Getting Started With First-Party Data

Aaron Oberman | Getting Started with First-Party Data | CEO Campfire Chat | The Sterling Woods Group

Omeda has been a part of Aaron Oberman’s whole life. Aaron’s father founded the company when Aaron was young, and he still remembers going into the office with his dad and helping around the mailroom as a kid.

As he grew up, Aaron came on board at Omeda officially and held several roles within the organization before becoming CEO. He’s been leading the company for years. He’s guided it through several transformations that have made it into a different organization than the one his father started 40 years ago.

Today, Omeda is focused on the publishing space. It helps clients understand their audience and better monetize their relationships with those people. Omeda does that by simplifying the martech stack (a term that didn’t even exist in 1981 when Aaron’s father founded the company), by bringing the tools that collect, house, and leverage data all under one roof. The key to this work is first-party data, which Omeda helps clients manage and understand.

First-party data is a hot topic these days. With Google vowing to phase out third-party cookies on its Chrome browser by 2022, the pressure is now on for anyone who makes money creating content online to collect their data on customers. 

And while it’s historically been those in the publishing industry who have made money off of sharing ideas and content, today, just about any brand has the opportunity to generate revenue through thought leadership. It could be via articles, videos, podcasts, webinars, or any other content, but many brands today would benefit from the smart collection, analysis, and use of first-party data.

That’s why, although Omeda’s current focus remains in publishing, Aaron sees myriad opportunities to branch out into new verticals. 

And because he’s so passionate about the value of data, Aaron shared tips that any leader can leverage to begin to collect and use their customer data to drive growth.

First and foremost, Aaron advocates for a slow and steady approach. He’s seen too many executives get caught up in the excitement of the data buzzwords—AI, machine learning, neural networks—and lose sight of the basics. Any strong data project begins with good, clean data. Collecting, scrubbing, housing, and organizing data should be project number one for anyone who wants to get a data project off the ground.

Once you’ve built a solid foundation with your data, you can begin to analyze it. But again, Aaron preaches caution. While diving in head-first might be exciting, it can cost you in the long run. Instead, dip a toe in the water. Hire a consultant rather than bringing on a data team full-time. This approach might cost more upfront, but it will save you in the long run.

Finally, he cautions that you should begin your data project with a focus. Don’t start a data project just to say you have one. How will your project help you drive revenue? That’s the real question to ask.

Rob adds that starting with the question, “Who is our best customer and why?” is a great way to ensure that you’re on the right track with your data program from the start.

Aaron is excited about the future of data for organizations in any industry. By understanding your best customer, you can build better products, monetize content, and otherwise strengthen the relationship with your audience. First-party data is the key to organic revenue growth if you know how to use it.

Episode Transcript

Rob Ristagno: Data science. Big data. AI. Machine learning. We hear these terms tossed around all the time in the modern business world, but what do they actually mean? How can data become more than just another buzz word? How can data become a guiding principle that transforms the way you do business? Today, I sit down with the CEO of Omeda, an audience relationship management platform, to discuss how any brand can use its data to drive growth.

Announcer: This is the CEO Campfire Chat, with your host, Rob Ristagno. Taped in front of a live studio audience, join us to hear successful growth stories from middle-market companies just like yours. Sponsored by the Sterling Woods Group.

Rob Ristagno: Welcome to the CEO Campfire Chat, recorded live in front of a studio audience of senior executives. I’m your host, Robert Ristagno. I have the privilege of introducing you to Aaron Oberman, the CEO of Omeda. Aaron has been with the tech company for 23 years now. Over that time span, he has become one of the industry’s leading experts in how data can be used to build revenue. Aaron, welcome.

Aaron Oberman: Thanks, Rob. Good to be here.

Rob Ristagno: All right. Well, let’s hear a little bit more about the backstory. You spend the bulk of your career at Omeda. Tell us the journey, the different roles you’ve played, and how the heck you ended up as the CEO.

Aaron Oberman: Sure. Well, there’s 23 years officially. You could argue I’ve actually been there almost the whole 41 years since my dad started it when I was six or seven. I would go to the office with him after baseball games and the like and just do odd stuff around the office, work in the mail room, and things like that when I was 10. So somewhat been there my whole life, actually.

Rob Ristagno: We won’t tell the child labor law people about that.

Aaron Oberman: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I wasn’t getting paid. I wasn’t getting paid.

Rob Ristagno: Okay. All right, then it’s fine.

