Clinch CEO, Oz Etzioni, tells PSFK how he delivers a higher return on investment with personalized, responsive and social media-integrated advertising campaigns

Clinch is a creative technology agency dedicated to designing personalized and responsive advertising solutions brands and retailers. Using sophisticated data technology and an omnichannel approach, the company designs ad campaigns that feature data-driven personalized messages with real time optimization.

PSFK spoke to Oz Etzioni, CEO of Clinch, about his vision for the future of advertising, branding and social media, and how he aims to build creative technology solutions in preparation for it.

PSFK: Could you start off by telling us about some of the broader trends that you're seeing today and that you're leveraging in your work?

Oz Etzioni: Clinch in a nutshell is a dynamic, creative technology company. We help brands and agencies personalize display and video ad experiences using data to make the ads relevant and more effective on a one‑to‑one basis with their users. Obviously, at the end of the day, the idea is to generate more performance and engagement with the brand based on their KPIs.

As one of the only omnichannel solutions on the market, we're identifying five main mainstreams. One is automation and scale. Even before you talk about personalization, there's the need to be able to leverage technology to automate and have large‑scale pure campaigns in order to test, in order to address different audiences. That requires an organization or a brand to actually have the right technology in place.

The second one is omnichannel advertising. We like to call it also breaking the silence. If before, a brand had to use one provider for display, one provider for video, one provider for social, and then unify the design, unifying the data, now the trend is to look at the user who goes through all the different channels, all the different devices. It's still the same user and you have to address them with the same type of communication or sequential communication, so you need to have an omnichannel solution for your advertising efforts.

The third trend is mobile-first video experiences, obviously. The big shift to mobile device, especially on Facebook and Instagram. Even more specifically, the vertical format of Instagram stories and more.

The fourth trend, I would say, it's the personalization, or to simplify that word, talking about the relevancy of the ad content displayed to each individual user regardless of channel, regardless of device and format.

The fifth is that more consumer‑focused brands are becoming more performance‑oriented. Measuring the effectiveness and trying to understand what really works and resonates with their audiences.

You need to be performance‑oriented and focused in order to be able to generate those insights and understand how you optimize. We focus on helping brands and agencies to do all that right. We help them to automate and scale effectively. We have a unique solution for the mobile first videos.

As I said, we're right now the only omnichannel solution in the dynamic advertising ecosystem across display video in programmatic, social, in OTT. The whole idea is to use the same data with the same design and understand how the user goes through the journey and give them relevant content in the end.

Omnichannel is a hot buzzword in retail. Could you tell us a little bit more about what led you to found Clinch and the gaps or problems that you noticed in the marketplace?

Sure. My background is from the agency. I used to be the Head of Innovation and User Experience for MRM and McCann in New York, where I dealt with many, many different big brands. What I learned, even Nielsen backed it up with its recent research, which is that creative is the main factor to drive sales and engagement.

You need to be personal. You need to really show relevant content at scale to deliver true performance. Right from the get‑go when we build the company, we understood that it's not just data but using the right data merged with creative.

We need to understand who is the user, what's the preference, what they want and actually give them a great experience that is relevant to them. We build our technology from day one looking at the omnichannel approach. Not ‘let's build something for this lane, later on, build something for this one.' We build a technology that automatically can adjust to display HTML5 or video, social and OTT, all together from the same source.

We're currently the only solution for that. Slowly we build it up to encompass more verticals. We started with e‑commerce, travel and then CPG automotive. We keep a focus of helping brands connecting with their consumers.

How are you leveraging these different data streams in order to create the personalized video messaging at scale?

As I mentioned before, we build our technology. It's called Video AI. We build it from the ground up based on data streams that feed the AI engine. It does it in real‑time. The whole idea is to make a decision of what to show in each component of the ad. It could be a call to action, the product, what background, what type of video to actually show that specific user.

We try to base all that in user preferences, behavior and what we called also environment data like location, weather, and day part and more. The idea is as we go through the different channels and different devices and different times in a day, we are different type of users.

We are the same person but have a completely different behavior or need when we scroll through our social feed or we are on a desktop searching for something to buy on Amazon. Our behavior and needs are completely different and we need to address that for each individual. Our solution automatically generates and resizes the ads in all the needed sizes and all the components in the ads will change based on the user watching it.

The machine learning behind the scene actually measures and studies what works best in which user knowledge. When you do that across display, video, programmatic, social, OTT, you get a lot of insight that you can really optimize the performance.

You might have a different call to action if there is a user on a desktop versus if they're on their mobile phone?

Exactly. Not only that, the scale gives you the opportunity to test both in this plain video what call to action resonates best with what audiences at what time of the day, with what product in what format and device and let the machine optimizes it on a one‑to‑one basis.

It's not just a controversial. It could be any component like any of the product, the background color, the type of animation. Every component of the ad is completely dynamic and can be personalized.

Could you speak a little more about why personalization is important when it comes to advertising and how it helps strengthen their relationship between the consumer and the brand?

The word personalization sometimes—some people look at it like it's great and understand exactly what it means. Some think that, “OK, they know everything about me and it's gonna name my name.” They think it's a little bit creepy.

It's not that. Personalization is actually creating an experience that really sticks with you, or gets your attention. It's all about showing relevant content. We need to stand out in that crazy amount of content overload that you're experiencing.

Personalization is really a way for brands to stand out and to get the user's attention by showing great experiences, relevant content that really contributes to what the consumer needs. What the brand needs to do is to inspire with the ad, and not look like an ad. Truly, they need to have a storyline or experience behind it that gets the people to engage with the brand.

Not because the brand managed to reach them where they are. Really, because the brand provides them an experience that is cool, engaging and relevant. To say the right thing at the right moment, that's the promise of the Internet. Get to the right people at the right time with the right message. To do that, you need to be fast and efficient. If not, people will scroll you through the feed or just ignore your ad and you'll throw away your money as an advertiser.

