Innovator Insights: Ad.net’s Todd Ulise on How to Win with Intent-Driven Marketing

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The pandemic may have represented an unprecedented event in many respects, but for someone with Todd Ulise’s track record and experience, the impact it’s had on marketers echoes much of what he’s seen before. 

The pandemic may have represented an unprecedented event in many respects, but for someone with Todd Ulise’s track record and experience, the impact it’s had on marketers echoes much of what he’s seen before. 

As the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Los Angeles-based Ad.net, Ulise and his team have developed an intent-driven marketplace that exists outside of Google and Bing. This allows brands to diversify their search spend by tapping into distribution outside of the major networks on partners such as Parenting.com, MyWedding.com, ThePennyHoarder.com.  

The company’s Search IQ technology crawls a publisher's website and comes up with the most relevant content so when a search is performed, they get the most relevant results. That’s been a vital resource for brands as they’ve had to make tough decisions since COVID-19. 

“The cycles tend to repeat themselves. Whenever there’s an economic downturn or strife, performance marketing always increases,” Ulise recently told Brand Innovators. “If there are non-performing dollars, those tend to be cut first. Brands and agencies want tangible results and Ad.net provides those.”

Ad.net has been in this space for more than 20 years, when it was founded in 2001, as Findology Interactive Media. More recently, the company received a strategic investment from private equity firm Clarion Capital Partners. 

Under terms of the agreement, Clarion Capital Partners will help Ad.net accelerate its product innovation, drive new customer acquisition strategies, and augment its supply of online publishers to meet the growing demand of its customer base. Jon Waterman, Ad.net’s CEO and founder, maintains a significant ownership stake in the company and will continue as CEO, the two firms said. 

“We’re in hyper-growth mode,” Ulise says. “The way we’ve operated the business has been great, but the partnership with Clarion offers a way to take that to the next level.”

Ulise offered some other reflections and advice on how marketers can contend with the challenges ahead of them: 

Double Down On intent

Ulise said Ad.net may be having more conversations with customers and prospects than ever before in part because search is not the shiny new object in marketing anymore. It’s also simple to grasp the value from a performance standpoint. 

“The intent is evident by someone typing something into a search box. Juxtapose that with display, where there is no intent, and the future deprecation of third-party cookies means search will continue to grow”, he said. “There is a banner, which might or might not be targeted. A consumer might be put into an audience bucket by a DSP because you bought a trip from a travel agent once, more than a year ago. The only really good way to understand intent is through search.”

Know Your Numbers — But Build Upon Them

Can you triple your search volume? Will the marginal benefit of your approach to search exceed your marginal cost? These are the kinds of questions Ulise said the Ad.net team helps clients tackle every day. These are questions most marketers can’t easily answer on their own, and the right partner should not only assist in quantifying targets but the most viable path to hitting them, he adds. 

“Most brands have some idea of the goal they want to achieve, whether it’s driving leads to purchase a product or achieving a better cost per customer acquisition,” he said. “Where you want to find the right partner is in quantifying how much more you can add value by presenting a compelling option for brands to diversify their search spend.”

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