and transactional. Instead, I suggest sitting together in a room with the PEOPLE you are most interested in, and have them talk for an hour about themselves and what their core needs are, and THEN understand how your product or service fits into their lives and where the gaps are. The magic of the questions you then need to ask the millions of other PEOPLE who are similar to the initial people will come out of those earnest conversations. And finally, of course, I have to do a shameless plug here: when all else fails, they can, ya know, work with a company that specializes in ZPD for a living and specializes in understanding what the best sort of data to gather would be. I know such a company! :-)

How can enterprises build an ecosystem of partners to share data safely?

This one’s a bit straightforward and just takes good old-fashioned elbow grease. Assuming they’ve already discerned WHY they want to build such an ecosystem, in a nutshell, here are the steps:

  • First, they need to internally develop a clear data-sharing policy that outlines the TYPES of data that should be shared, HOW it’s going to be shared (obviously, there’s the pragmatic “how”, but also deciding on levels of data anonymization to protect sensitive data), and WHAT level of security measures ought to be in place to protect that data.
  • Next would be researching what data governance tools they want to use to manage and track data throughout its lifecycle while including the important step of regularly conducting risk assessments to identify and mitigate potential threats to data security. This includes identifying and evaluating risks from both internal and external sources. Depending on the sensitivity level of the data, they may want to look for partners that have certain standards for third-party certifications, such as SOC2, PCI-DSS, or ISO 27001, to ensure that partners have robust security and data protection standards in place.
  • Finally, the actual data-sharing agreements must be drafted and put into place: having a clear data-sharing agreement that outlines the terms, responsibilities, and rights of each party involved in the data sharing, including the use of the data, retention period, and data destruction will help alleviate a TON of headaches down the road.

Customer behaviors have changed; how should brands change to keep up? Take, for example, do we need to evolve the way we measure purchase intent?

It’s really difficult to speak to any one particular change happening at any given time. The past few years have shown us just how quickly things can shift—from the pandemic to economic factors (like inflation) to revolutionary new technologies like ChatGPT. The meta advice I have to brands is to stay as close to both their loyal (current) customer base and potential (future) loyal customer base as possible through agile, rapid, and real-time feedback loops and to avoid long, drawn-out (and thus likely-to-be-obsolete) responses to changes in consumer behavior.

For example, on the subject of purchase intent, the traditional approach is to creepily follow consumers around and try to interpret their intent after the fact through metrics like site visits, clicks, etc. The “real-time” meta solution to this is to literally ASK THEM how they are thinking & feeling about and perceiving your brand at any given moment using tools like surveys, focus groups, and sentiment analysis. That’s the power of ZPD and is precisely why we focus on it as our core business. It’s the only way to stay up to date in an ever-changing world at the pace of the consumer. Otherwise, you are always one step behind.

What are the tech solutions a brand needs in place to react in real time and create moments for the consumer?

This is a great, pragmatic question. The first thing that comes to mind is that in order to “react”, a brand needs to know what it is reacting “to.” And what I mean by that is to ensure it is not OVER- or UNDER- reacting to what its perceived assumptions are about what its current and prospective customers are thinking or feeling. Obviously, this is where ZPD comes into play and the answer I gave to the prior question. So a ZPD gathering and scaling solution is the first one I would get in place. Beyond that, I would focus on:

(1) real-time web analytics,

(2) marketing automation platforms,

(3) (if the brand is B2B), a salesforce provided insights/intelligence platform,

(4) landing page optimization,

(5) customer data analytics platform (or just a CDP), and finally,

(6) a predictive analytics solution.