When it comes to assessing who’s delivering the best performances in advertising and marketing technology, who better to ask than the clients who rely on these companies? That was the premise of our Readers’ Choice: Best of Tech Awards, which we launched last year and which you, our readers, enthusiastically embraced. This year, the action at the ballot box was just as vibrant: 50,000 votes were cast in the first round and 40,000 in the second. And the results? A few winners from last year held onto their crowns—including Hootsuite, Movable Ink and Sprinklr—but there are also more than a few “new” faces here, like Clara Labs, Criteo and, of course, Zoom. There’s also a notable tie: Google and Nielsen both notched the same number of votes in the Measurement and Analytics: Digital Video category. Will one of them reign supreme next year, or will a challenger take the title? Time will tell. For now, let’s take a moment to celebrate our 2020 honorees.
Company Verizon Media
Categories: Demand Side Platform, Supply Side Platform, Ad Network: Video and Ad Network: Mobile
Products/services: an automated platform that buys ad placements on digital publishers’ websites; software for publishers to sell digital ad inventory; a platform that connects advertisers with publishers that place video ads on their websites or apps; a platform that connects advertisers with mobile website and app ad inventory and facilitates the buying process
Formerly known as Oath, Verizon Media has spent the last year and a half reshaping its ad-tech stack into one of the most widely used services across digital advertising. It’s recently brought native inventory into its DSP, meaning marketers now have access to omnichannel supply; and it’s developed a connected TV measurement tool to help marketers as they navigate the changing television landscape. As for publishers, chief business officer Iván Markman thinks the company’s flexible offerings, especially around streaming technology, make it a valuable partner. “A lot of our publisher customers are going through a transformation or are thinking about the future. And we can share some of our learnings,” he told Adweek earlier this year.
Category productivity: videoconference platform
Product/service software that facilitates video calling
Forward-thinking early positioning helped Zoom ride the Covid-19 wave into the vaunted club of companies whose brand names double as the widely used verb for the service they offer. The videoconferencing company’s stock price has nearly quadrupled since the beginning of the year, and it’s now worth well more than all of the country’s major airlines combined. The company owes at least part of its place in the quarantine economy to decisions made early in lockdown to make the platform cheaper and more accessible, gaining it a commanding share of the countless organizations suddenly in need of reliable streaming communication tools.
Company Clara Labs
Category productivity: AI virtual assistant
Product/service an AI-based software application that helps humans complete simple tasks like scheduling and note taking
Since its sale to recruiting platform TopFunnel last August, Clara Labs has been tailoring its innovative approach to automated meeting scheduling to the needs of harried hiring professionals and job seekers. The company’s virtual assistant uses machine learning to scan emails and pull out relevant dates and times, allowing users to quickly and easily lock down interviews and other meetings. The company has always prided itself in bringing a human touch to the artificial intelligence training process, an approach that has yielded an assistant that reads and writes conversationally and knows how to go the extra mile in calendar management.
Category productivity: project management software
Product/service software that helps teams manage schedules, timelines, projects and workloads
A sudden abundance of far-flung employees in need of remote coordination helped Atlassian grow its stock price by around half during the Covid-19 quarantine this year. The cloud-based project-management platform, which counts blue-chip companies such as General Electric, Verizon and Walmart among its clients, launched a free version of its core software and services and a remote work hub to better serve the influx of new enterprise customers. The efforts paid off: As of the end of April, the Australian firm had already grown its quarterly revenue by 33% year over year.
Category social/influencer, social intelligence
Product/service a platform for monitoring conversations and trends on social media channels
The customer-experience management platform partnered with TikTok in April, incentivizing brands to advertise on the video-creation app as its popularity spiked amid the pandemic. Using Sprinklr, brands can create and manage in-feed video ads on TikTok and monitor productivity with real-time reporting. The platform also allows brands to increase return on ad spend with features such as AI-powered optimization and Sprinklr Smart Rules, which automatically adjusts ad content to remain relevant based on social conversations and unforeseen events. Sprinklr, which turned 10 in 2019, had its last round of funding in 2016 and is valued at $1.8 billion.
Category social/influencer, social marketing management
Product/service a tool for scheduling social media posts and managing workflows across social channels
The social media management platform has reached 18 million users since it launched in 2008, during the early days of Facebook and Twitter. After founder Ryan Holmes announced he would step down as CEO, the company appointed former Zendesk executive Tom Keiser as its new CEO on July 6. With brands halting ad spend on Facebook and Twitter over failures to eliminate hate speech, Keiser told Fortune the social media giants need to improve their regulatory standards. The Vancouver-based company is used widely by brands and organizations such as Domino’s, Longchamp and NYC & Company.
Category social/influencer, influencer marketing platform
Product/service an end-to-end influencer marketing managed service solution inclusive of strategy and planning, influencer management, content creation workflow, analytics, amplification and reporting and measurement
Influencer marketing is poised to be a $15 billion industry by 2022, and RhythmInfluence is a partner more brands consider each year. The full-service influencer marketing studio, which has roots dating back to 2010 and is now a division of Tremor International, continues to see increases in campaign spend and engagement. RhythmInfluence’s latest Influencer Marketing Benchmarks Report found the average spend on influencer marketing offerings increased nearly three times year over year; engagement rate across all campaigns averaged 9.66% and clients saw an average earned media ROI of $8.12 for every $1 of spend.
Product/service a platform that allows marketers to reengage users who have previously interacted with a brand’s website or ad
The erosion of third-party cookies—the common currency of digital advertising—has undermined the value proposition of ad retargeting. Criteo’s origins as the industry’s foremost ad retargeting player led to the appointment of “transformation CEO” Megan Clarken, as the company transitions to a world where first-party data is king. To further its continued effectiveness as a buying platform, Criteo is doubling down on efforts to enhance its Shopper Graph, an insights tool based on the ecommerce behaviors of 2.5 billion consumers. This is because publishers and retailers let Criteo use first-party data to aid retargeting. “Those data sets, combined with machine learning, can replace the need for third-party cookies,” says Clarken.
