Interviews

MarTech Interview with Jeff Ragovin, CEO of Fyllo|Semasio

Explore Jeff Ragovin's journey & insights on industry trends, incl. third-party cookie phase-outs & contextual targeting in digital marketing.
MarTech Interview

1.Jeff, Could you please share insights from your professional journey and shed light on how you ascended to your current role as Fyllo|Semasio CEO?

a.Before taking on the role of President and now CEO at Fyllo|Semasio, I’m likely best recognized for my role as a co-founder at Buddy Media. At Buddy Media, we pioneered the world’s largest enterprise social marketing platform, ultimately achieving a remarkable milestone when we successfully sold the company to Salesforce for $745 million in 2012.

2.Given Fyllo|Semasio’s survey indicating varied preparedness levels for the third-party cookie phase-out, how might the differing perspectives between C-suite leaders and junior employees impact the industry’s adaptation to new targeting solutions?

a.With the phasing out of third-party cookies and increasing concerns about privacy, marketers are likely to focus more on privacy-centric marketing strategies where the C-suite needs to ensure that growth remains on-track while staying on the “right side” of regulations. Both groups will be open to technologies and approaches that respect user privacy while still delivering personalized and relevant content, but junior employees may not be as familiar with contextual due to industry over-reliance on cookies for so long. I think there will be a bit of an industry “learning curve” as everyone becomes familiar with the way ads placed based on the content of the web page, rather than individual user behavior, has evolved. By allowing marketers to reach audiences based on the context and meaning of the content consumed, rather than relying on user-specific tracking, I think brands and agencies alike will embrace new ways of targeting (like contextual). And, as more people become familiar with and understand new capabilities and accuracy, adoption will increase. For now, that means contextual targeting is king.

3.The survey reveals CEOs and C-suite executives are confident in targeting solutions without cookies. What factors contribute to this confidence, and how is Fyllo|Semasio leveraging these insights?

a.I think most of the confidence is driven by a few key factors. Advanced technology adoption within AdTech, particularly AI and machine learning, offers sophisticated alternatives for personalized marketing that don’t rely on cookies – like contextual targeting that is semantically based. In addition, a robust first-party data strategy ensures a more reliable and privacy-compliant foundation for targeting. Finally, a proactive stance on regulatory compliance with privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA underlines a commitment to ethical marketing practices. Together, these elements contribute to a resilient approach towards effective targeting, which is exactly why we embrace a cookie-free future with our advanced semantic targeting and investments in AI-driven contextual targeting – so we ensure our clients are ready for anything in the absence of third-party cookies.

4.Beyond the scope of Fyllo|Semasio, what broader industry trends do you foresee shaping the future of digital marketing, especially in the context of evolving privacy standards?

a.I can’t reiterate enough the importance of increasing concerns about privacy and the shifting focus to more privacy-centric marketing strategies – especially contextual targeting. Contextual targeting, where ads are placed based on the content of the web page rather than individual user behavior, will continue to gain prominence. While contextual targeting isn’t new, advances in AI and the use of semantic understanding allow marketers to reach audiences based on the context of the content they are consuming, rather than relying on user-specific tracking. I think we will see AdTech continuing to evolve those capabilities.

Similarly, First-Party Data Utilization will rise in popularity even more than it already has. Many big companies have still not adopted proper first-party data collection. It will be paramount for them to focus on this for the future. Transparency with consumers over how and why data is used–and the benefit to the consumer–will be critical to data collection practices that help businesses embrace the paradigm of a privacy-first world.

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5.With increased confidence in contextual targeting due to AI advances, how is Fyllo|Semasio incorporating AI to enhance the effectiveness of its contextual targeting solutions?

a.We are using AI within our advanced semantic understanding, to better understand the sentiment of a page and to associate it with higher confidence to categories of the IAB v3 taxonomy. As another example, we created a GenAI LLM (language learning model) interface to our semantic engine for our internal team to enable different kinds of interactions with our platform. We believe in the power of AI to assist, but that there should be human intervention in the process.

6.Anticipating an increase in marketing budgets by over 80% of respondents, what industry trends or shifts drive this optimism, and how does Fyllo|Semasio plans to capitalize on these opportunities?

a.I think any optimism and potential increase in marketing budgets is fueled by several key industry trends: The acceleration of digital transformation – in part fueled by cookie deprecation – is at the forefront, driving businesses to allocate enough resources to digital marketing strategies to test and validate post-cookie strategies. Moreover, the landscape is increasingly shaped by the need to comply with stricter privacy regulations globally. Companies must invest in new marketing approaches that prioritize user privacy and data compliance, adapting to regulatory demands while striving to maintain consumer trust and engagement. Together, these trends underscore a strategic pivot towards more integrated, technology-driven marketing strategies and that’s where we are focused: helping clients realize their full data potential. Our experience lies at the intersection of data, semantic technology, AI and real-time programmatic targeting, helping us deliver a suite of solutions that enables marketers to effectively reach consumers now and in the future.

