POV: Interview with James Green, CEO of Magnetic

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



james-greenTell us about Magnetic and its inception. What differentiates it from other search retargeting companies?

Billions of searches are happening around the Web each month, creating valuable audience data for brands and marketers alike. Magnetic provides brands with the opportunity to reach consumers who are searching in their product category at multiple stages of the consumer funnel by leveraging intent and interest-based search activity. You can think of it as behavioral targeting on steroids: Instead of targeting people based on where they’ve been, we target them based on what they’re looking for.

Magnetic was the first company to focus 100 percent on search retargeting. Although we offer site retargeting as well, we remain one of the only companies to focus primarily on search retargeting.

Part of Magnetic’s “secret sauce” is our proprietary keyword generation tool. This allows us to automatically identify millions of relevant keywords, thus greatly increasing scale and reach across display media.

Can you give us a quick overview of how search and site retargeting differ? How can they be used in tandem for an increase in results?

Search and site retargeting are entirely different. In fact, it’s a great shame that they share the word retargeting. Site retargeting is a way for you to effectively remarket to your existing customers and/or people who have visited your brand website or online store. Alternatively, search retargeting is the best way to reach people who are interested in your product category and/or brand but may or may not be aware of your particular offering and certainly have not visited your site. Therefore, search retargeting is higher up the “purchase funnel” than site retargeting, yet it still reaches consumers within the consideration phase. Think of it as the difference between maximizing return on existing customers (site retargeting) and acquiring new customers (search retargeting).

We started to offer site retargeting to clients a few years ago because it complements search retargeting, and therefore it made sense for clients to use Magnetic for both their site and search retargeting needs. Using the same company for both makes it simpler to manage who should receive credit for converting a customer — a practice known as attribution.

Why should brands and advertisers invest in search retargeting?

Search retargeting is a way to extend one’s search marketing efforts and expand display campaigns to bring in new customers. In the end, search retargeting will result in a greater ROI than demographic, psychographic or behavioral targeting because you are reaching people who have specifically indicated that they are searching for what you sell.

This year, researchers and vendors have adopted a standard that only counts viewable impressions. Why is this important? What problems do you foresee with these standards for advertisers and publishers?

I believe that the viewable impression movement is the most important initiative in digital advertising today. Tracking viewable impressions breaks down into two halves:

  1. Ad placement: It’s great to be sure that the ad you are buying is above the fold or in the window that a consumer will be viewing. Therefore, standards around this will help brands ensure that they are paying for what they really want. However, this is the less important part of the initiative.
  2. Traffic quality: There are many impressions on ad exchanges (places where you buy ads in real time) that are generated by robots and technology that is developed to seem as though it’s real and performs with a high click-through rate. However, many of these impressions are never seen by a human. This is the second and vastly more important part of the viewability initiative: making sure that every impression is a real impression, seen by a real person, on a clean, well-lit website. This is absolutely crucial for the success of our business, and there are already a variety of tools that have been released by companies such as Integral Ad Science and spider.io to help us get there.

The less obvious reason why viewability is so important is that if you have one or two people in a basement producing impressions that seem legit but are priced well below market value and a buyer is unable to determine the difference between these “legitimate” impressions, then the market price that a publisher can sell ads for will be reduced. This will mean that the publisher will have less money to invest in content, and, as a result, ad environments will be less appealing — leading to even less money for publishers. So before you know it, you’ve got a downward spiral of revenue and quality.

What are some tips for advertisers who hope to use retargeting effectively?

First and most importantly, make sure you understand the difference between the various flavors of retargeting. Next, ensure that you have a way to judge the value of different marketing efforts. Each effort should have a different break-even point. For example, you’re going to spend more money to obtain a new customer than to upsell an existing customer. Lastly, don’t follow your gut. Use an attribution model and follow the numbers.

How has the evolution of big data affected how marketers can reach the right person with the right message?

Big data is simply more information, and the amount of data that is available to us is mind-boggling. The best way to figure out what to do with it is to start at the place where you have the largest return, and then only focus on that one place. Ignore data that doesn’t inform the decision that you’re currently working on. Talk to people about how they can find out about your product and how they can convert. Next, look at the data that’s available to you and focus on what you don’t know. If you know what it costs to get someone to your site but you don’t know how or why they convert once they get there, then focus on that until you do. The right message to the right person at the right time depends on who they are, where they are and how you reach them. So, these messages will change even when dealing with the same customer. Big data is the key to understanding the best way to communicate with your customers at every stage of the purchase funnel.

Why should brands/marketers only hire one company to perform retargeting?

When you’re conducting a test, you need to have only one variable. If you have multiple variables, then it’s difficult (and sometimes impossible) to know why you got your results, and that can be VERY frustrating! In the case of site retargeting, every vendor is going to target the same audience (people who have visited your site), and they are likely to have massive overlap on where inventory is purchased from. Thus, if two people are bidding on the same user on the same site, you are going to get confusing (and probably more expensive) results.

However, it is possible to have multiple retargeting campaigns running simultaneously as long as you follow these rules:

  1. Test them alone without other partners — or at least in an environment where they are the only variable — so that you know what effect the vendor is having on your overall campaign.
  2. If you have multiple vendors targeting the same audience, make absolutely certain that your vendors are buying that audience in different locations (e.g. FBX vs. ADX vs. AdNetworks).
  3. It’s fine to run different types of retargeting simultaneously because you are targeting different audiences. Just make sure you are not using multiple vendors to target the same audience.

With so many forms of advertising sending visitors and consumers to a given website, how can marketers understand and track the true value of targeted ads?

Don’t buy anything that you don’t understand. If you are being sold a product that cannot be explained to your full satisfaction, then don’t buy it! Use a sophisticated attribution model to measure what you’ve bought, and determine what works and what doesn’t. We’ve been running a free seminar for our clients called “Attribution Revolution” to help promote better attribution.

As retargeting matures, how will sub-segmenting audiences be used to more effectively reach the right consumers at the right time, and for the right price?

The vast majority of ad dollars still use content as a proxy for audience: Television remains vastly larger than any other form of advertising, and buying audiences on TV is still difficult. In this environment, marketers have a fixed price (GRP or gross rating point) that they are prepared to spend to reach an audience — effectively paying a different price for each buy but the same price for each individual within the buy.

Believe it or not, a surprising number of people are still buying in real time using fixed bids. But the more sophisticated players compute the fair market value of each member of an audience in real time using variables such as audience characteristics, media location, advertisement type and our old favorites — reach and frequency — to determine what someone is worth. Figuring out what your customer is worth at every stage, and then working with internal and external partners to develop algorithms that work out how to bid on each different ad is the key.

What trends in marketing/advertising do you find most interesting/exciting?

The evaporation of guesswork and its replacement with cold, hard facts.

One reason you love what you do: It changes human behavior.

Favorite ad: “The Most Interesting Man in the World.”

Must-read book: “Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

Connect with James on LinkedIn or follow @JamesANGreen.

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