Aaron Oberman: So don’t worry about that.

Rob Ristagno: All right.

Aaron Oberman: Yeah, my dad started the company in 1981. He actually had a business with my grandfather. It was a small publishing company. During that time he developed a system that he then split off and started selling it to other publishing companies, which is how Omeda got started.

Aaron Oberman: So that’s been my path through the organization and to where I am today as CEO. Obviously, I pretty much have done every job in the company, which is how my dad wanted it to be. Then about five years ago now, we bought our main competitor.

Aaron Oberman: At that time, my dad had already been slowing down. I had two other brothers that worked in the business at certain points, but had left do other things. So I bought my brothers out and half of my dad out. My brothers and I had been gifted shares through estate planning. So now I’m majority owner and my dad is still a minority owner.

Rob Ristagno: People in the audience may not know Omeda. Tell us a little bit about what you do.

Aaron Oberman: Sure. So as Rob alluded to a little earlier ago, at a high level, we help clients get a better understanding of their audience and how to better monetize that audience. We do that by simplifying their marketing technology stack, so their martech stack.

Aaron Oberman: It started in our roots of understanding and managing first-party data. It wasn’t, obviously, called first-party data 40 years ago, but that’s what it’s transformed into that. So our roots are really getting a firm understanding and building out a database of your first-party audience and all the different touch points, behaviors, demographics, contact types you might have with that audience.

Aaron Oberman: Then from there, we built an email platform and a marketing automation platform that sits right on top of that database, and then also what’s now called a CDP, a customer data platform. Again, it sits right on top of that database. What a CDP is, is it’s basically web tracking software, so it tracks people’s behavior on your website.

Aaron Oberman: So what’s unique about our offering is we’re doing that all in one place, all integrated off of one centralized database. So if you want to send a marketing automation campaign, it can include personalization on your website, it can include targeting on Facebook and the like all from one interface.

Rob Ristagno: It sounds like a totally different business than what your father started.

Aaron Oberman: Totally different. Totally different business.

Rob Ristagno: I mean, you’re a SaaS tech company now. Tell us a little bit about what it took to make that decision to pivot and some of the obstacles making the change.

Aaron Oberman: On one level, the decision to pivot was pretty easy. You either pivot or you kind of go by the wayside, right? I mean, that’s true of a lot of businesses, if you’re going to be in business for 40 years and would like to be in business for another 40.

Aaron Oberman: So I think it—a lot of it, frankly, is twofold. One, not surprisingly to probably most of you, you’ve got to hire really good people. So we’ve, part of what I did five years ago is we transformed our management team and brought in some leading experts to help us understand where the market was going. So obviously, that, I think, is an important point. Then too, I think we did a really good job of listening to our clients and seeing where they wanted to go on certain areas.

Aaron Oberman: One of the key things, I think, also we did was while listening to clients, we also avoided the innovator’s dilemma trap. We had to figure out which clients to listen to, because you can definitely listen to the wrong client. If they’re not being progressive enough and they say you need to do this, and then you realize, wait a second, we built this and [inaudible 00:05:33] caught up to you and, well, we don’t need that service or that product anymore. It doesn’t work.

Aaron Oberman: So we’ve done, I think, it’s been kind of two-pronged, a really good approach of hiring the right people, and two, a firm belief in kind of the innovator’s dilemma theory in that, while do you need to listen to your clients, try and get ahead of them and understand where the market’s going.

Rob Ristagno: Right. Any questions from the audience about Omeda, what they do, and probing a little bit on this pivot?

Mark: It would be good just to hear a little bit about the business model associated with the pivot, as well.

Aaron Oberman: Sure. Yeah, actually, the good thing about our model, we didn’t pivot that much. While we did pivot, per se, in some of our products, I wouldn’t say our business pivoted. If you follow that. Not to split hairs on the word pivot, but most of our clients are still the same clients. We’ve had clients for 30 years, so we’ve been successful in that regard.

Aaron Oberman: Our business model, whether my dad knew it or not at the time, it has always been a subscription model business, right? We sign two- to three-year contracts with our clients, monthly fees, so that part of it has actually always been in our DNA, which has been a good thing.

Aaron Oberman: You know, part of where we’ve pivoted the most in that regard was in the past you would pay for our services based on the number of subscriptions we would manage for someone, whereas today, what we’ve pivoted now is to our clients pay us for the amount of data we’re storing and managing. Right? And the amount of emails we’re sending and the unique visitors we’re managing for them.

