The hero of our fresh interview is Yakov Peysakhzon, Product Development Director at Commercial Department, Mail.ru Group. Yakov talks about how he started his career in mobile marketing and what projects he is currently supervising, shares the news about the latest features on myTarget and Business VKontakte platforms, explains why the company is not much affected by changes in Apple’s privacy policies and emphasizes the importance of a customer-centric approach.
Yakov, how many years have you been working in marketing? Why this particular area, why does it attract you so much?
I have always been inspired by all things tech and online. This environment not only dynamically changes itself, but also drives the development of other areas. For example, we now see how technologies are actively developing in new industries — education, medicine, retail, finance, and others. Not only does all of this lead to the transformation of society, people’s lives, and business, but also opens up endless opportunities for implementing bold ideas. I delved into the world of advertising and mobile technologies 11 years ago, when my friend and I developed our own mobile app. Our first product was even rated in the top 3 applications on the AppStore, but despite the success, the project had to be closed due to difficulties with further development of the startup. However, this did not make me give up. On the contrary, in the wake of the interest in mobile applications I got a job at WapStart and started working with mobile advertising. Since then I’ve gotten deeply involved in the industry, and now advertising products and technologies are my focus. Today we see that, for example, marketplaces rely on mobile applications using a significant part of the budgets for them — up to 90%.
Mail.ru Group is one of the largest companies in the Russian online segment with 10,000 employees. What are you directly engaged in?
I worked my way up from the Head of the Mobile Advertising Department to the Product Development Director at the Commercial Department of Mail.ru Group. Together with the team, we work not only on developing digital marketing tools, lead customers and increase sales, but also create various initiatives for the industry. For example, in 2018, under my leadership, we launched myTarget Pro, our own blog with useful content for marketers. We also participated in industry events — not only in Russia, but also in China and South Korea.
Industry event in China
We hold conferences for the market, and launch other important projects. Before the pandemic, we actively participated in offline events and held our own. For example, in November 2019, we organized a large conference called myPerformance Day, which was attended by over 1,200 people. Together with experts and guests of the event, we discussed the latest trends and key tools in performance marketing, and also shared interesting cases and novelties in the industry. Over the past year and a half, we began moving online more and more, like the entire industry. In addition, during my work for the company, we have brought to the market a number of new and important technological solutions for advertisers. For example, on myTarget we have launched contextual targeting, dynamic remarketing (including for mobile applications), look-alike, as well as many other tools for promoting mobile applications and performance clients. Now I am responsible for developing and launching tools for key advertising platforms on the market (myTarget and Business VKontakte). Also, my team and I provide comprehensive expert support for partners, focusing on optimizing their advertising campaigns and immersing them in customer training processes so that they can get strong results using our tools. Being in constant contact with them, we not only develop the quality of our solutions and make them more client-oriented, but also rejoice at their results — what we are working for. We are also expanding partnerships with market players to provide both large clients and small and medium-sized businesses with more opportunities for growth and development. For example, we recently became partners with My Business centers and, together with our colleagues, will help SMEs move their business online and develop them with the help of technology.
I delved into the world of advertising and mobile technologies 11 years ago, when my friend and I developed our own mobile app.
How does it feel working for two products that somewhat overlap?
I can say that it is extremely interesting to develop two partially overlapping, but at the same time completely different advertising platforms. If we talk about Business VKontakte and myTarget, then they have different targets and features. Business VKontakte is a unified platform for the development of small and medium-sized businesses on the Internet, covering a multimillion-dollar audience of the popular social network. Simple and convenient advertising tools within the system work on the basis of a single VK Connect identifier and also allow to automate business processes (for example, budget management) so that the owner can focus on more strategic tasks. The platform’s functionality also attracts the attention of major brands. If a company needs more sophisticated tools with manual ad settings, then they can use the advanced features in the social network’s advertising account. myTarget is a universal O2O programmatic platform that covers all Mail.ru Group projects (VK, Odnoklassniki, Mail.ru email service, Youla, and others), where professional advertisers have access to a wide range of inventory and advertising formats both online and offline. This system is a constructor for professionals, where they can collect effective tools for solving business problems, implement omnichannel marketing strategies, and reach the right audience. It is possible to flexibly launch DOOH and then set up remarketing on the Internet to the audience that has seen ads on offline surfaces. Partnerships with market players give our clients the ability to connect external targeting segments or third-party AdTech services. All this allows customizing myTarget tools for specific business goals.
VK has recently launched optimization for events. Was adding optimization specifically to VK a strategic decision or was it easier to implement? Do you plan to do it for myTarget as well?
