26. Manu Mathew – raising the Visual IQ of ads

Manu was the co-founder and CEO of Visual IQ from 2006 to its sale to Nielsen in 2017. Visual IQ was a pioneer and dominant player in the space of multi-touch attribution (MTA), which is the application of rules and complex models to impression-level data to determine which elements of a campaign contributed how much to the desired outcome.

In a typical scenario, a programmatic advertiser would give a platform such as Visual IQ access to its ad server log files, and the platform would ingest data around each impression (publisher, size, version, time) as well as data about the desired goals or KPIs (sale, signup, click). This data was combined at the browser-level using third-party cookies as the unifying ID, and the model would estimate the impact of the different ad placements on the outcome. Ideally, the advertiser could then use this analysis to shift tactics, campaigns, publishers and timing to improve their return on ad spend (ROAS).

Needless to say, cookie deprecation and tools like ad blockers change the value of any MTA platform today, but Visual IQ was undoubtedly an innovator. Founded by Manu and Anto Chittilappilly in Anto’s kitchen in the Greater Boston area, Visual IQ was inspired by Manu’s earlier work at the digital agency Carat, which acquired his database marketing startup Vizium in 2002.

Spurred by a memory of using an Oracle BI tool to slice data from his earlier career as a technology consultant, Manu decided to build a better data visualization tool for marketers — until, he tells Marty and Jill in this high-IQ episode, he realized that “nobody wants to pay for that” … and moved on to providing higher-order computational “insights.”

“Right from the beginning,” he says, “we went for the hard problem.” Namely: Using machine-learning to determine the fractional attribution for different elements of the campaign. And Manu admits he was surprised to learn that “marketers want control over how they interpret their data,” so Visual IQ added some less accurate but easier-to-explain rules-based levers “about five or six years” after launch.

Those of us on the circuit in the mid-2010’s remember what a darling MTA was in its moment, and the frenzy culminated in the one-two acquisitions of competitors Adometry and Convertro (by Google and AOL, respectively) on the exact same day of May 6, 2014. Told about the sale(s) at a conference, Manu admits he thought: “This should make for an interesting board meeting.”

Perennially courted over the years by marketing clouds and others, Visual IQ finally agreed to be acquired by Nielsen in 2017 and Manu left in 2018. Today he heads up Ad-Lib.io, which provides tools for creatives and business teams to collaborate on assets for dynamic campaigns. He still lives and works in Boston.

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