Company Moat by Oracle
Categories measurement and analytics: digital and mobile display advertising; brand safety/verification
Product/service a tool that analyzes the performance of digital advertising campaigns; a company that authenticates ad placements and ensures they meet brand-safety requirements
Moat continues to excel at making it easier for brands to discern who’s seeing their ads: In May, it teamed up with iSpot.tv to debut Moat Reach, a tool that lets marketers measure impressions for relevant audiences across both TV and digital channels. “Integrating our capabilities really gives brands unprecedented visibility and newfound capabilities that will help make smarter decisions,” Sean Muller, CEO of iSpot.tv, said in a statement. Recently, Moat partnered with Taboola to give the platform’s advertisers the ability to purchase video impressions based on outcomes. The company has also been a resource for marketers navigating the coronavirus: According to The Wall Street Journal, it deemed more than 50% of desktop and mobile ad impressions across Dow Jones & Co. properties unsafe for brands in mid-March.
Company (tie) Google Analytics and Nielsen
Category measurement and analytics: digital video
Product/service analyzes the performance of video marketing and advertising
With help from machine learning, Google Analytics can analyze data and predict purchasing behavior. To help marketers make use of this information, it recently debuted a tool brands can use to predict which people are likely to make a purchase from their app or site in the near future—and target them accordingly. “In the past, if you wanted to reach people most likely to purchase, you’d probably build an audience of people who had added products to their shopping carts but didn’t purchase,” Steve Ganem, senior product manager at Google Analytics, explained in a company blog post. Nielsen has also been on an innovation spree: Last year, it unveiled an initiative called Advanced Video Advertising to help it focus on expanding addressable advertising for smart TVs. In January, A+E Networks, CBS, Discovery and others said they’re taking part in the beta launch of Nielsen’s addressable TV platform.
Category media planning/attribution
Product/service software that allows marketers to track and analyze which media placements contributed to a sale
Nielsen has had a busy 2020: At the start of the year, it hired TripAdvisor’s Eric Bosco to serve as chief product officer of its global media unit, which was formed last year after the company spun off its CPG and retail business. Media vet Sean Cohan joined shortly thereafter as chief growth officer and president, international. In April, E.W. Scripps Co. signed a multiyear agreement with Nielsen to access its measurement services that cater to local TV stations. More recently, the company released Nielsen Audience Planner, a product that enables marketers to link their first-party data with Nielsen’s data.
Company Movable Ink
Category mar tech: marketing cloud/automation
Product/service software that automates repetitive marketing tasks
Movable Ink’s tech allows businesses to update the content of their emails in real time according to individualized response data. In 2019, the company introduced a digital marketplace and expanded its mobile app offerings. Movable Ink’s clients include multiple NBA teams, large brands such as Under Armour and even the Democratic National Committee. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the company has offered its Critical Messaging App for free so businesses can keep their messages updated as service capabilities change.
Category mar tech: customer data platform (CDP)
Product/service a tool to consolidate online and offline customer data
In November 2019, Adobe made its customer data platform—a central storage point for all the information a company collects on one user—available to the general public. At the same time, it introduced the Adobe Experience Platform Data Governance to help businesses manage data storage in compliance with ever-changing privacy laws. These initiatives are part of Adobe’s ever-growing marketing cloud, which acquired the ecommerce platform Magento for $1.68 billion and the marketing automation company Marketo for $4.8 billion in 2018.
Category mar tech: journey management
Product/service an automated tool for managing the customer experience across channels
Now a $170 billion company, Salesforce has become industry-standard CRM software. And beyond that, it’s making big moves, acquiring nine firms since the start of 2019, including the data-visualization software specialist Tableau for $15.7 billion and more recently the cloud company Vlocity for $1.3 billion. CEO Marc Benioff—who personally spent $25 million buying personal protective equipment for medical facilities in the wake of the pandemic—has also called for businesses to “value purpose alongside profit.”
Category data management platform (DMP)
Product/service platforms that centrally store a company’s data and present it in a way that’s easy to understand and analyze
Having acquired BlueKai for $400 million in 2014, Oracle is now a dominant force in data management. With BlueKai, it can track user activity across the web—gathering behavioral, demographic and contextual data, both first- and third-party—and package anonymized information for marketers to better understand their audiences. And it’s massive, tracking more than 1% of all web traffic. In June, the company suffered a major data leak after a security researcher found a BlueKai database sitting unsecured on the open web. Oracle responded by saying it had identified two clients that did not “properly configure their services” and took steps to prevent future leaks.
Categories data supplier; mar tech: email marketing service; mar tech: identity platform
Products/services a company that collects and sells consumer data; software used to build, design and send marketing messages to a group of consumers; software that identifies and verifies an individual or household across channels
It’s been roughly a year since Publicis acquired Epsilon for $4.4 billion to give it data-analysis prowess. Epsilon, which claims to harbor a consumer database of more than 200 million people, recently teamed with Publicis to launch The Pact, a “business outcomes solution” with some pretty hefty ambitions. Tailored toward midsize companies in the U.S., The Pact promises a certain set of agreed-upon KPIs across sales, new customer acquisitions and the like. If they aren’t met, Epsilon provides a total refund. “At a moment when lockdowns have generated new digital behaviors leading to massive additional insight on individual customers, we are able to bring to our clients what they need most in this uncertain period: the confidence to make the right investment for the future of their business,” Arthur Sadoun, chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe, said in a statement.