Aaron Oberman: So that’s kind of been our pivot on that side of it, Mark, if that makes sense. That’s been very successful, especially in today’s environment where the size and the amount of magazines has obviously changed a lot in today’s world. But we’re actually managing throwing a lot more data than we did in the past, right? We’re excited about that. That also then leads to how we work with our clients and partner with them to have them realize that how do you better monetize that data now that we’re storing it in the end.

Brent Diamond: Can you give us a sense of what kind of clients you have, what the typical client would be?

Aaron Oberman: Sure. Yeah. Most of our clients are in the B2B media and publishing space. So we are doing a little more in the consumer space. We’re going to grow into more of the consumer publishing environment.

Aaron Oberman: A typical client of ours is a publisher that might have three or four different brands they manage. The reason they’re calling themselves, now, media companies, they’re driving a lot of their revenue from a lot of different products. So events is a big revenue generation for our clients now. Lead gen is a big revenue generator for them. Obviously, advertising is still important. They are now gaining, too, in this time, on the B2B side, getting into more paid subscriptions.

Aaron Oberman: A standard client of ours would have three or four different brands. We have clients that have 60 brands. We have clients that have one, right? So we run the gamut. But an average client of ours is in the four to five brand range. We’re probably storing and managing anywhere from a million to a million and a half, maybe 500,000, different records for them. Their own records, first-party records.

Aaron Oberman: Then sending, obviously, the email volume varies, but anywhere from 5 million a month. We have clients sending 5,000 a month. We have some clients sending 50 million emails a month on that. Same on the unique visitors side. So on email side, we’re sending, right now, we’ll do over 5 billion emails this year through the platform. Good growth there. Then unique visitors, we’re storing and managing over 250 million unique visitors a month across our client’s websites. Essentially, we’re storing and managing actually about 140 million first-party names across our client base. So it’s a lot of names and those are all B2B names, not consumer names.

Rob Ristagno: Yeah, actually one thing that you mentioned there is a lot of your clients are dependent on ad revenue and on event revenue. Especially events, but to some extent also advertising, this must have been a really tough year for them. So how did you think about being there for them during this hard time, and then how did you take care of yourself?

Aaron Oberman: It’s a great question. You know, at one level we’re thankful we have two to three year contracts in the subscription model. So that’s been good. We were nervous, our payments did slow down a little bit, but they got back to where we were comfortable with that. So that was good.

Aaron Oberman: To our client’s credit, a lot of them pivoted pretty quickly in different areas. Obviously, a lot of them went to virtual events. Webinars were a big push for them because what was happening is what they’re responsible for for a lot of their marketing efforts, it’s helping their clients fill their own pipelines, right? People still needed that even if live events were going away. So a lot of our clients were pretty smart in pivoting to webinars and the like and did pretty well in that area.

Aaron Oberman: The other thing that some of them did was a lot of them pushed up certain plans they had. One of our large clients actually pushed up a three-year plan and did it in three months to go almost all digital with their magazine, and that saved them a lot of money on the back end. But fortunately for us, we were very good partner with them and we were able to help them do that.

Aaron Oberman: So I think all in all, and what we’ve done also on taking the partnership approach with our clients, is we hosted three or four CEO calls, which we had a call with 20 of our largest CEOs. We put them together in basically something similar to almost like this, Rob, where I’ll throw a question out there and just shut up and let them talk. Which I think they all appreciated. Unfortunately, some of the associations in our current space have had some issues, so that’s been lacking. So we saw a need there and we tried to fill that, which I think a lot of our clients appreciated.

Aaron Oberman: We did the same in our CAB, our client advisory board. We upped the cadence of meetings just mostly so they can talk and learn from one another. Because we’re where our industry is and where our clients are, it’s definitely a rising tide lifts all boats environment for them right now. So we were trying to play our part in that since we service a lot of them.

Aaron Oberman: Fortunately for us, though, our clients, we were like, I think, most people, pretty nervous in March and early April, but it’s come out pretty well for us on the backend in our clients, especially.

Rob Ristagno: Gotcha. Yeah. No, it’s a theme that comes up every week here is that in these tough times, it just accelerates some changes that probably should have happened anyways. It sounds like that happened with a lot of your clients. It’s great just to be customer-focused and get your CEOs together and help them out.

Rob Ristagno: What about other sources of growth? You mentioned you were involved in some acquisitions during this period.

