Feed Based Advertising for Dummies: the Converto Tech-Team in Conversation
Our new Product Manager Antonietta interviewed Converto’s Head of Development Matteo to give us a glimpse behind the scenes of Converto’s technology.
A: Can you shortly introduce yourself and your team?
M: There are two Matteos working for Converto: I’m the one working in Rimini (Italy)! I studied both computer engineering and automation engineering in Bologna. From an early stage I was very active in the start-up scene where I held several positions.
In 2013, I founded my own software company oriented towards solving complex problems and characterized by a highly qualified team. We developed sophisticated software for several industries from logistics to the Italian Navy. The core of our competences are high-availability systems, precision and highest level security. Thanks to Converto we were able to apply our skills to the exciting area of performance digital advertising. We now have a team of five developers working for Converto focusing on the Feed Based Advertising ecosystem.
A: Over the last three years you developed the technology behind Feed Based Advertising (FBA) from scratch. How did it all start?
M: It all began with the friendship and professional esteem between Matteo and me. During a trip to the Swiss Alps, Matteo described his latest idea, an ambitious and visionary project in the field of online advertising: Feed Based Advertising. Even though at the time it was only a sketch on a piece of paper, I saw the potential right away.
What he described in what we engineers call “business terms” I could instantly translate into technology: APIs, SaaS, platform model, high scalability, high performance. What I found thrilling from a technological point of view was the operational speed requirements the system would need whilst being absolutely safe and reliable at the same time. That got me hooked, I wanted in! In fact, I was so hooked, that I myself sat down to code the very first prototype.
A: Let's start with the basics: what is a feed exactly?
M: In computing, a feed is any dynamic data source characterized by a certain data format subject to continuous updates. A feed is aimed at making third-party systems aware of data changes within a certain list. To make that more concrete: a product or service feed is a file containing a list of items (products, offers, travel destinations, etc.) and attributes, grouped by an item’s unique identification number. An e-commerce feed, for example, usually contains a product name, product description, additional IDs, a product image, price and discount information. In other words: it is a fluctuating and constantly updated list of all offers, products or deals an e-shop, retailer, travel operator, or other business keeps.
A: Why use a (product) data feed for advertising?
M: Great question! We fully believe in the central role feeds will play in the future of digital advertising. The objective of the feed system is to digest and continually update the entire catalogue of products of each advertiser in order to make the content of advertising campaigns fast and current. In this way the campaign management is nonspecific, i.e. there is no need to know the products that will be the objects of the campaign in advance. Additionally, it saves a lot of resources as ad creatives are assembled automatically instead of manually by a graphic designer. Furthermore, it is a wonderfully clever way to test advertisements for customers’ long tail. But the best thing about it is that one can personalise advertisements at product-level to make them highly relevant for each individual consumer. A single feed-based campaign is like a classical display campaign with a thousand possible banners!
A: What kind of advertising can be done with Converto’s FBA-technology?
M: Converto’s technology is able to realize smart, dynamic and personalised product ads that are directly displayed on relevant publisher websites. With Feed Based Advertising, selected products, offers and services of an advertiser are integrated into display and native-ads and even into revolutionary, dynamic video ads. We are still exploring all the possibilities Feed Based Advertising has to offer step by step and are developing prototypes and new formats according to the needs of our customers. The possibilities are endless, but our main focus is to provide our partners (advertisers, agencies and publishers) with immediate results and performance. That is basically what leads us.
A: How does Converto’s FBA technology work?
M: I need to be careful not to get too technical. In summary, we can say that Converto's technologies are based on two technology blocks: the first one is the management module (also known as the Feed Master Engine), the second is the ad module. The first one is a management software used to create and manage campaigns and feeds, and to optimize performance. It is mainly used by Converto’s operations staff. The first module also gives access to custom dashboards designed for publishers, advertisers and agencies, from which they can check the status and progress of an ongoing campaign.
The second module is the high-availability dynamic node that provides product ads to the publishers in real-time (around 4 milliseconds!). The node engine also performs all of the automatic product-selection, algorithms and logics.
