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Marketing startup Influential raises $12M from WME and others

Influential announced today that it has raised $12 million in Series B funding.

The funding came from existing investors Capital Zed, ECA Ventures, Paradigm Talent Agency, ROAR and Tech Coast Angels, as well as from Hollywood agency WME .

Just a couple weeks ago, Influential said it was working with (and had raised money from) WME. The agency is the first to try out a new Influential product called Talent Pro, which gives agents access to social data around a broader pool of talent.

Influential founder and CEO Ryan Detert said the product will allow WME — and, in the future, other agencies — to sweeten endorsement and promotional deals with more data and to “take an A-list celebrity… and now surround that person with 10 lookalike influencers who are not celebrities themselves.”

One of Influential’s big selling points is its use of artificial intelligence (it’s a developer partner with IBM Watson) to help brands and marketers find influencers who would be a good fit for their campaigns. However, Detert acknowledged that selling access to social media influencers is starting to feel overhyped — as he put it, “People think of influencer marketing sometimes as a four-letter word.”

But in Detert’s view, influencer marketing is just one “tactic” that Influential supports: “We consider ourselves more of social intelligence and activation company.”

And in fact, Influential already offers a social intelligence product that helps customers get a broader understanding of things like the broader competitive landscape.

Detert also said Influential is working to measure the impact of brands’ social media campaigns, so that when they pay an influencer to make a promotional post, they “can actually map back that not only [the consumer] saw it, but that they engaged with it to make a real-world decision — walking into a location, buying a product in a grocery store.”

The company has now raised a total of $26.5 million.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Google adds a search feature to account settings to ease use

Google has announced a refresh of the Google Accounts user interface. The changes are intended to make it easier for users to navigate settings and review data the company has associated with an account — including information relating to devices, payment methods, purchases, subscriptions, reservations, contacts and other personal info.

The update also makes security and privacy options more prominent, according to Google.

“To help you better understand and take control of your Google Account, we’ve made all your privacy options easy to review with our new intuitive, user-tested design,” it writes. “You can now more easily find your Activity controls in the Data & Personalization tab and choose what types of activity data are saved in your account to make Google work better for you.

“There, you’ll also find the recently updated Privacy Checkup that helps you review your privacy settings and explains how they shape your experience across Google services.”

Android users will get the refreshed Google Account interface first, with iOS and web coming later this year.

Last September the company also refreshed Google Dashboard — to make it easier to use and better integrate it into other privacy controls.

While in October it outed a revamped Security Checkup feature, offering an overview of account security that includes personalized recommendations. The same month it also launched a free, opt-in program aimed at users who believe their accounts to be at particularly high risk of targeted online attacks.

And in January it announced new ad settings controls, also billed as boosting transparency and control. So settings related updates have been coming pretty thick and fast from the ad targeting tech giant.

The latest refresh comes at a time when many companies have been rethinking their approach to security and privacy as a result of a major update to the European Union’s data protection framework which applies to entities processing EU people’s data regardless of where that data is being crunched.

Google also announced a raft of changes to its privacy policy as a direct compliance response with GDPR back in May — saying it was making the policy clearer and easier to navigate, and adding more detail and explanations. It also updated user controls at that time, simplifying on/off switches for things like location data collection and web and app activity.

So that legal imperative to increase visibility and user controls at the core of digital empires looks to be generating uplift that’s helping to raise the settings bar across entire product suites. Which is good news for users.

As well as rethinking how Google Account settings are laid out, the updated “experience” adds some new functions intended to make it easier for people to find the settings they’re looking for too.

Notably a new search functionality for locating settings or specific info within an account — such as how to change a password. Which sounds like a really handy addition. There’s also a new dedicated support section offering help with common tasks, and answers from community experts.

And while it’s certainly welcome to see a search expert like Google adding a search feature to help people gain more control over their personal data, you do have to wonder what took it so long to come up with that idea.

Controls are only as useful as they are easy to use, of course. And offering impenetrable and/or bafflingly complex settings has, shamefully, been the historical playbook of the tech industry — as a socially engineered pathway to maximize data gathering via obfuscation (and obtain consent by confusion).

Again, the GDPR makes egregious personal data heists untenable over the long term — at least where the regulation has jurisdiction.

And while built-in opacity around technology system operation is something regulators are really only beginning to get to grips with — and much important work remains to be done to put vital guardrails in place, such as around the use of personal data for political ad targeting, for instance, or to ensure AI blackboxes can’t bake in bias — several major privacy scandals have knocked the sheen off big tech’s algorithmic pandora’s boxes in recent years. And politicians are leaning into the techlash.

So, much like all these freshly redesigned settings menus, the direction of regulatory travel looks pretty clear — even if the pace of progress is never as disruptive as the technologies themselves.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Stensul raises $7M to make email creation easier for marketers

Email marketing startup Stensul is announcing that it has raised $7 million.