Aaron Oberman: Yeah. One of the things, we’ve had acquisitions as part of our growth plans. Part of our problem was our pipeline didn’t dry up. It was definitely getting pushed back, getting a lot of enterprise sales where we were talking to people who we like what you want to you do, we want to go with you, we’re doing with our current vendor for another year because we just can’t get there right now. Obviously, we take a long-term approach. We said we totally understand. We’re not going anywhere. You know, we’ll stay in touch, let us how we can help.

Aaron Oberman: So our pipeline was pushed back. Thankfully, that’s actually picked up again, especially over the last month. That part slowed down, but what we were able to do in the near term was we’ve actually done two acquisitions in the second half of this year. We’re working on hopefully a third one already. Now it’s still a non-disclosure stage.

Aaron Oberman: That’s what I’ve been working on myself, frankly, is working on that pipeline for acquisitions in our space. That’s been really good for us. We built out a great platform so we’re able to do some acquisitions, port all the clients over to our platform, bring a few other people onboard as well, and it’s worked out really well.

Rob Ristagno: Yeah. How do you think about in this remote work environment, how do you think about onboarding both new clients and new employees from the acquisition?

Aaron Oberman: Yeah, I think, and obviously knowing what Kurt does now, he knows more about that than I do. But that’s definitely been the hardest part, I think, for a lot of us is that we’ve hired four or five people. That’s been difficult, obviously. Fortunately for us, a couple of them were actually employee rep recommendations. So they were able to get on board, they knew one or two people already in our company, so that helped them out a lot.

Aaron Oberman: On the one acquisition we did that was local, we did actually have an in-person meeting in the office. The nice thing is we had 12 people in a 14,000 square foot office, so we were able to take advantage of that and spread out pretty well. So we did that. So that was good, but that definitely was part of the challenge for sure and one of the things we were concerned about.

Aaron Oberman: The one acquisition, actually, we ended up not bringing any of the people on, so wasn’t as much of a factor.

Rob Ristagno: Gotcha. All right. Well, Kurt [Wilkin of HireBetter] will be a guest in an upcoming episode, so we’ll hear more. But Kurt, any quick reactions to that?

Kurt Wilkin: It’s been a challenging year for the recruiting industry, but it’s been an opportunity to really upgrade some talent, for sure.

Aaron Oberman: Yeah, to your point, so our office when we’re there is kitty corner to Chase, and Chase just had a RIF. We had an opening for a full-stack user experience designer, front-end designer, and we filled the position in one day because literally she applied in one day and we were like, I don’t understand why anyone will let this person go, but I’m not going to complain about it. So we were very happy to get her on board.

Kurt Wilkin: That was definitely the beauty early on in the pandemic. It seems those opportunities are fewer, but depending on the industry, there’s still some very talented folks out there.

Aaron Oberman: Yeah.

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Audience Member: Yeah. I mean, I was curious on the acquisitions how you’re thinking about your growth overall. Is acquired growth more or less or equally important to organic growth? Is it about acquiring market share versus expanding existing clients? Just curious overall, your growth strategy.

Aaron Oberman: Sure. No, it’s a good question. We’re still, as I said, privately held. So I don’t have PE guys breathing down my neck saying, “Well, you’re at 19% growth instead of 20. You had a bad year.” So fortunately I don’t have that problem. Although, sometimes being pushed isn’t a bad thing.

Aaron Oberman: So I think of it two-prong. One, there are some good opportunities in our space to add new company logos, add some growth that way. We haven’t done acquisitions of adding tech or adding products yet. We’ve talked about that a little bit and starting to pursue it, but we don’t have as much experience on that front. Because most of the companies we’re buying, we’re not buying for any of their software, right? We’re just putting in our platform.

Aaron Oberman: So that’s definitely an area we’re looking to expand in and maybe adding some new products sets through acquisitions. We’ve also talked about, right now, one of my key objectives, especially for 2021, is to get into some new markets and expand where we’re at. You know, our platform can be company-agnostic, almost. So really what our view of it, in today’s world, almost everyone is a publisher, right? We’ve been working with publishers for 40 years. So how can we get our message to companies that are now trying to be thought leaders and drive content? What are their content marketing strategies and how we can help them understand their audience better to drive better content?