How much more effective are these personalized and dynamic ads versus traditional advertising in driving consumers down the purchase path?

What we're seeing in terms of dynamic versus, let's call it, traditional—we see a huge increase. It could be sometimes up to 10 times the ROI, twice as much or three times as much engagement. The way we do it is we use what we call the creative BI, the business intelligence.

We really analyze all the data at hand, so our decision engine can select the most relevant callers, phone sizes, everything we talked about before, to understand what we need to show to each user. You need a robust dynamic solution to do that.

Once you have that solution and you can actually personalize the ad, like I said, the performance is like multipliers. It only makes sense when you think about it. We're already doing it in emails. We're already doing it in search. We're already doing it in many, many different aspects of advertising and in our real life anyway. We want everything to be personalized and everything to be relevant. It's time, actually, to apply that realization into advertising. It only makes sense.

How does Clinch balance that desire for personalization with growing consumer concerns over data privacy?

At Clinch, we don't use any personal data. We don't really try to understand who is the individual. The users are completely anonymous. We analyze their behavior, their preferences, in order to build an anonymous profile and in order to serve them better content that resonates with them.

We have no interest who they are, demographic, income, stuff like that. It's not something that we look at and not something that we even keep. This is usually data that can comes from the media side, for better serving or for better understanding the audiences. It's not something that we keep, or use, or attach to any specific individual.

As well, we are members of the NAI. Users can always opt out through our ads, click the right top icon and ask us to delete their anonymous profile. They have full control of what we collect and what we don't collect. Again, it's all anonymous information just to analyze user behavior.

You recently launched a solution that lets brands create personalized Instagram stories. Could you talk a little bit about what makes Instagram such a good platform for connecting brands to consumers?

Instagram story is a great example for an ad that doesn't feel like an ad when done correctly. I really hope, with the explosion of inventory, that people won't take advantage of that and start running regular or ads that are not as good experience as they should be.

We see Instagram story as a really great opportunity for brands to deliver a full‑screen message with a lot of interactivity. It's really a way to do some storytelling. You have the time. You have the real estate. We can really do amazing things with the swipe‑ups and go-between screens.

Right now, by the way, we are the only solution on the market to create dynamic, personalized Instagram stories. Recently, we actually did the first campaign ever of personalized Instagram stories. We generated about 30 times retail and ads spent for the brand compared to what they did before with a generic video ad. It was a great success.

I think that's a proof of when you actually build a great experience that doesn't feel like an ad that try to push you to click. It gives you an engagement and a relevant experience. You get two things. One, eventually, people will either click or engage with the ad and end up doing whatever action you want them to do.

The second, you're really building your brand equity. That's something very important, especially in Instagram and Facebook and especially as more and more brands will start delivering those Instagram and stories experiences, in general.

Do any examples come to mind of a brand that really gets it right with Instagram stories?

Travel is doing it great. Air Canada, North Face are doing an amazing job. We have some very, very nice clients that are really eager to do some amazing stuff and we're strategizing with them exactly how to do this and stand out with an amazing experience and not just another video.

Content is really important—to invest in your video content and to invest in not just creating one but multiple types of content. Then you can actually adjust to different audiences and A/B test. That's crucial, especially when you look at video ads.

Why do you think the video is so popular with consumers today?

It really is a matter of attention‑grabbing and format, and pulling the user into looking at the content. An image is great but you can actually scan it real fast and they deliver the message. Video pulls you in because of the animation, because of the movement, because of the sound, because of everything. Just look at the numbers by Facebook and Instagram. Video is crushing static.

How do you see the ad tech industry changing over the next five years?

There's going to be a lot of consolidation and it's already in motion. A few things contribute to that. First of all, transparency and attribution models. Brands are smarter today. They want to know where the money goes. They want to know where their ads are showing.

They want to know exactly everything. They want full transparency. They have all the right for it. They want to measure their attribution—what really contributes in that long journey of an ad until they reach the consumer? What really affected and what really generated the effectiveness?

Before we had a lot of different companies and similarly, technology solutions, each contributed and had a specific expertise. Now, just like we talked before about omnichannels, you suddenly realize that you need to slowly build a full turnkey solution. You need everything to work seamlessly.

Too many moving components for the brand to manage all that and they need some consolidation from their providers. The market understands that and that's something that happens. It's very obvious what is going on with that from the top of the advertising economy all the way down.

We'll see a lot of consolidation—DSPs, media companies, technology solutions. Video will continue to crush imagery. Instagram will become more and more powerful in driving performance. Stories—what we like to call effective mobile‑first videos—I think that's going to be almost like a default ad format.

If a brand is not invested in mobile‑first video in scale, they should take a really good look at the road map. They're probably aiming in the wrong direction.

What are Clinch's plans for the future?

Part of our plan is really to commercialize as much as we can our product in terms of self‑service, to an extent, and really continue in that direction of omnichannel. Right now, we are the only one in the market but you never know who else is planning to do what. We're building our insight in machine learning, in AI, in that direction to actually be the leaders in providing a full turnkey solution for omnichannel.

We don't get involved with the media. I don't know if I mentioned at the beginning, but we are media‑agnostic. We can work with every DSP, every media setup that a brand has, which is a huge advantage. We plug‑and‑play into any container or video setup they have. We're eager to continue in that direction, but to actually build on our expertise on the omnichannel, focusing on creative experiences.

The more consolidation that will be in the market, it's going to be much better for us and much easier for us to actually be integrated into all those consolidated entities.

Using Clinch's targeted advertising is just one way that retailers are marrying content with commerce to drive sales—for more strategies, see PSFK's report The Content and Commerce debrief.