AdTech Reboot

Trust Web Times Interview Series: Kevin Lee ; Didit.com

Marc Goldberg

Marc Goldberg

Author at The Trust Web Times
Marc Goldberg

Marc Goldberg

Author at The Trust Web Times


Marc Goldberg
 is a contributor for the Trust Web Times. Marc is also the Principal at Stages Collective. Stages Collective helps companies at different life stages in a variety of ways. Business Development, go-to market strategies, Landscape analysis and as an additional recruiting resource.

 Kevin Lee is a lot of things! He is:

The Executive Chairman & Founder at Didit.com

The President of Givingforward.org

A seed investor in several companies, including an incubator VariousVentures and is generally busyAF!

We exchanged emails for this interview and it has been slightly condensed and edited.

Marc Goldberg : Tell me about your journey , Go back in time, tell us a few of your stops.

Kevin Lee : Since going back to my birth would probably be too far back, let’s touch on my marketing and entrepreneurial journeys, as they are the common thread across my various endeavors.

MG: Good , we don’t need to back to your early childhood, this is not a lay down on this couch interview and tell me….

KL: When I got to my undergraduate university, Stony Brook, I thought I’d be an engineer, as I had always enjoyed inventing electronics as a kid. But calculus and I didn’t get along LOL, so I switched to economics and started a business as a late junior. Basically Grub Hub to the university without the app. Just a single phone number that I staffed with a team. Chinese was the anchor cuisine, but one could combine orders from three restaurants in the same strip mall. Very efficient. I was making so much revenue that I stayed for a super-senior year and paid off all my loans before graduating. That business and my decent GMAT scores got me into Yale for grad school. And afterwards I went to Madison Ave (JWT and McCann) before jumping into tech marketing in 1994. Then Didit was founded as a SAAS company in 1996, more on that journey later. The common theme was parallel entrepreneurship. Didit allowed me the freedom to incubate other ideas, including a BtoB social network built on D&B data and a brand licensing deal and a cause marketing platform which generated over $8 million for nonprofits.

MG: Another JWT Alum! Umm that is a lot, where should I start? I guess I will start with Giving Forward as I AM PART OF YOUR BOARD! Can you share what you are doing with Giving Forward?

KL: Giving Forward as a 501c3 channels my inner marketing mad scientist. The organization builds platforms and businesses that generate revenue for any other nonprofit organization with methods they would be unlikely to build themselves. The three platforms currently launched are:

  1. Cause Marketing Powered Content: Think Instagram or TikTok, but the content creator and consumer both get a vote as to which nonprofit gets the ad revenue
  2. Cause Marketing Powered Events with a CSR twist: once events have a virtual element, attendance need not be constrained by the size of a venue. That means tickets can be sold to benefit the nonprofit putting on the show AND a secondary nonprofit the consumer selects if they came in on a custom link.  Fun stuff when you layer in sponsor dollars also allocated across nonprofits based on consumer votes.
  3. Philanthropic Sweepstakes: OMAZE did a great job proving the model where conversion rates to donation go up as high as 10X 

We are also about to launch a highly monetizing landing page that allows businesses to power donation behavior though co-registration and coupon codes.

MG: A few years ago, you were a potential buyer of Gawker. Was the idea that Gawker was going to be part of this strategy?

KL: After We-Care.com shut down (the platform which seems to have “inspired” Amazon SMILE even the timing of our A/B split test and the amazing data we presented) I was convinced that in addition to cause marketing powered shopping helping nonprofits, we could build a cause marketing powered content platform, an instagram where 50% of the ad revenue went to nonprofits. The hail-mary pass bid on Gawker.com to try to transform it into “Gawker For Good” certainly didn’t turn out as I expected. The Gawker bid was before I decided to start a nonprofit, but the business model was the same. 50% of ad revenue to nonprofits selected by the creators and content consumers. Gawker was a known brand and that would have made for a great comeback story. 

But despite being the leading bidder the day after the sealed bid, the Judge and bankruptcy trustee didn’t feel the first bids (where I prevailed) were valid due to a chilling effect… There were apparently concerns about legal risk to bidders for the archives due to Peter Theil’s ongoing battle with the bankruptcy court. After Theil signed a settlement agreement not to sue based on any content in the archives, a second auction was held, in-person. Bryan Goldberg at Bustle Media Group was the winner among three bidders (I chose not to bid in the second auction)

MG: Again, as your board member, is your ASK that publisher give you some of their inventory so that you can give them value from otherwise wasted impressions? What can other people who want to be involved do?

KL: Unsold and brand-unsafe blocked ad inventory, even when donated to an untargeted nonprofit won’t get a high CTR and provides the publisher with no value. Our platforms turn clicks into co-registrations for publishers and also deliver social media engagement. Plus a publisher can designate any nonprofit to be the beneficiary on either our philanthropic sweepstakes pages or our content pages. We are 5 times more efficient in monetizing impressions compared to an untargeted PSA impression and infinitely more efficient than a wallpaper blocked ad impression (clouds or wallpaper). We even think we can do better at audience development value than a house ad.  The latest co-reg landing page may even out-perform the sweeps. We’ll have to test it.

MG: So back to Did It. You have been quoted several times and wrote books on SEO and SEM. You are considered one of the premier minds in this area, how have both changed in the last 10 years?

KL: SEO used to be a game that startups could play alongside existing players. That’s less the case than ever before. Google and Bing both use forms of voting through links and through user behavior to factor into their ranking algos. That means startups need to be holistic with their SEO strategy. Best examples of holistic strategies are to have content strategies syndicate content not only put the content on the website of the marketer. The content could live in social media, on YouTube, on a publisher site, or even a client’s site. Each of those locations for content is an opportunity to have that content rank.