Aaron Oberman: So we’ve talked about trying to get some equity growth through acquisitions of new marketscape, but we’re not there yet, is the short answer. I still want to continue growing organically, obviously. I think that’s an important thing for us in our world. We’ve kind of been a little victim of our own success in certain areas in that a lot of our growth has been inbound opportunities and so we haven’t focused as much on our outbound sales efforts, and that’s an area I want to grow into more in 2021 as well. So it’s kind of a two-pronged thing.

Aaron Oberman: The other thing we’ve done really well is we’ve now got a pretty good team and an onboarding roadmap for acquisitions. So we can get our client acquisitions done and onboarded in a two to three month period for most of them. So I don’t see why we shouldn’t continue that now that we’ve got that engine kind of fired up and running.

Audience Member: That’s a huge asset in and of itself.

Aaron Oberman: Yeah, right. Yeah, fortunately, I’ve been in YPO for a long time, Young Presidents Organization, and one of the guys in my forum works for a large company. He did like 19 acquisitions in a year, kind of thing. So I learned a lot from listening to him about what they built. Obviously, we’re not at that scale, but you pick up a lot of small things that you can do. Definitely building out the team and a roadmap was one of the things I learned from him.

Rob Ristagno: All right. Should we shift gears, then, talking a little bit about first-party data, third-party data? Not to get too technical here, but for those of you who aren’t in the marketing space, your third-party cookies are going away on your browsers. So the way that you’re tracked by some of the big companies out there is going to change soon, which presents some challenges and opportunities.

Rob Ristagno: Aaron, you’re an expert in this field. Just wondering if you could just give us a little bit of how to think about it as a CEO?

Aaron Oberman: Yeah, expert, specifically in that area, might be a little bit… I appreciate it, Rob, but I don’t want to mislead anybody. Frankly, on some level, I don’t know if anyone’s an expert when it comes to some of this because it’s still fluid, right?

Rob Ristagno: Oh yeah, that’s true.

Aaron Oberman: No one totally knows, but I appreciate it. That said, I think the way we look at it is an opportunity, especially with our current clients. Because what they’ve been stressing is they know who their audience is and they know how to better market to them, right? So we view this, for ourselves, as an opportunity because our platform is all first-party cookie-based anyways. So it sounds self-serving, but we actually believe that either way that that’s the right way to do it. So we see this as definitely an opportunity out there.

Aaron Oberman: I think what it’s going to stress is that the fact is that people are just going to have to get better capabilities about understanding and knowing who their audience is, if they don’t already. I think what you’ll see, and we’re starting to see this little bit with some of the consumer media companies we’re talking to, especially the smaller ones who have been selling on these, trying to sell on a large, unique visitor based platform, that companies aren’t going to pay large CPMs for that moving forward. They’re going to want to have a really good understanding of who’s on your site, how you’re engaging with them, what they’re engaging with on your sites.

Aaron Oberman: We see, again, see that as opportunity for those people to take better control of that, to get better CPMs on what they’re able to charge, do that and go that route. So that’s our view of it.

Aaron Oberman: It’s definitely going to be interesting to see what happens with some of the DMPs out there that had been based on these third-party cookies and all that whole world built around that. I don’t know enough, to be honest, to tell you what’s going to happen. If anyone does know, I’m the first in line that to learn that, because I think it’s too fluid a situation to fully understand.

Rob Ristagno: Yeah. It seems like some of the rules of the game are unclear and changing. Yeah, you ask three different people in the industry and get three different answers.

Aaron Oberman: Right. You might actually get four, actually.

Rob Ristagno: That’s right. But I think that the point is sort of no matter what, there’s some value in your own data and how do you use your own data.

Aaron Oberman: Exactly. I think at the end of the day, to your point, that to us that’s always been the case. I just think it’s going to be more and more of a case that the better you understand and know your audience and your customers, the better you’re going to be. I don’t care what happens to third-party, even if third parties were continuing, I still think that’s true. So that would be my thought.

Rob Ristagno: What about these terms, we use them a lot, data science, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics? Sometimes they’re interchanged when they shouldn’t be, but that doesn’t even really matter. As a CEO, we see the writing on the wall, we need to be using data more to do better with our sales and marketing and operations and finance and everything. It can be overwhelming to some people. How would you recommend a company get started?

Aaron Oberman: For sure. I think there’s a couple areas to think about. One, I think people misuse—and Rob, you know this better than I do—misuse these terms all the time. AI is a big term now. Not many people are actually using artificial intelligence. They might be doing predictive modeling, they might be doing some other regression analysis stuff, very few are actually using artificial intelligence. But people glom onto it, so they use the phrase.

