Why Knowing Your Audience Matters More Than Ever

A conversation with Matt Sweeney, CEO, Xaxis, North America

Adweek talked with Xaxis about the state of the ad industry. iStock

At the end of September during Brandweek, Adweek caught up with Matt Sweeney, CEO, Xaxis, North America, to hear about trends he’s seeing in the advertising industry and ways brands could improve in terms of technology and capturing user data.

Here’s what he had to say.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Adweek: What are some of the most significant changes we’re seeing now in the advertising industry?
As a promise of digital, the opportunity has always been the one-to-one communication. It’s more personalized messaging and engagement with your customers and prospects, and that’s been promised for a long time now. I think it’s time that all players in that space deliver on their promise. [If you’re a] data company, it’s time to deliver, if you’re a tech company, it’s time to deliver, if you’re a media business, it’s time to deliver on that promise.

My conversations with CMOs [are about how] they’re no longer just thinking about building brands. [They’re] saying, ‘How do I sell more sneakers and cars?’ The good news is that they have a seat at the table with the CEO and CFO and others. The challenge is, OK, how do you actually put something quantifiable behind the investments we’re making and that huge shift to digital? Show me that those investments are actually driving the business forward.

As new technologies come online and further advancements are made in gathering and reporting user data, what should brands do to keep up?
At Xaxis, we’ve developed our own technology over the years. A lot of the other big media buyers and holding companies either partnered or licensed technology. A lot of people look at that as being the aggressive, or not as smart [of a] way to invest dollars. I think those investments are paying off now—not just for Xaxis, but for GroupM.

What you’re seeing in the industry is that leverage and advantage for marketers used to be scale: We buy the most, we’re the biggest and baddest in this space, we can get you the best price and access to new initiatives or new content experiences. It’s now really about how much do you know about those consumers and customer journeys, and that’s all being driven by data and analytics. We have made huge investments over the years at Xaxis, in our data analytics team and our data scientist team … You have to have the right people and the right team to make it work for a client.

What emerging tech is on you radar?
I do think it’s going to be marketers that are pulling together all these data streams they have within their organization, because they’re processing more and more data … It’s a way to then connect all of that data and figure out how to activate it to ensure meaningful conversations with customers and prospects and to make sure to contextualize it, the right ad [at] the right time. … I think the conversation around blockchain is a little overhyped in the space right now.

What’s on your radar, in terms of new technology or uses of data, that others in this space should be aware of?
Bringing data together, offline to online, in ways that are respectful of consumer privacy. And I think that’s important. We have to do a better job as an industry to explain to consumers how we collect data, why we collect data, what that means from a publisher perspective and an advertiser perspective.

How do you think the advertising space in media looks like 10 years from now?
There will be fewer, more engaging ads, and I’m hoping they’re not just things you’re interested in. I hope there’s some serendipity to it as well.

@SaraJerde sara.jerde@adweek.com Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.