On the SEM side of the search marketplace, escalating CPC costs have forced marketers and their agencies to use every tool and strategy at their disposal to cherry-pick out the clicks with the higher value, NOT only based on conversion rate or predicted AOV, but based on LTV. Some clicks are just too expensive to buy. Most agencies don’t bother to devote the energy into figuring out the Glengarry clicks from the glen ross impressions and clicks. That’s a huge opportunity for us at Didit because that’s how we roll. 

MG: Google and Youtube own search. Are you seeing other quality sources?

KL: Google owns general search, and YouTube owns video search, but interestingly Amazon owns a big chunk of commerce search and to a lesser extent so does eBay. Bing of course has some search volume, but no marketer can accelerate their business on Bing alone. Bing is a great addition to a winning SEM campaign, but Google comes first.

MG: Didit is an independent agency that grew up focused on SEO and SEM. You acquired PR firms and I know you had mentioned you had done a ton of direct mail during covid. How do you differentiate and how do you compete versus the big holding companies?

KL: SEO was fascinating because even before GoTo.com and the early paid placement results in AltaVista (powered by Doubleclick, pre-Google… ironically) the quality of a click from search was immediately apparent to marketers who were paying attention. Long before there were rules in SEO, we had built some aggressive technologies to help harvest SEO clicks for brands like DejaNews and CDnow / N2K (brands that are gone now). Once there were rules for SEO, we adhered to them and went “white hat” but in the interim had build bid-management technology based on a heat seeking missile algo where the bids for keyword clicks were changed in real time based on the weighted moving average of click value. Then we layered all sorts of predictive factors on to that. The bid management SAAS business was a good one until MRIN was founded and set prices so low that no one in the category could make a profit (including themselves). Eventually, we decided that maintaining our own bid management stack wasn’t worth the investment given the prevailing prices for the tech. We transformed into an agency looking at the needs of the mid market with media spending in the $50K to $500K a month who also had needs for SEO, Digital PR and content marketing. Those firms spent enough to optimize a digital and traditional marketing strategy around. More importantly they didn’t make agency selection decisions on RFPs with questions that missed out on the value an agency should be or could be delivering. Some of those businesses would come to Didit with a very specific problem such as SEO or PPC search, others needed an AOR. So, we acquired 11 firms to become an agency capable of being a GREAT AOR.

Direct mail was interesting because as fidelity of targeting online was eroding due to IDFA, the targeting in direct mail was improving. Plus during the pandemic, response rates in BtoC direct mail increased as more folks were WFH. BtoB direct mail was challenging due to WFH, but also continued to perform very well. Plus I invented a new tracking system and response enhancement system for direct mail launched internally but available soon as a stand-alone tech at inceptor.com. 

MG: Back to Giving forward. What is one cause that you put your money toward and want to work with.

KL: Every one of the Giving Forward volunteers and staff have their own favorite nonprofit cause or brand. I tend to gravitate toward humanitarian causes focused on children.  We have found that some smaller nonprofits have unusually high engagement rates from their supporters, so those are the kinds of supporters that consume content, share content/sweepstakes and promote events. Those communities of supporters are really rewarding to work with. 

MG: Back to Didit. As you can see I have not had my meds today… What is your favorite keyword? I kid. What is next on your watch list and why?

KL: My favorite keyword is impact LOL. It has so many uses across marketing, cause marketing, politics, and social good.

The Didit team and I have a particular interest in the influencer and creator communities. With Ad-Blockers rampant and changes in media consumption behavior, the new form of spokesperson-driven marketing is influencer marketing. Like celebrities, they bring their own audiences, but at a lesser scale. Yet often their followers are highly engaged. I even transformed one of our agency acquisitions into an influencer-focused agency. TheHaloGroup. Great creative can come from anywhere and finding that creatie and deploying it with media dollars efficiently allows a brand to crush the competition. Will the professional copywriter and art director create the perfect campaign, or will it be an influencer? It shouldn’t matter as long as everyone is having fun along the way. 

Most folks who have gotten to know Didit over the years do know us as a boutique agency that specializes in SEM and SEO (hence your keyword comment). Yet, through 11 acquisitions including PR agencies and agencies specializing in direct mail, we’ve become full service. The primary driver that  makes our full service offering critical is that media and creative can’t be siloed anymore. Poorly targeted creative against a particular audience or persona tanks a campaign. Similarly, great creative deployed against the wrong audience doesn’t resonate or engate that audience. The two need to work together. It’s even more complicated than unifying media and creativity. Increasingly, some of the best creative ideas come from influencers. Some influencers might be customers or might not be. The agency needs to be open to getting ideas and creative executions from any source. It’s not about winning creative awards, it’s about building brands and making sales.  

We built web development departments and social media creative departments to augment our regular creative services because a break in any touchpoint of the consumer or prospect journey can take all the ROI out of the marketing campaign.  Each step of that journey needs to be optimized, with a common vision. 

The mid market company can’t afford a Madison Avenue one-stop shop, and since Didit encourages brands and businesses to use us to solve a specific marketing, media or SEO problem BEFORE we pitch them as an AOR, it’s easy to engage the Didit team one segment at a time. 

MG: With all this going on will you ever retire?

KL: Just like musicians and actors, I’m jazzed that we get paid to do this. The makeup of my daily activities may change at some point with more efforts shifted into new ventures if current ventures are sold or their need for my time changes… I could also do most of this stuff while traveling which means I could become nomadic at some point. But I really enjoy business and marketing more than golf, or whatever it is retired people do. 

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