A: Can I use FBA if I do not have a feed?
M: The feed engine works both in automatic and manual mode, so if an online updated feed is not available for some reason, advertisers can insert the products, offers or services that they want to promote (with all the mandatory information needed) into a standard format feed we provide and upload it manually to the platform. We also have other options like site-crawling to export the needed information. To sum up: it is not necessary to already have a feed in order to start a feed-based campaign.
A: What do I need to do to get a Feed Based Advertising campaign up and running?
M: First of all, you need the feed URL or the actual feed as a file. Most content management systems and e-commerce shops have a feed-export function. Converto’s feed import technology is very powerful and works with any feed format. Many advertisers already have a Google, Facebook or Amazon feed; we can import it within seconds. We also started a cooperation with the largest feed management software (Feed Dynamix, ProductsUp, Lengow, etc.) so that their customers can integrate Converto with only a click.
A: Can I use Converto’s technology if I don't have an e-commerce shop? How?
M: Yes of course. You may want to advertise products or services from your offline business. For example, we have retailer clients that advertise their weekly offers through Converto’s FBA platform.
A: How is my advertising performance monitored?
M: A special feature of Converto’s FBA technology is that information on delivery and interaction of an ad is not only collected at ad-level, like a regular adserver would, but also at product level. This provides advertisers and agencies with some very interesting insights. We are particularly proud of this achievement since it is unique worldwide.
A: Do I get customer insights when working with Converto?
M: Yes! Converto’s team can provide you with very accurate information on the audience that interacted with your campaign.
A: How much effort and resources does Converto’s FBA-technology save?
M: A lot. Imagine you need to create every ad for every ad format for every product on a regular basis again and again and again. Your staff has to select the products for the ad in advance, they have to brief and send the information to your graphics department, revise it and send it to a publisher on a deadline. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Our algorithms help you select the right product for the right customer. It displays it automatically in an ad that the graphics department only has to approve once. It sends it to the right publisher at the right time. And all of that with just a few clicks.
How often did it happen to you that you just finished all your ads and banners and at the last second a product was out of stock or you had to change a price and you had to manually re-do or update every single ad? Those annoyances can all be avoided thanks to feeds.
A: What is the difference between Feed Based Advertising and re-targeting?
M: This is not the first time this question has been asked. Re-targeting means that a user sees an ad with a product previously viewed (but not bought) in a shop. It is a useful performance strategy but it only goes so far! With Feed Based Advertising you can not only communicate with users who have already visited your website, but also bring new customers to your shop. Feed-based campaigns are complimentary to retargeting campaigns.
A: Which were the main challenges to tackle when programming Converto’s Feed Master Engine?
M: There were several big challenges. The first one was building a live technology: feed-based campaigns are almost instant. Within 4 milliseconds an ad is created and shown to the right user. This requires a very complex high-availability system. The second one was the feed import module. Every customer has different feed files, formats can vary a lot. We wanted to develop a technology that has the highest flexibility so that our customers don’t have to adjust their feeds themselves.
A: Can you give us some hints about the current developments and future of Converto’s FBA technology?
M: Just some hints! We are working on over ten new interesting developments for FBA. One point that I have already mentioned is the integration of our Feed Master Engine with live video rendering technology. We believe in this rich media format and want to grow it with our customers. Another direction is the integration of classical digital channels with offline channels. Very ambitious but very exciting times are ahead of us!
A: After Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning are already set as a given in digital advertising - mainly by helping marketers make very accurate data-driven decisions - what's the future of digital advertising technology-wise? Will for example blockchain be the next game-changer? Or will new ad formats such as for Augmented Reality Formats, Voice Ads, IoT or Out-of-Home be the new hype of 2019?
M: I think that the new media you mentioned (such as augmented reality, video and IoT) are not the future, but already the present. The question is when they will be adopted on a larger scale by the advertising industry. We have seen the first global pilots but we are far away from a booming development of these new advertising formats in Europe. Anyway, we are exploring some very innovative technology at the moment and I hope I can tell you something more concrete in the next interview.