As a digital company, we develop end-to-end technologies that can be used in different products and solve the problems of different customers and users, and we also strive for technological convergence. Therefore, first, we launched optimization for VK installs or events in order to scale it to another platform in the future. The prime example of using the same technology that is part of two systems is contextual targeting. We originally ran it for myTarget. After seeing the results this tool started bringing, we decided to launch the same technology for the Business VKontakte platform. Going back to optimization for installs or events, today we see that already 96% of investments in promoting VK mobile applications fall on campaigns adding this tool. This result is encouraging.
VK and myTarget are virtually one ecosystem. If you don’t mind my asking, how do you divide the audience and auctions between these platforms?
Despite the fact that the platforms are within the same ecosystem, there is no artificial auction division between the platforms, it is out of the question. It is important for us to guarantee our clients transparent purchases, as well as to maintain fair competition in the auction. It is important to understand that each platform is based on its own technologies. Business VKontakte — on VK Connect and the social network’s audience, and myTarget has its own advertising network, which includes not only the company’s resources, but also thousands of mobile applications and partner websites. The platform also covers all projects of Mail.ru Group (VK, Odnoklassniki, Mail.ru email service, Youla, and others). myTarget and Business VKontakte focus on different ad formats. Multiformat and carousel are popular on myTarget. Media clients are also focusing on video formats. Business VKontakte mainly focuses on formats that are suitable for the newsfeed. Also, advertisers can use various models of optimization, purchasing, interests, and even external data on the platforms.
What features do you plan to release for marketers in the near future? Perhaps soon we can expect you to introduce automated optimization using the example of AAA and UAC?
We have many lines of business, and within each of them, we focus on different goals. In the SMB sector — on intuitive tools and automation of routine processes, in media formats — on video advertising tools and inventory expansion. If we talk about performance tools, the main goal here is to increase the ROI of advertisers and to help clients achieve strong and important business results. To solve these problems, we are constantly working on evolving existing tools and developing new ones. For example, beta testing of dynamic ads in myTarget is already open. They are generated automatically based on the uploaded product feed, and also allow online stores to attract new audiences to mobile apps and websites, optimizing the time spent on setting up and launching campaigns. We closely monitor market trends, which allows us to meet advertisers’ expectations and anticipate their requests. We will continue to focus on this.
How is demand for the development of new products formed? Is it primarily based on feedback from your customers, or are you still trying to ‘predict’ market demand?
The team generally has a flexible approach to creating new tools, so it is impossible to single out one thing. It is important for us to remain not only efficient, but also client-oriented, and a mix of different approaches helps us in this. Of course, strategic planning and constant monitoring of the market and best practices in the industry are important here. We also always try to take into account the feedback from customers in our work. Thus, the vertical video format for promoting mobile applications and websites was developed precisely on the back of analyzing the needs of advertising players. Contextual targeting is once again a successful example of anticipating trends. We developed this tool even before the trend for moving product and product search from classic search engines to social networks, marketplaces, and classified ads gained critical mass. The trend itself originated in the United States. If you look at this market, you can see how product search has transformed. Already in 2018, Amazon overtook Google in this category. This means that now people are less likely to enter the query «Buy coffee machine» in search engines. They straightway come to the websites where they can buy something of this sort — this is where they look for products. Today, technologies are developing dynamically, and our goal is to help companies navigate this race. For example, we are now seeing growing market interest in the digital outdoor advertising segment. This is due to the channel’s flexibility and measurability. Our solution allows launching and optimizing advertising on digital media, maximizing the reach of the target audience near the structures, while paying only for contacts. To make it even more convenient for advertisers, in June we opened a tool for independently setting configuration and launching DOOH from myTarget account.
We have to ask about the innovations from Apple (we are talking about iOS 14.5). How did you prepare for these changes, and what do you work on in this respect?
Of course, we see this as a challenge for the market, but our decisions are less affected by the changes in Apple policies. This is because the bulk of the audience viewing our ads are authorized users of our resources, including social networks, Mail.ru email, and mobile applications of the holding’s projects. The group’s own end-to-end authorization system allows minimizing the consequences associated with changing policies for IDFA, cookies, and other third-party IDs. We are also constantly developing technologies that can work with various types of identifiers, for example, VK Connect. Having our own identifiers that meet the requirements for user data security opens up more opportunities for us. However, as a modern technology company, we have to respond to changes in the industry. This is why we launched SKAN support on VK and myTarget and continue to work on new solutions for customers and monitor the market situation. For example, recently we launched a useful tool for predicting the effectiveness of advertising campaigns on myTracker. Its users can predict progress based on SKAdNetwork data using predictive analytics. The model is based on machine learning and can predict the revenue that advertisers will receive from campaigns over a period of 30 and 180 days. The predictive model is built on the basis of classic data (installs, payments, and other parameters), indicators that are transferred from SKAdNetwork, including the number of conversions and their Conversion Value, as well as the actions of those users who have consented to data transfer.
