DMEXCO 2020: Pandemic Readership, What it Will Take to Move Forward, and a Nod to Machiavelli

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Each year, DMEXCO is unlike any other past versions of itself, bringing forth new topics and ideas, new speakers, and many new and valuable insights. This year, however, DMEXCO was really different than it has been in the past. For the first time ever, the event went virtual.

In lieu of the usual seats on stage, Taboola’s Founder & CEO, Adam Singolda, and the CEO of customer lifecycle management marketing company Zeta Global, David A. Steinberg, talked with one another from a bit of a different setting—their own living rooms.

Throughout their talk, real-life friends Singolda and Steinberg navigate the changing business trends they’ve seen throughout the year—everything from the all-too-familiar feeling of how surreal it is to be conducting interviews via Zoom, the human and business challenges of the past several months, to what data-driven trends the future may hold, and more in between.

The Switch to Working (and Living) at Home

To kick off their conversation, Singolda asks Steinberg how Zeta Global’s employees have been coping with working from home since March 15th, similar to Taboola’s timeline.

Steinberg looks at both the positives that have come with the transition, like more family time and quickly-adapted business operations, as well as the difficult aspects, like equipping all employees with the technology they need to work and some of the inevitable things that are missed when co-workers can’t gather together in person.

“What we’re missing out on is innovation for the future. It’s harder to innovate when you are A.) In a crisis, and B.) Not together to have those thoughts.”

Singolda, feels similar, and places some of Taboola’s continued cohesion and productivity on weekly all-hands meetings that bring together 1400 employees in 18 countries to talk about anything and everything impacting themselves and the business. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Singolda, either.

“Personally, what I miss the most is serendipity and stumbling upon situations—a great contact you meet, or an event you happened to be invited to. So much business growth and relationships come from that. It’s so much harder over Zoom.”

This was actually how Steinberg and Singolda met, Steinberg reminisced:

“A mutual friend introduced us. We met at my office for an hour where I tell you I’m going on a corporate event two days later, and ask if you will join us. You said yes and there we were!”

The two laugh and, for a moment, you get a real-time glimpse into the incredibly relatable experience of simply missing a friend.

“People miss people the most,” says Singolda. “We’ve found ways to be productive, but the human touch is the biggest gap.”

A Look Back at Data

To understand the impact the pandemic has had beyond just separating teams and people across the globe, Singolda shared some readership data from Taboola’s network.

“They say in healthcare that what has now taken six months would have once taken 20 years. We’re seeing this with brick & mortar businesses going online. It would’ve taken them longer to consider digital channels, but we’ve seen that growing significantly these days. In many ways, what we saw started with user curiosity—what people are reading online. We reached out to brick & mortars, and vice versa, and it became a massive success.”

Singolda goes on to share that the gardening & plumbing verticals saw a 245% increase in readership during the first few months of the pandemic. This included everything from people reading about snaking their own toilets, to growing a vegetable garden at home, and everything in between.

Another staggering but relatable data point? Singolda shares that pet stores saw a 50% increase in readership, specifically due to an increase in adoptions and fostering.

The logic here is clear, with people spending more time at home and perhaps seeking companionship, and Singolda goes on to ask “Is Netflix content for pets next?”

Steinberg quips immediately that the two are in agreement, something that’s clear in the way the two CEOs banter.

“We see this as a 5-10 year acceleration of digital. I talk about 2020 as 1918 + 1929 + 1968 = 2020. The great flu pandemic, the crash of 1929, the race riots of 1968. It all came together this year. That has translated into what’s happening in digital.”

Steinberg goes on to explain how Zeta Global has seen cost-per-click and CPM rates go down because content is exploding at such an incredible rate that, even as advertising increases, it’s not keeping up with.

A Look Forward at Data

With March-August’s data in mind, Steinberg and Singolda begin to share the data that both of their companies have been compiling as they look ahead to what’s next. Steinberg starts off by sharing:

“Particular upticks in September in the Zeta Opportunity Explorer are in the industries that were hit the hardest in Q2. The biggest upticks are in travel, hospitality, and entertainment. The next biggest are in automotive and financial services.”

Singolda zeroes in on travel, asking Steinberg to tell him more.

“We see Q4 travel projections are going to go down by about 33% which, quite frankly,” Steinberg explains, “is up 100% from Q2.”

Steinberg also shares insights into a vastly different outlook for local travel in comparison to its further counterpart.

“We’re seeing growth and travel again, but the big difference is that we’re seeing that travel within 50 miles of people’s homes will be up by 88% and travel where people go over 100 miles away will be down over 70%.”

Singolda agrees, noting that while Taboola has seen readership around travel as a category decrease by 22%, there is a huge surge in certain topics such as “local travel,” “beaches,” and “national parks.”

Thinking on a Global Scale

The conversation moves global when Singolda asks Steinberg, “remind me how many offices you guys have around the world?”

Steinberg answers that they have 26 on four different continents, and that they, too, have turned to all-hands meetings to try and bridge global gaps.

When Singolda asks Steinberg for his take on how different markets globally have been impacted in different ways this year, Steinberg says:

“We look at intent as the most important metric for us. We were looking at what geographies are the most optimistic and which are the least based on what’s going on right now.”

For Zeta Global, this has turned out to show that among the most optimistic locations are China, India, and the U.S. Less optimistic are Europe and Japan.

“I’m not saying people in Europe and Japan are pessimistic, just less optimistic,” Steinberg is quick to add. “But as we note today, 66% of the global GDP is based on consumer spending, and consumer spending is largely driven by whether people are optimistic or pessimistic.”

A Look at the Long Term

With the time left on their interview wrapping up, Singolda poses a forward-looking question for Steinberg and asks him, “What’s your opinion about the long-term impact on small and large businesses? What should people do differently this year for Q4 compared to last?”

Steinberg notes that this interview is likely to end similarly to how it started—remarking on the massive acceleration to digital.

“Looking at client data was once an advanced modeling capability, but today it’s table stakes. If you don’t understand client data to help bring in new customers, then you’re not focusing on making your business successful.”

Steinberg shares that for smaller businesses, “it’s all about understanding your data and finding like-minded people on digital who are looking for your product.”

For larger companies, it’s more so about “the ability to move from linear TV marketing to targeted TV marketing. We saw a 179% increase in viewership of CTV in the last 3 months. That’s not going away.”

Switching gears to the holiday season specifically, Steinberg notes that they think the average consumer will spend between $670-$758 which will be, as he says, “a tough trend for companies to contend with.”

“If you’re a small or large business, you need to be there investing in platforms like Taboola and partnering with companies like Zeta to move you in a way that makes sure you’re in front of customers.”

Parting With a Positive

Ever the pair of optimists, Singolda and Steinberg bring the conversation back to the topic of optimism.

“There are two types of companies in 2020,” Singolda explains. “Those who hope this will end, and those who have evolved to this new world that may be with us—or a part of it will be with us—forever.”

Singolda also predicts that both large and small companies will “double down on performance and data.” Steinberg agrees, and references Machiavelli’s famous saying: “Never waste a crisis.”

“At the end of the day, a crisis is the single biggest opportunity you have to effectuate change. Any company that’s utilizing that will come out of this substantially stronger. I’m optimistic about the future of companies who understand, invest, and focus on data.”

Singolda agrees, and before they sign off, takes a moment to recognize that, for the record:

“David and I would have loved to fly to Germany and do this on stage.”

So, here’s to the optimism that next year, they will.

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