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IN THE NEWS - The Makegood - Ian Woolley on Real Time Understanding

October 3, 2013

This interview first appeared in US digital marketing blog The Makegood under the title “VisualDNA’s Ian Woolley on Real Time Understanding”

Ian Woolley is Chief Commercial Officer at VisualDNA, an audience insights company with patented technology helping businesses understand people online. The company is headquartered in Shoreditch, London and Ian joined the team just a few months ago. The Makegood recently spoke with Ian about VisualDNA’s products and vision.

The Makegood: Congratulations on the launch of Real Time Understanding (RTU). Could you explain how this technology works to profile visitors based off their emotions?

It starts with our patented visual personality quizzes. From these, we can create incredibly rich and accurate personality profiles very quickly.  They’re rich because the combination of images a person picks can be far more insightful than a list of options and require less interpretation than a multiple-choice of words, and they’re accurate because people are incentivized only by wanting to know more about themselves – we find this makes the answers genuine.

From here we use statistical analysis to put people into clearly-defined groups and behavioral inference to scale those groups into what we call Emotive Segments – anonymized groups used for targeted advertising.

Real Time Understanding profiles a website’s audience in real time, is viewed through the WHYanalytics platform and gives the publisher a deeper understanding of their users by demographic, intent, brand preference and personality type.

The Makegood: This is a very novel idea for marketing. What inspired you to create this technology and launch VisualDNA? How do you see it impacting digital advertising?

It was the other way round, really. Our founder Alex Willcock started VisualDNA because he saw the potential in using visual quizzes to understand people and improve their experience of the internet. If people have the means to communicate their intentions online in a way that’s useful for businesses then the benefits to both parties are clear.

Since then we’ve built a successful business around targeted advertising, and see a huge opportunity in emotive segments. It’s a nascent market at the moment but two big trends are in our favor; first, we know brands already use emotive characteristics to define their customers – the appetite is there to move beyond demographics in targeted advertising and second; the wider market for data is growing as programmatic ad buying platforms get more sophisticated and make it easier to use, publishers are recognizing that programmatic is not a threat to their existing revenues and more brand campaigns are becoming automated.

This all adds up to a bigger data market that we’re ready to capitalize on.

The Makegood: “Big data” is a buzzword today. I see you are also launching WHYanalytics. Can you explain what type of data will come from this and how it will benefit both marketers and content creators.

WHYanalytics essentially visualizes a publisher’s audience using our Segments, thereby revealing personality traits with Emotive Segments – as well as demographic, intent and brand preferences.

We’ll analyze their traffic, benchmark it against our database, and play that back to them – all in real time. To choose a segment at random, in any given online population you’d expect a certain proportion of “Creative Contemplators”. We will assess how that segment typically behaves online. We then look at the proportion of users on the publisher’s site exhibiting those characteristics – that’s where the benchmarking takes place. If the size of that group is well over average (say four times as large as you’d expect) then WHYanalytics will tell you that.

The upshot is that you as a publisher now know that your audience comprises a particularly high number of  “Creative Contemplators” than the norm – valuable insight when deciding what to put on that page, whether it’s an ad, product or editorial.

The Makegood: Many users express concern with privacy invasion when it comes to content personalization. How do you see companies such as Visual DNA handling this as Artificial Intelligence programs advance?

Our approach is to be transparent about what data we collect and how we use it, and we look to create value for people in the process. It’s worth emphasizing that the data we collect stays with us and is not sold to anyone else: the segments we create are completely anonymized.

On the wider issue of data ownership, we think people would be better served if they owned their own data and could use it in a way that creates value for them.

Making that happen remains a long-term goal for VisualDNA but neither the technology or the market is ready just yet.

The Makegood: Real Time Understanding seems to be a breakthrough technology with a lot of potential. What challenges do you see it facing as it progresses?

In the short-term our challenge is to help the market understand the benefits of data, and specifically the segments that we create out of it. Online advertising is a complicated industry and sometimes even those involved with using data on a day-to-day basis struggle to use it effectively – and on top of that the market is moving so fast.

So the first step for us is making the market aware that there’s now high-quality Emotive Segments available, and helping those in the market for data to use it to make their campaigns more effective. WHYanayltics is a great way to visualize an audience in terms of our segmentation, and we have plans to add new features in coming months that will make that information more actionable and measurable.

But we know that everyone in the entire marketing value chain wants to understand people better online – the building blocks are now in place and we’re really excited about the potential.

The Makegood: Thank you, Ian.

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