In terms of audience, myTarget is the largest traffic source in Russia and the CIS, and almost any advertiser can grow their business using your tools. However, there must be those that do better and those that do worse. Can you point out the businesses that definitely have to use your platform?
It would be wrong to say that our product is perfect for everyone. Of course, there are industries for which not all myTarget tools may be relevant. Take heavy industry and complex B2B products, for example. Customer requests and target audiences in this industry are very narrow. If we talk about promotion, then only solutions for working with the current audience — especially remarketing — will most likely be relevant among our tools. myTarget has a large number of media formats and tools where we always have been strong. Companies that need to improve brand metrics through broad coverage traditionally use them. If we talk about particular industries, then they are telecommunications, FMCG, and the pharmaceutical sector, for example. A separate and important category is advertisers, who value the importance of performance metrics more and more every year: attracting customers, growing the number of applications, increasing sales. Examples of such clients include e-commerce, finance, real estate, and the automotive industry. In the first half of 2021, players from these areas performed well. Finance, for instance, showed significant growth of 99% — doubling over the year. The numbers for the entertainment and leisure industry rose by 104%, and e-commerce numbers went up by 30%, despite last year’s surge. Things are going well in the automotive and real estate sectors, with performance growing by 36% and 21%, respectively. These advertisers choose the tools and formats that drive performance metrics: contextual targeting, Lead Ads, dynamic remarketing, Look-alike, and others. At the end of Q2 2021, advertisers’ investments in performance tools on our platforms grew by 69%. And of course, promoting mobile games and applications can be put in a separate category. We have many clients among game developers both on the Russian market and internationally, for example, in China. Apps have already become a key channel for all the companies that sell products online, which includes marketplaces, banks, airlines, and businesses from other areas. The trend is not new or obvious, as we are seeing shifts from the mobile first market to the mobile only market for many categories.
Each advertising platform has its own features. Tell us how you train your clients so that they get maximum benefits while working with your products?
I have always been convinced that customer focus is the cornerstone of any business. We support our users at all stages, accompanying them on their way to achieving great results. We have different teams that are responsible for customer support in various segments, as well as their training and development. An important role here also belongs to the support services of advertising platforms. It is also important for us that clients understand how specific tools can solve their business problems, so we spend a lot of time teaching them how to work with our tools. We also often meet with clients on their territory, where we work closely together in order to promptly help them finish their tasks — their results are very important to us. We hold training webinars and meetups to help potential and current clients achieve even better results using our solutions. In addition, we are developing our own content projects. For example, I lead the development of the myTarget Pro blog, where people can find detailed instructions on how to work with the tools, as well as case studies of peers who are already effectively using them to solve their marketing and business problems. In general, it is important to use a variety of tools to achieve your goals.
You are also actively involved in educational activities (webinars, events, lectures) personally. Is it an integral part of the workflow, or rather a hobby that indirectly helps solve business problems?
I would say it has grown from workflow into a hobby. Before the pandemic, we actively participated in offline events and held our own. For example, myTarget LIVE turned out great — a series of interviews with executives and marketing and advertising leads from large companies, where we discussed trends in the performance marketing market and colleagues’ approaches to working with tools.
Interview with Olga Vyazovskaya, Head of Online Marketing at Leroy Merlin at myTarget LIVE in 2019
And although the pandemic has made its own adjustments to the process of organizing events, we see great value in them and plan to further develop this area and meet offline more often when the situation stabilizes.
And finally, I would like to ask where and how do you get your knowledge? What are you reading, watching? Please, share your recommendations.
Thanks to the Internet, we can broadcast the expertise to a fairly wide audience. Thus, today many colleagues from the industry are running their own blogs, Telegram channels and, in general, have begun to appear more often in the media with comments or articles. So lately, I have begun to devote more time to industry and expert channels to analyze different opinions. I follow the industry news mainly on VC.ru, TechCrunch.com, Sostav.ru, AdIndex.ru publications. And of course, I really enjoy meeting new interesting people offline — for me this is perhaps the best source of new ideas.