7.For marketers navigating the evolving digital landscape, what advice, based on your experience, would you offer to enhance their adaptability and success in the ever-changing digital marketing terrain?

a.Success in digital marketing hinges on adaptability and innovation. Leveraging data analytics for deep consumer insights is crucial for strategic marketing optimization. Emphasizing a consumer-centric approach with personalized content enhances engagement and conversions. Experimenting with new platforms and privacy-conscious strategies like contextual targeting ensures relevance. Ultimately, marketers need to be agile to adapt to market shifts and must prioritize brand safety and ethics to preserve trust. Staying consumer-focused and data-driven enables effective navigation of digital marketing’s evolving landscape.

8.Striking a balance between innovation and privacy is crucial. From your perspective, how can companies successfully navigate this balance while delivering cutting-edge solutions in the digital marketing space?

a.In response to cookie deprecation, the industry has seen a surge in the development of alternative IDs. These IDs are based on first-party data like email addresses, which are hashed for privacy and used for tracking and targeting. While they offer a way forward, their effectiveness is contingent on user consent and the scale of data collection. They also raise new privacy concerns and are subject to the same regulatory scrutiny as cookies.

Advertisers should not view the phase-out of cookies as a crisis but as an opportunity to innovate and embrace more privacy-conscious methods. This includes investing in first-party data strategies, exploring contextual advertising, and leveraging machine learning for predictive analytics.

Collaboration within the industry will be essential. Shared data models and universal standards can help mitigate the impact of cookie deprecation. Additionally, advertisers need to be transparent with users about data usage and privacy, which can build trust and potentially lead to better data quality.

9.Contextual targeting enhances brand safety. Could you elaborate on how Fyllo|Semasio’s approach provides advertisers with more control over where their ads appear, ensuring alignment with brand values?
a.By leveraging Natural Language Processing (NLP) in our technology, we give advertisers unmatched control over ad placements, aligning perfectly with brand values. Our method goes beyond simple keyword matching to analyze web content deeply, understanding the context of terms and phrases. This enables advertisers to define Semantic Topics that align or conflict with their brand, using terms, phrases, and URLs to avoid undesired themes. Our platform dynamically updates these topics, ensuring ads consistently appear in brand-safe, contextually relevant environments. This approach not only protects brand integrity but also enhances audience connection through contextually suitable ad placements.

10.As we wrap up, could you please offer advice for readers navigating the evolving digital marketing terrain?
First-Party Data Utilization: Many big companies have still not adopted proper first-party data collection. It will be paramount for them to focus on this for the future.
Build Direct Relationships Now: As third-party cookies phase out, companies will prioritize establishing direct relationships with their customers. This involves creating touchpoints and interactions that encourage users to willingly share their information. This might be through loyalty programs, newsletters, exclusive content, or other value-added services.
Data Accuracy and Reliability: Unlike third-party data, which may be obtained from various sources and can be less accurate, first-party data is collected directly from users. This enhances the accuracy and reliability of the information, allowing for better-informed decision making in marketing efforts.
Compliance with Privacy Regulations: With privacy concerns on the rise and the implementation of regulations like GDPR and CCPA, relying on first-party data ensures better compliance. Since users willingly provide this data and have more control over how it’s used, companies are less likely to run afoul of privacy regulations.
Mitigating the Impact of Cookie Deprecation: With major browsers phasing out support for third-party cookies, companies that heavily relied on these tracking mechanisms will need to pivot. Investing in first-party data allows for a smoother transition, ensuring that businesses can continue to deliver personalized experiences and targeted advertising.

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Jeff Ragovin, CEO of Fyllo|Semasio

Jeff Ragovin is a tech pioneer and industry veteran known for his ability to lead and scale technology platforms. As co-founder of Buddy Media, he played a crucial role in growing the company from a startup to the world's largest enterprise social marketing software, which was acquired by Salesforce for $745M. Jeff now serves as CEO at Fyllo | Semasio, where he delivers advanced data, media, and compliance targeting solutions for traditional brands and highly regulated industries. Jeff is also a sought-after speaker who shares his experiences and insights at leading industry events worldwide, including SXSW, PTTOW, CANNES, CES, and Forbes. LinkedIn.
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