BY LESLIE ANNE JONES
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Two decades ago Cohen built the Houston Chronicle’s first website and developed the paper’s digital strategy. At the paper, Cohen noted that whenever they did reader surveys, subscribers always ranked the paper-edition advertisements among the top three things they most appreciated. Those ads were useful. They let people know when sales were happening.
But somehow the utility and appeal of print ads doesn’t translate easily into the digital space. And what works on a highway billboard can seem annoying and irrelevant when directly translated to a website masthead.
“There’s no reason at all I shouldn’t be seeing things that are interesting to me,” Cohen said of web ads. “I buy things all the time.”
With the rise of social media, companies are placing more emphasis on delivering substantive value in their digital communication. This is happening alongside a long-term trend toward greater authenticity and ‘real’ interaction between brand and customer. The result of these two trends is that businesses are creating more articles, blogs and videos that are entertaining and/or informational, often entirely sans sales pitch.
“It’s not, ‘Buy, buy, buy right now.’ It’s about creating a relationship with the brand.” Cohen said.
But there’s a pipeline problem. Once that corporate content is created – how to get it to people beyond those visiting the company’s website? That’s where Matt Cohen’s idea for OneSpot comes into play: Put ads for corporate content into traditional web ad spaces, but make the placement decision based on an advanced understanding of the intended individual.
OneSpot’s proprietary technology helps companies build their brand’s audience by using advanced, multi-level audience targeting to improve media placement decisions.
OneSpot’s system has access to about 94 percent of the American Internet audience, chief marketing officer Adam Weinroth explained. The company analyzes a wide range of user behavior and leverages that data using its technology, which is based on machine learning and predictive modeling, to determine when a certain person should see a certain ad. So someone who is perusing recipe sites might see a link to a cooking article produced by Whole Foods (one of OneSpot’s clients) in the recipe site’s ad space.
“A lot of money goes into content creation,” Cohen said. “What we have is a value proposition: take a fraction of that budget to drive a multiple of the results companies are already seeing.” It’s a way to make the whole online publishing ecosystem work better, he says: Consumers get content that’s relevant to them, advertisers reach the right people, and publishers get money for ads that are more than just a necessary annoyance.
Programmatic advertising and real-time bidding on digital ad space has built up over the last five years. Once that infrastructure was cemented, Cohen’s idea coalesced and he founded OneSpot in early 2012. Previously, he’d been a partner at Austin venture capital firm G-51 Capital.The first year was mainly spent building the software and enrolling a few beta customers. It was clear to Cohen he needed to bring on someone with marketing experience and connections to the advertising world. In February 2013, Steve Sachs came on as CEO.
Formerly an executive vice president at Time Inc., Sachs used to oversee the Real Simple, Cooking Light and Southern Living brands. Since he became CEO, OneSpot has worked to expand its offerings and clients. Many of its current clients come from the food, health and beauty sectors. Since all of these categories routinely roll out new products, they also tend to produce a lot of brand-related content for their markets. Companies that produce a lot of branded content have the most to potentially gain from using OneSpot.
In November 2013, OneSpot held a series A and raised $5 million led by Mohr Davidow Ventures, a leading Silicon Valley VC firm investing in the digital marketing space.
Adtech is a nascent addition to the Texas startup scene. “We’re bringing a piece of New York to Austin,” Sachs said. Cohen and Sachs are excited to be leading local development of the sector.
The company has a sales presence in Chicago and New York. Engineering and customer care is based in Austin. Over the next year, Sachs and Cohen plan to continue building their client roster and improving the capabilities of their software. In late August, OneSpot unveiled its new Facebook sequencing capabilities. The company can now use Facebook’s real-time ad exchange to place its clients’ content into Facebook users’ news feeds.