Meet the Masters: Michael Steckler, Criteo

In advance of the launch of the 2015 Digital Masters Awards, we caught up with the winner of last year’s Excellence in Commercial Management category, Michael Steckler, to discuss the secrets of Criteo’s success, and to find out what he would be doing if he wasn’t their EVP of Global Business Operations.

Criteo has, in an amazingly short period of time, become a household name within the digital economy. Are its glory days over, or is the best yet to come?

The best is definitely yet to come. The web presents a huge opportunity with the unassailable rise in online shopping. Additionally, brands are just starting to realise the significant return performance marketing can have on their revenue and customer engagement. The next phase for the industry and Criteo is connecting the customer shopping journey, from online browsing via mobile devices to purchasing offline or in-store activity.

How big do you think mobile will become for your business?

We’re seeing some very exciting opportunities starting to emerge for advertisers in mobile right now and several of our clients, from retail to travel, are experiencing an increase in customer site visits and purchases from mobile devices. With smartphones in nearly every hand on the planet, mobile will continue to be a very important part of our business, ensuring we’re able to reach consumers with targeted advertising and emails wherever they are browsing.

The travel industry in particular is seeing a mobile surge. For the first half of this year alone, mobile bookings have increased by more than 20 percent globally. The fact that mobile devices are responsible for a rapidly growing share of e-commerce sales, representing millions of pounds, makes it hard for advertisers and companies like ours to ignore the possibilities with mobile campaigns to engage with existing customers and acquire new ones.

How does Criteo think about cross-platform targeting?

Cross-device shopping is expanding, with nearly four in 10 consumers saying they are shopping on tablets at some point during the year, while nearly a third say they are shopping on smartphones. In addition, nearly two thirds of all emails are opened on mobile and tablets. That, coupled with increased browsing activity on these devices, reinforces the growing importance of cross-device advertising for brands.

One of the biggest challenges for marketers is measuring and improving ROI especially around cross-device advertising. If marketers can’t measure true ROI, they may be throwing advertising budget toward platforms and networks that may not work for them.

At Criteo we’re firm believers in the ‘exact match’ method which is based on matching unique information associated with a user across devices. Exact match uses aggregated unique, anonymous, client-provided identifiers across Criteo’s network. Criteo’s exact match capability was developed with privacy standards at the forefront, allowing advertisers to provide robust opt-out and privacy by design solutions.  Dedicated to consumer privacy, Criteo provides industry-leading transparency and control to consumers we use secure, browsing data for our precision targeting.

While exact match is preferred, it isn’t in wide use because it can’t be used for all consumers or platforms. That said, it’s one of the best methods that provides visibility into the mix of ad platforms and ensures users are not being exposed to an ad on one device, when they’ve already made purchases on another or, even worse, overexposing users who are being tracked with multiple cookies. By combining our exact match capability with the power of the Criteo Engine, we can ensure that a customer who browses a product on their work laptop at lunch can seamlessly purchase it that evening on their smartphone and tablet.

You took the lead on Criteo’s acquisition of Tedemis, an email marketing company. What drove your strategy, and how is the acquisition performing?

 Criteo acquired Tedemis as we saw an opportunity in applying the power of real-time personalisation to email to improve both the consumer experience and marketer performance. Tedemis was already helping many leading ecommerce companies drastically improve their email performance and scale conversions with a unique solution that combined CRM targeting, prospecting, real-time personalisation and a CPC performance pricing model.

It was vital for Criteo, our partners and customers that its people, processes and technology were integrated into our business smoothly, maintaining a strong business rhythm.  With Criteo entering a new area of business with this acquisition, expedient rollout into our key markets has been an indicator for success.

Since folding Tedemis into the business we have seen the product embraced by local sales teams and existing Criteo customers; we’ve already helped clients boost their email open rates by more than 57% and conversion rates by nearly 10%.

You were part of the team that prepared Criteo for its IPO in November 2013. What were the biggest challenges, and how has the company changed since?

The path to IPO is a well-worn one and my team and I put a lot of work into ensuring that operationally we had the appropriate tools and systems in place.  As a NASDAQ listed company we can now invest in new markets and technology that meet our customers’ exacting requirements in this dynamic space.  Criteo has also benefited from the increased market awareness that becoming a public company encourages.  We are now recognised as an international leader in our industry.

What has been the most difficult market for Criteo to break in to?

Criteo is a truly global player, with operations in 69 countries around the world.  Every market has its own challenges and opportunities.

The beauty of working with Criteo is that clients can activate new markets quickly and as required. Many of the new countries now available are the markets of tomorrow in regions such as the Middle East, Africa, South America and South East Asia, all of which represent significant growth opportunities for advertisers.

We have a central global accounts team that educates both our internal sales teams and end advertising– through this initiative we have managed to open a significant number of additional markets for a large number of global advertisers.  It doesn’t matter if customers are looking to roll out five countries or 50, our technology can handle that kind of scale, without compromising on performance, and still delivering the analytics and measurement our clients trust.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with some great people over the years from the great team at MSN in the early days right up to Criteo. Joining what was a small business in 2010 (Criteo) and seeing us become the business we are today will be hard to top.

What qualities do you most prize in a potential hire?

There are a number of things I look for but one of my main criteria when hiring is finding those people that truly have passion and interest in technology.  Whatever role you occupy within a digital business, I generally find the people that are really inquisitive about new technology are the ones that can quickly grasp new products, concepts and future opportunities.  I also like people that have strong interests outside of their day job. We spend a lot of time in the office so a sense of humour is a bonus.

If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing instead?

Running a coffee shop somewhere.