Forget Hard to Reach Places

Adknowledge’s CEO Ben Legg is cornering an entire segment of digital marketing by appealing to the most unlikely sources

Ben Legg, CEO of Adknowledge

According to Ben Legg, trying to understand the American consumer model is incredibly difficult. You need to have a deep understanding of what the product is and why it’s amazing before you can sell it. Then, you not only have to identify the target
audience, but figure out the best medium to reach it with, be it via smartphone, e-mail, or a Facebook page. When you boil it down, this is Legg’s job as CEO of the Kansas City, Missouri-based Adknowledge, Inc. The company’s targeting systems continually sift through 60 terabytes of anonymous consumer-interest data, conducting 20 billion calculations per day in order to determine what ads to show and to whom.

In many ways, you’d have to be crazy to enter digital marketing. It’s an industry that never sleeps—an industry that is constantly changing and always expanding. Frankly, that’s exactly why Legg loves it. When the former British military engineer was approached by Google to be the company’s COO in Europe, he was immediately sucked in by the combination of engineering, sales, data, consumer insights, and globalization required to make digital advertising successful.

Working Internationally

As a former British Army officer and military engineer, Legg has traveled the world—and that was before he worked as a McKinsey consultant in London, New York, and Singapore; before he was the head of sales for Coca-Cola and worked in Greece, Poland, and India; and before—well, you get the picture.  Legg has lived in nine countries, worked in 50, and, according to the CEO, these are the three greatest benefits to having international business experience:

The Network 

On LinkedIn, Legg has 2,200 contacts around the world, most of them at advertisers or at digital start-ups, and at market-leading online advertising companies, such as Google and Facebook.

The Knowledge 

Legg’s experience helps him understand what Adknowledge should centralize and what they should do locally, and how best to coordinate for maximum speed.

The Confidence 

Given his career path, Legg has no problem making international acquisitions or starting up in new countries.

“In the old days, when I was with Coca-Cola, you’d have to do in-depth customer research, but that’s not really necessary anymore,” Legg says. “Online marketing is all about using consumer data to get an idea of what the consumer wants. You don’t even need to know exactly what they want; you just have to have an idea and then move at the speed of light to test that idea live. Did they click on an ad? Did they ignore the ad? Did they hate the ad? Collect the information and keep optimizing.”

This rapid pace is best illustrated by Adknowledge’s partnership with Groupon, a wildly popular deal-of-the-day website featuring discounted gift certificates that can be used at local or national companies. With Adknowledge’s help, Groupon was able to pinpoint consumers according to interest, demographics, and location for the dissemination of 1,500 offers per day, requiring ads to be rotated several times an hour. Over the course of one week, thousands of ad variations were displayed, each one intended to target the fickle interests of an incredibly wide array of consumers.

Adknowledge is the fourth largest ad marketplace. Legg, whose experience could literally get him a job anywhere, was attracted by the company’s potential. Its already-existing talent, technology, targeting capability, and publisher base gave it incredible strengths to build on. Because Legg is extremely goal-orientated, he quickly made it his goal to take Adknowledge from a collection of cool online products and business units in North America to a coherent, global, multichannel “must-have” digital-advertising platform. It’s a massive undertaking, but one Legg is more than capable of accomplishing.

“I’d say we’re about one-third of the way there, but to be honest, it never really ends,” Legg says. “Best-case scenario is that we’ll meet this goal in the next 18 months, but in no way does that mean the work is done.”

Adknowledge has made its millions by providing the best value in digital advertising
beyond search. According to Legg, all advertisers understand the large platforms and are already using them effectively, which is why Adknowledge seeks out customers who are looking for ad solutions beyond Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft by targeting small to medium-sized websites or, as Legg calls them, the “hard-to-reach places.”

“Adknowledge continuously seeks out, signs up, integrates, and optimizes those hard-to-reach places so that advertisers can get access to them efficiently. We also help advertisers prioritize where to spend their money to get the best return on investment,” Legg says. “There are loads of advertisers trying to make something happen with the big boys, but there’s so much competition it’s almost impossible to reap the best returns. Our approach is entirely different. We’re doing something no one else is, we’re specializing in owners of small websites and other complex parts of the digital ecosystem, and we’re making publishers rich in the process.”