ITA Spotlight: Conversant
Monday, August 29, 2016
Posted by: Gary Hotze
Ric Elert, President, Conversant shares his insights and perspective on Conversant's past, present and future. Learn more about Conversant's Chicago roots and why they think Chicago tech rocks.
In 25 words or less, what is Conversant all about?
Conversant is a digital marketing company that delivers personalized advertising, ensuring every interaction a consumer has with a brand is relevant and has impact.
What problem do you solve and how do you solve it better than the competition?
We bring efficiency and measured effectiveness to our clients’ marketing. They use broad-based segments to talk to their consumers, which is not efficient and doesn’t perform well. We deliver personalized advertising that is directed at the consumers, calibrated to deliver the right amount of messaging to get them to the desired act—whether that’s to try the brand or make a purchase. I’m not only talking about saving clients’ money when I talk about “efficiency.” I also mean being judicious with our clients’ brand voice and not annoying their customer base by serving them too many ads. Think of every ad as a person coming to talk to you. Too many conversations from the same brand can have a negative effect, so we work with our clients to be efficient with their voice and pick their opportunities to communicate with their customers.
How did you get started?
We saw a need in the marketplace very early on for an individual-centric approach to digital marketing compared to the website-based approach that dominated the market ecosystem. Advertising has always been broad based because it’s been the best advertisers could do. Advertisers running a commercial during a sitcom are hoping their intended audience will see the ad, but there is a tremendous amount of waste. The same thing with billboards; you hope the right people are going to drive by it. There’s no efficiency to it. When digital advertising emerged, we took the time to examine the capabilities of digital rather than merely melding traditional advertising to the channel.
How has your company culture evolved as Conversant has grown?
I hope it hasn’t changed. I like the start-up feel. I like the fact that we try to keep the hierarchy flat and the busy work out. It’s an environment where everyone is able to share their voice and work towards common solutions. And we trust each other to do the right thing. We adopted three mantras years ago that hold true to this day: One percent better every day; differentiate or die; and automate so you can innovate. If we can live these three things and really push the level of trust, that’s the culture we’ve had since the beginning and the culture we want to continue. It’s a culture I have to represent and display every day—showing that I’m present, available and want to work alongside our employees.
What are your primary goals for Conversant?
I want to see us continue growing while championing the power of personalized digital advertising across all verticals and helping brands move their traditional advertising into digital. At the same time, we can’t lose who we are and need to maintain our fast-pace culture where everyone has a voice and has the chance to grow their careers by being responsible for big parts of the business. And finally, I’d like to see us be the recognized, global leader in understanding and reaching consumers.
Where do you see Conversant in two years? Five? Ten?
Digital is always tough to predict. You’re always asking yourself “what other ways will there be to reach consumers?” Like virtual or augmented reality. I’d like to think we’ll have more robust consumer profiles, which will lead to an increase in our ability to deliver relevant messaging across any medium(s) developed in the future and on one central platform. At the same time, all verticals will have the unique ability to reach consumers with one-to-one messaging, with robust audiences and enhanced measurement to ensure we’re driving performance-based, personalized marketing.
What’s the No. 1 thing on your to-do list?
Hire more people. Our people are our greatest asset and biggest investment. Having more people here to deliver the amazing solutions we offer can only make us stronger and allow us to continue growing. That’s always going to be my Number One priority.
In your opinion, what are some of the pros and cons of being an Illinois business?
I love the Midwestern attitude. We recruit people from all over the nation, and people from the Midwest have a unique blend of West Coast innovation and East Coast pragmatism. It’s a nice blend and balance. There is also a sense of openness in the Chicago tech community, and Illinois as a whole. People want to see each other succeed. It’s not a “win at all costs” mentality. And, I think it’s a good place to live. I’ve lived in Southern California, and I’ve lived in New York. People come here and realize it’s the best of both worlds.
What are the biggest challenges you face as you scale your business?
Our biggest challenge is hiring qualified people that can help us get solutions done. And once they’re onboard, developing and supporting them so they never want to go anywhere else. We give our employees a lot of ownership, but it’s our responsibility to take them from being in our apprentice program to a manager.
This one is all you… anything else you want to tell us?
We’re creating firsts daily in the digital marketing space, and it’s a source of pride for all our employees. We’re sitting on an incredible amount of technology and innovation, and we’ve remained a hidden gem in downtown Chicago.