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More money is going to shift online since more users are spending time here than on TV

Yuko Saito is the Managing Director for Southeast Asia at Criteo. Criteo is a global technology company that delivers performance-based online advertising solutions using real-time consumer data.

Yuko Saito is the Managing Director for Southeast Asia at Criteo. Criteo is a global technology company that delivers performance-based online advertising solutions using real-time consumer data.

Based in the Singapore office, she has taken charge of business expansion in nine countries and regions, including Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

In September 2012, as Managing Director for Corporate Business Development and Operations APAC at the Criteo Tokyo office, Saito played a key role in negotiating a strategic alliance with Yahoo! Japan, making a significant contribution to solidifying Criteo’s position in Japan.

Saito was subsequently engaged in business establishment and development in Southeast Asian markets, and oversaw the preparations for Criteo’s entry into China and Singapore. She headed a cross-functional project team comprising local legal offices along with finance, legal, human resources, IT, and corporate planning departments at the head office in France, to establish locations in China (operations commenced in January 2013) and Singapore (operations commenced in October 2013).  

Saito has a broad range of experience and a solid track record in the media and Internet industries. Since graduating university, she has accumulated a wealth of expertise and skills, mainly involving corporate planning and new business development, at organizations including Sony (1991-1997); Trans Cosmos (2000-2003); and Walt Disney, Internet Group (2003-2005), a business unit of The Walt Disney Company (Japan) Ltd. In 2005, Saito was appointed chief strategy officer and director for the game developer Q Entertainment Inc., overseeing a broad range of operations that included business strategy planning and implementation, financing, new business development, and marketing.

Saito holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

In this exclusive interview with Ratnika Swami for India Digital Review, Saito talks about how online advertising is changing in India, the role of mobile, and how Criteo enables companies to engage and convert their customers online across any screen and device, whether they are on a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Excerpts:  

Q. Ms. Saito, you come from a very diverse and successful background, having held several key positions in the business development and operational roles in the Internet & media industry, including Sony, Disney and Q Entertainment. How has your experience helped in shaping your career at Criteo?

Unlike most of the other people at Criteo, I don’t have an advertising background, but I do have a lot of experience in Business Development. I went to Harvard Business School and since 2000 I have been working in the Internet space and that has really helped me. I basically opened up the business for Criteo in Southeast Asia, including India. And I have done this before; while working for Sony Computer Entertainment, I was opening up office for the company in Southeast Asia at the time. For me, the advertising space is a little bit new, but its been a great adventure. The growth in Southeast Asia and India has been so exciting and explosive. Its just fun being in the market, enjoying the vibe and the energy.

For me, personally, the reason why I’m very much a business development person is because I like growing stuff. I was here last year, and this year at AdTech, I saw so many mobile players, which is an indication that the focus is shifting from desktop to mobile. This is also a confirmation really that in India mobile has immense growth potential. And we want to make sure we are not missing the wave. I really enjoy helping these e-commerce companies and there is more competition in this market. So it’s just working with these companies and making sure that they perform.

Q. According to a report, with the increasing penetration of smartphones, the number of mobile Internet users in India is expected to reach 213 mn by June 2015. How do you see this effect the display business in the coming months? What role does mobile play in this?

Today, most of the online advertising is still on desktop. In India, I would say, 50% of the online traffic is coming to mobile, but the monetisation is lagging, and this is not just specific to India. So they are still making more money on Web, even when the traffic is about 50-50 and shifting towards mobile. So that is a challenge for publishers, but that will change. And I think that players like us can help change that. At present, we are educating the market that, right now, mobile conversion isn’t low, but its just that they are actually converting somewhere, so they do need to invest on mobile. We would love to help drive more revenue to publishers so that they can invest more on their mobile sites.

Every year, since 2010, people have been saying that this is the ‘Year of the mobile’, but it never came. But this year, I feel, and a lot of people are saying this, that there is a tipping point, which has forced people to say, “You really have to focus on mobile”. 

Q. Over the last few years, what changes have you seen in the online ad spends, both on PC and mobile, in India? In terms of growth, how would you peg India in respect to other Southeast Asian countries?

Well, I can tell you that online is growing faster than any other media. In the mature markets like Europe, Japan and the US, maybe 15-20% of the total marketing budget is online. In Southeast Asia, we are talking about less than 5% today and in India perhaps the numbers are even lower. But this will change.

Q. How does Criteo help to deliver a seamless message across all consumer touch points in a cross device world?

I won’t get into the technology to much, because its a bit complex and its our secret sauce. We basically use certain data to exact match the user. We link the device to the PC to determine if this is the same person, and once that is done, we apply our engine of prediction and recommendation. For example, today, the data shows that a lot of people are actually browsing on mobile and some of these people do convert online through the smartphones. But, about half the people are still going back to desktop to do the transaction. If that is the case, and we know that the user has a tendency of converting on the desktop then what the engine will do is look at the products that the same user is browsing on the mobile and find them on the network on our PC and then show the same products and recommendations while the user is browsing on the desktop. The users would be reminded that they wanted to buy the product and click on the link to make a purchase.

Q. A lot of bigwigs like Google, Flipkart, Snapdeal, among others, have shown great interest in ad tech companies. Flipkart bought Adiquity, Google is reportedly in talks to buy mobile ad tech firm InMobi, and Snapdeal is in talks to buy Komli Media. Could you elaborate on how ad tech firms are changing the rules of online advertising in India? And should companies like yourself feel threatened by this?

The evolution of the technology is so fast, and the engine that we have is pretty amazing, the algorithm is making decisions in split seconds based on all this complicated information.

Till now, the majority of the money is going to TV. However, more money is going to shift online since more users are spending time here than on TV. It won’t go away completely, but over time it will decrease. So really, it is the TV agencies that should feel threatened. TV is great for brand but its very difficult to track performance. There are certain methods to measure it, but a lot of it is subjective. Whereas online, the benefit is, that we can track to the very detail and find out whether it actually led to conversion or not. In that sense online is very effective.

I think what Flipkart and Snapdeal are doing is that they have such a huge base of users that they can stand on its own as a media. And what media companies do is they monetise their advertising and I think that’s what these companies are trying to do. They are buying technology companies to find better ways to monetise their user base, not just through sales, but through advertising and other means. They are possibly trying to target their users in a more granular way. Which I think is a good thing. It helps evolve the industry.

I personally don’t think it is threatening to us. They may develop their own re-targeting solution, but its a very complex technology. At Criteo, we are not a one-stop solution and the reason for that is that we are really focused on re-targeting, bringing conversion and making conversion. And because its a very competitive space and there is always a limitation of engineering resource, we really want to stay focus on what we do and be the best at it. Of course, other people will develop re-targeting solutions, but we just need to innovate, stay focused and make sure that we are the best. So even if these e-commerce and technology companies are acquiring ad tech companies, which will greatly benefit them, in the end, they will have to choose the best solution and our mission is to ensure that that is us. It is an competitive environment and we all need to stay on top of our game.

Q. What are the present challenges that you are facing?

Well I’m trying to launch a team in India. At present, we are based in Singapore, and covering our India based clients from Singapore, and given how big the market is, I don’t think that is the optimal way to go about it. This is an important market for us and we are making an investment to hire people on the ground here so that we can service better. And the biggest challenge is, ‘Can I wrap up the right team fast enough?’, because there is so much growth. We have a very ambitious target to grow big this year. 

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