Stensul spun out of founder and CEO Noah Dinkin’s previous company FanBridge. Dinkin explained via email that the startup isn’t competing with the big email service providers — in fact, it integrates with ESPs including Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Oracle Marketing Cloud, Adobe Marketing Cloud and Marketo.

Dinkin said that while ESPs include email creation tools, most companies ignore them. Instead, the marketer has to work with specialists like designers, developers and agencies: “That process often takes weeks, everyone hates it, and it is SUPER expensive.”

Stensul, meanwhile, is focused exclusively on the email creation process. Marketers at large enterprises can build the email themselves, without having to rely on anyone else, in less than 20 minutes.

“They don’t need to know how to code, they don’t need to know how to use Photoshop or have memorized the 100 page pdf of brand guidelines,” Dinkin said. “The platform controls for brand governance and rules, and also guarantees that the output will be technically perfect.”

Javelin Venture Partners led the Series A, with participation from Arthur Ventures, First Round Capital, Uncork Capital, Lowercase Capital and former ExactTarget President Scott McCorkle.

“Stensul has zeroed in on a massive problem space hiding in plain sight,” said Javelin’s Alex Gurevich in the funding announcement. “Email Marketing is used by every large company in the world, and the amount of time and money spent on email creation is far more than most people realize. The quality of top-tier customers that stensul has been able to bring on made it clear to us that they have a solution that really delivers value on day 1.”

Companies that have used Stensul include YouTube, Grubhub, BMW, Lyft and Box. Dinkin said he will continue to invest in product, but the big goal with the new funding is to grow sales and marketing.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Facebook launches Brand Collabs search engine for sponsoring creators

Facebook wants to help connect brands to creators so they can work out sponsored content and product placement deals, even if it won’t be taking a cut. Confirming our scoop from May, Facebook today launched its Brand Collabs Manager. It’s a search engine that brands can use to browse different web celebrities based on the demographics of their audience and porfolios of their past sponsored content.

Creators hoping to score sponsorship deals will be able to compile a portfolio connected to their Facebook Page that shows off how they can seamlessly work brands into their content. Brands will also be able to find them based on the Top countries where they’re popular, and audience characteristics like interests, gender, education, relationship status, life events, or home ownership.

Facebook also made a wide range of other creator monetization announcements today

  • Facebook’s Creator app that launched on iOS in November rolled out globally on Android today. The Creator app lets content makers add intros and outros to Live broadcasts, cross-post content to Twitter and Instagram, see a unified inbox of their Facebook and Instagram comments plus Messenger chats, and more ways to connect with fans.

  • Ad Breaks, or mid-video commercials, are rolling out to more US creators, starting with those that make longer and original content with loyal fans. Creators keep 55 percent of the ad revenue from the ads.
  • Patreon-Style Subscriptions are rolling out to more creators, letting them charge fans $4.99 per month for access to exclusive behind the scenes content plus a badge that highlights that they’re a patron. Facebook also offers microtransaction tipping of video creators through its new virtual currency called Stars.

  • Top Fan Badges that highlight a creator’s most engaged fans will now roll out more broadly after a strong initial reaction to tests in March.
  • Rights Manager, which lets content owners upload their videos so Facebook can fingerprint them and block others from uploading them, is now available for creators not just publishers.

Facebook also made a big announcement today about the launch of interactive video features and its first set of gameshows built with them. Creators can add quizzes, polls, gamification, and more to their videos so users can play along instead of passively viewing. Facebook’s Watch hub for original content is also expanding to a wider range of show formats and creators.

Facebook launches gameshows platform with interactive video

Why Facebook Wants Sponsored Content

Facebook needs the hottest new content from creators if it wants to prevent users’ attention from slipping to YouTube, Netflix, Twitch, and elsewhere. But to keep creators loyal, it has to make sure they’re earning money off its platform. The problem is, injecting Ad Breaks that don’t scare off viewers can be difficult, especially on shorter videos.

But Vine proved that six-seconds can be enough to convey a subtle marketing message. A startup called Niche rose to arrange deals between creators and brands who wanted a musician to make a song out of the windows and doors of their new Honda car, or a comedian to make a joke referencing Coca-Cola. Twitter eventually acquired Niche for a reported $50 million so it could earn money off Vine without having to insert traditional ads. [Disclosure: My cousin Darren Lachtman was a co-founder of Niche.]

Vine naturally attracted content makers in a way that Facebook has had some trouble with. YouTube’s sizable ad revenue shares, Patreon’s subscriptions, and Twitch’s fan tipping are pulling creators away from Facebook.

So rather than immediately try to monetize this sponsored content, Facebook is launching the Brand Collabs Manager to prove to creators that it can get them paid indirectly. Facebook already offered a way for creators to tag their content with disclosure tags about brands they were working with. But now it’s going out of its way to facilitate the deals. Fan subscriptions and tipping come from the same motive: letting creators monetize through their audience rather than the platform itself.

Spinning up these initiatives to be more than third-rate knockoffs of Niche, YouTube, Patreon, and Twitch will take some work. But hey, it’s cheaper for Facebook than paying these viral stars out of pocket.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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