The Technology Behind Social Advertising: Q&A with Marc Grabowski, COO of Nanigans

Monetizing Social Engagement


You might have read yesterday that Facebook is set to make a lot of money in mobile. The company is further along when it comes to monetizing mobile than it was believed, and this boosted confidence in Facebook stock (which rose to close at $19.88 yesterday).

With all the news about Facebook post-IPO, we connected with Nanigans’ new COO Marc Grabowski. Nanigans announced their plans to support Facebook Exchange last month. Marc joined Nanigans after a nine-year online advertising career at Yahoo!. At Yahoo!, he was most recently the VP Media Sales, North America, where he was responsible for a team of over two-hundred online advertising sales and account management professionals and close to $1 billion of annualized revenue.
We asked Marc a few questions about his decision to move to Nanigans, and why he finds the social sphere such an exciting part of the world of digital advertising.


The digital ad space is booming. Why did you choose to join Nanigans in particular?

Over the last five years, engagement on digital and especially mobile devices has shifted.  Now more than ever people are engaging in content surrounded by a social backdrop.  Furthermore, much of this behavior has moved to mobile devices where sharing, Liking and checking-in are natural extensions of our daily experiences.  It was clear that deep engagement in social and mobile would be the next steps in my career and working alongside Facebook, the leader in social with 15-20% of online time spent on their site, would be the logical choice.  Nanigans is among the largest Preferred Marketing Developers on Facebook, a fact recently reaffirmed as Nanigans was named one of just 12 “Strategic PMDs” on Facebook out of 300+ marketing developers.

I’ve been speaking with Nanigans for nearly a year, watching them grow and develop their Facebook ad optimization technology into the market-leading platform for performance advertisers. During my years at Yahoo! I spent a fair deal of time evaluating ad tech companies for partnership or acquisition.  During those years I hadn’t run across another company who could measure and drive lifetime value (or return on ad spend over a period of time) as Nanigans can drive.  

If ‘anyone’ can advertise on Facebook, what value does Nanigans provide to its partners?

Facebook offers its own advertising tools; however, using these tools for large-scale campaigns quickly becomes cumbersome and costly. As a base example, an ad unit on Facebook includes both its creative and audience targeting – such as age, gender, interests and actions. Coupling multiple creative assets with so many targeting options, you can imagine there being thousands of potential ads created. How do you know which of these ads to bid up or bid down, and especially when you don’t know the future value these Facebook users will drive to your business? More sophisticated software like our Ad Engine is required.

The Nanigans platform, Ad Engine, allows companies to find profitable customers on Facebook. The Ad Engine solves two main problems: (1) workflow management at scale, including multivariate testing of creative and audience targeting as well as automated bid and budget management, and (2) lifetime ROI prediction, measurement and optimization, specifically around downstream and delayed events such as purchases.

Beyond this, Ad Engine offers full transparency into granular campaign data and decisioning logic. Our percent-of-spend engagement model is founded on this full transparency, and works to both align incentives and forge a strategic partnership with our advertising partners. We only grow our revenues as a company when our advertising partners are succeeding.

What kinds of user data is Nanigans able to acquire through Facebook, and how is this used for targeting purposes?

As mentioned, Facebook offers an unprecedented level and number of targeting options: by specific demographics, by a seemingly infinite number interests, and by “actions.” This depth and breadth of targeting does not exist anywhere else, on or off the web, and is certainly part of the draw for advertisers turning to Facebook. All of these targeting options also pose a challenge for marketers that require use of a workflow management platform customizable around your business fundamentals.

We recently announced support for Facebook Exchange, which brings a new level of impression level data and targeting to Facebook advertising. We’re excited to bring our 2+ years of experience in understanding how Facebook audiences monetize to the Facebook Exchange.

You’ve recently taken on a few Harvard professors. How cerebral is daily life at Nanigans, what kinds of research are these academics providing, and how does this shape Nanigans’ advertising strategy?

We are both a very technical and very analytical company. This starts with our founders and persists through the organization from engineering to sales, optimization and marketing. Being a data-driven advertising platform company, and in working with some of the savviest of user acquisition and performance advertising professionals as our clients, much of our day is spent working with huge data sets, analyzing campaigns, and improving our optimization and bidding algorithms.

Earlier this year Dr. David Parkes, Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University, and Dr. Edoardo Airoldi, Professor of Statistics at Harvard University, joined Nanigans as technical advisers. Both play a very active and hands-on role in with what we internally call our “data science team” — made up of mathematicians and statisticians, most with Ph.Ds in their respective fields. This data science team constantly improves and hones our algorithms, mining big data from advertising campaigns for social cues that can predict future value. These cues are unique in different sectors, and sometimes even on a business-by-business basis within that sector. Ultimately, by predicting the value various Facebook users will generate for a business over time, our technology is able to spend advertiser dollars most efficiently to reach lifetime value goals and maximize lifetime ROI.

Facebook ads have lately been accused of underperforming. How is Nanigans working to deliver ROI on Facebook, on both mobile and desktop?

A global statement about such a large supply source as Facebook is shortsighted.  The audience of every advertiser is on Facebook.  The challenge is not a matter of underperforming formats, rather it is lack of focus by a marketing department to properly test and evaluate performance.  Too often advertisers see Facebook as an immediate click to conversion platform and don’t look at the quality of customers they are attracting.  When one overlooks such a basic fact they end up targeting the wrong audiences, under-bidding for inventory and ultimately exhausting their segments.   Measurement of longer-term return informs better targeting segmentation and more competitive bid philosophies that will trump myopic marketers.

What is it like to work with a company as mutative as Facebook, and has the relationship changed since the IPO? What do you see in Nanigans’ and Facebook’s future(s)?

We naturally work very closely with Facebook given our software’s exclusive focus on their ecosystem, the sophistication of advertisers who partner with us, and the sheer volume of Facebook ad impressions and spend managed through our platform. The Facebook teams we interface with are incredibly engaged with the products they’re building, open to feedback, and very responsive.

I cannot comment on how the relationship has changed post Facebook IPO as I joined after the company went public.  With this said, I am amazed at the pace with which Facebook releases new products and more importantly, the strategy that threads those products together.  These open up more opportunities for advertisers and ultimately create a more relevant advertising experience for Facebook users.

As for the future, we are focused on Facebook development and are more bullish than ever about the growth prospects. Mobile is the other area where we are finding encouraging signs of performance for our advertisers.  In the future we will continue to stay agile and develop for the market ahead whether that market is in social, mobile or otherwise.