Q&A with Kasper Skou, CEO and Co-Founder of Semasio

12. November 2020

30-second summary:

  • Semasio CEO Kasper Skou, says it’s high time brands look at Facebook and others through their own lens and take back control of their data.
  • According to Kasper, relying on third parties for data management introduces a competitive disadvantage, and for brands to protect and capitalize on their data, they need to adopt technology wholly tailored to their specific business needs.
  • To regain trust, the walled gardens must participate in the education of modern consumers so they really understand their data as a currency, which should be carefully, deliberately and equitably exchanged in return for services.
  • A brand exercising true data-driven differentiation is intelligently absorbing, processing, synthesizing and acting on data to achieve a sophisticated understanding of itself and its environment, thus enabling it not only to adapt to but also change itself and its environment in ways which are advantageous to it.
  • The pandemic accelerated the development of advanced forms of TV, tremendously making this a very potent digital marketing channel. Everyone is talking about the death of the third-party cookie as the end of user-level targeting, but the emergence of Project Rearc will continue to make user-level targeting possible even after 2021.

Netflix’s recent documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’ has been the topic of conversation, shedding light on the usage of consumer data — but the elephant in the room is how Facebook uses brand data.

Facebook, Google and Amazon claim brand data entered into their databases is anonymized before it’s used, but this simply isn’t possible in supervised machine learning. By hooking brands and selling their data, these companies rid them of their most valuable data, control, transparency and ownership.

We spoke to Kasper Skou, CEO and co-founder at data-driven targeting company Semasio, who believes it’s high time brands look at Facebook and others through their own lens and take back control of their data.

According to Kasper, relying on third parties for data management introduces a competitive disadvantage, and for brands to protect and capitalize on their data, they need to adopt technology wholly tailored to their specific business needs.

Here is a full round up of our chat with him:

Q) The Social Dilemma documentary focuses on the importance of consumer data and privacy. But are brands aware of how big companies use their brand data?

The old adage for the B2C internet goes: “If the product is free, you are the product.” If we are to reinvent that for B2B, it might go a little something like this: “If the product is really convenient to use and only requires you to constantly upload your CRM database in order to deliver good results, then you are the product.”

I do believe the brands have some idea, but the good campaign results delivered by the walled gardens turn this problem into the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

Still, once the open internet starts showing similar capabilities, I think we will see a seismic shift in budgets toward open solutions, which provide clear transparency and ownership of data-driven marketing assets to the brands. They will reward those who make them smarter every time they interact.

Q) Big corporations like Facebook, Google and Amazon hook brands and sell their data just like with consumers, so how can they take back control of their data?

Brands need to start talking internally about the elephant in the room and taking the importance of being data-driven for sustainable, competitive advantage seriously.

That needs to manifest in action, like transitioning budget to open internet players and starting to build internal capabilities to create a foundation for true data-driven differentiation.

Q) New documentaries like The Social Dilemma and spotlight of some high-profile data scandals have diminished customer’s trust. What tips can you give companies to win back the customer’s trust?

I think modern consumers are starting to realize the inequitable exchange ‘forced’ by walled gardens: Give us all of your data to do with and combine as we see fit, and you’ll get certain services for free.

It is the same principle as with the brands: Keep them in the dark so they keep coming back and don’t develop independence. That breeds resentment over time with brands and consumers alike.

To regain trust, the walled gardens must participate in the education of modern consumers so they really understand their data as a currency, which should be carefully, deliberately and equitably exchanged in return for services.

In addition, they should propose self-regulatory frameworks on the use of data and algorithms to curb destructive practices like app addiction and ‘opinion engineering.’

Q) How are brands that rely on third parties for data management introducing a competitive disadvantage? Where should they look for alternatives that effectively meet their needs?

Any brand can turn to walled gardens and use their simple, powerful tools to drive short-term business results, which means the approach inherently brings no differentiation.

A brand exercising true data-driven differentiation is intelligently absorbing, processing, synthesizing and acting on data to achieve a sophisticated understanding of itself and its environment, thus enabling it not only to adapt to but also change itself and its environment in ways which are advantageous to it.

There are partners in the ecosystem focused on helping brands do this, but ultimately the brand needs to build its own ‘intelligence unit’ to truly differentiate.

What I believe will greatly support these efforts is the emergence of Project Rearc as a strong contender for user-level targetability post-third-party cookie and federated identity or data clean rooms as new forms of privacy-safe modalities for data interoperability without actual exchange.

Q) In an increasingly privacy-focused world, can brands maintain data quality, transparency and ownership? Do they want to do so equally for each? 

What brands need to take more seriously is the privacy of their data – not just that of consumers. As for the ability to maximize quality, transparency and ownership simultaneously, I absolutely believe so for the dual reasons of Project Rearc and federated identity or data clean rooms.

Also, brand first-party data usually has consent and permissions connected to it, which are actually collected by the brand, which means it has a lot of control over the collection process.

Q) What steps does Semasio take to ensure transparency and protection of their customers’ data?

From time Semasio was founded a decade ago, it has been an unwavering value of ours that strong, strategic and sustainable client relationships are built on constantly making the client wiser.

For that reason, Semasio have always guaranteed that full control, transparency and ownership of any data uploaded to and produced on the platform rests unequivocally with the client. The Semasio platform is self-service – enabling clients and their partners to create unique targeting solutions which they own and can deploy anywhere they want.

Additionally, Semasio was founded in Germany and as such ‘grew up’ under some of the strictest privacy legislation in the EU and the world. This means that privacy compliance and privacy by design have been fundamental disciplines from inception.

Q) What lessons must brands learn about targeting customers in this post pandemic world?

I think the most important lesson is not to fall back to old habits out of convenience. The world has fundamentally changed, which means brands must really think hard about what they want to be to post-pandemic consumers.

Times of great change are either a major threat or a potent opportunity based on your ability to adapt to the ‘new normal.’ Once a brand is clear about what it wants to be to consumers post-pandemic, it needs to start thinking about the best ways to reach them with this new message.

The pandemic accelerated the development of advanced forms of TV, tremendously making this a very potent digital marketing channel. Everyone is talking about the death of the third-party cookie as the end of user-level targeting, but the emergence of Project Rearc will continue to make user-level targeting possible even after 2021.

Contextual targeting will increase in importance, but not in the form we know it today. Rather, its ascendance will spur a new wave of innovation in this discipline.

Q) What makes contextual targeting so much more effective than using first or second party data?

Contextual targeting is usually not more effective than using first or second-party data. It is, however, a lot less complicated to use from a privacy standpoint, as it does not leverage user-level data.

It has the added benefit that – if used right – it can identify users in the right state of mind based on the content they’re consuming at the moment marketing messaging happens.

Q) What platforms or media do you think are most effective right now, to target customers on?

Advanced forms of TV and digital motion picture formats, targeted display, search and social.

For the avoidance of doubt: I do not question the efficacy of the walled garden – I question their model of keeping the client as ignorant as possible. We must demand that walled gardens open up to external targeting technologies instead of bundling targeting and media to keep the client in the dark.

Q) What is the one innovation in targeting and insight solutions that excites you the most?

Federated identity or data clean rooms – it’s a very innovative approach to granular data interoperability with data exchange. Semasio created a similar concept in 2012, which we called Data in Escrow, but the new generation is more privacy-compliant through advanced, mathematical methods.

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