Aaron Oberman: I think, to me, where I sit and what I try and talk to some of our clients about is you get a lot of, especially on the CEOs that we talk to, and I think this has changed over the last three or four years, people want to go zero to a hundred and realize that the rest of their company is still at the starting line on a lot of this stuff. Yes, a CEO’s job is to push and move your copy forward, but you got to realize how fast that the rest of your team can catch up.

Aaron Oberman: I think that’s where we’ve seen some of our clients, and frankly, some of the things I’ve done, have gotten burned in the past on that. That, oh, this is a great thing. This is the new thing. We’re going to go at it a hundred. We’re going to start running right away. And you forget the crawl and walking stages.

Aaron Oberman: So I think a lot of companies, especially on the CEO level, hear these things, they go to a conference, talk to a friend, but what they’re not realizing, especially if you want to do good data science, you have to have a really good understanding of where all your data is to begin with. You have to have it clean, housed in one place, organized properly. All of those things have to be there, that foundation has to be built, or else you’re building a house of cards, if you will, if you don’t have those foundational things built.

Aaron Oberman: So I think where we see a lot of our clients, one, is they’re not understanding that the foundation, which again, is not the sexy stuff, right? But you have to have that built if you’re going to do successful data science or getting anywhere with data analysis. Any of those things, the data to us is key. Again, I’m not saying that self-servingly, because that’s one of the things we help our clients do. To me, that’s just fundamental in that area. I think that’s sometimes an overlooked set because it’s not sexy.

Aaron Oberman: Then I think the second part is, I think where we’ve seen some clients fail on this a little bit as well, is how are you actually going to make money off it? Just doing it to do it might sound good, especially when you’re talking to your buddies or depending where your group is.

Rob Ristagno: My buddies love data.

Aaron Oberman: Yeah, it might be a little different in your area. But you’ve got to still, at the end of the day, you can build all this stuff and do it, but how are you actually going to implement it in your business to make money? Right? Because at the end of the day, that’s the goal of your business. It should be.

Aaron Oberman: Make money might not be the right way, but find value may be a better way to say it. Because you might be using it just to figure out new ways or new products to build, right? But to me, that’s another step that sometimes gets missed on the data science, data analysis part.

Rob Ristagno: So really, what’s the value before just diving in?

Aaron Oberman: Right, exactly.

Rob Ristagno: What am you trying to get out of this? Then you know exactly what data to look for, what tools to license, and whatnot.

Aaron Oberman: Exactly. I think if you start from there, other things, then, we’ll figure out and say, “Oh, well, if we’re going to try and build it here, we need this data here. We need to get it clean. Now let’s figure out the right people.”

Aaron Oberman: So to me, those are the two areas. I guess a third piece that I would say, candidly, we tried this, it didn’t work either. We’re a much better fitting now is try and put maybe a little, depending on who you are as an organization, put a toe in the water first, work with maybe someone—not necessarily hire a whole team to start. You know, maybe you can get some good consultants in who can help you get a better understanding of that first. It might cost you a little more on the front end, but I think you’ll be in much better shape on the backend from a cost basis, because diving in the deep end on that is very expensive when you get into data science.

Rob Ristagno: Aaron, you do raise some great points there about crawl, walk, run, make sure the foundation’s there. I personally think the most important thing is make sure you’re asking the right questions and know what questions you want to ask before you invest in technology, data, teams, consultants, whatnot.

Rob Ristagno: The question, I guess, we get a lot when we start working with our clients is where do we start? Where do we start? Specifically, what questions should I be asking of our data?

Rob Ristagno: The number one thing, the biggest bang for the buck that we found, “Who is our best customer and why?” I think if you start with that question, you’re going to get an answer relatively quickly, you’re going to be able to take some actions relatively quickly, relatively inexpensively, and that is the way to put the training wheels on your data program. That’s a question that you can solve with the data, you can take action on, you can get quick results on, and that is going to give you the confidence and security that it’s worth doubling down and doing even more with the data.

Rob Ristagno: Some other people complain, look, our data’s a mess, to your foundation point. Our data’s a mess, I’m not sure we want to invest in fixing the foundation because we’re not sure what we’re going to find in there. That’s when we say, you know what? Go out and get some fresh data. Customer data is the best data. Go out and do some surveys, do some interviews, get some market data on your market, and that’s the best place to start, with data that’s fresh.

Rob Ristagno: Then when you see the insights there, that’s when you can make the investment in going back to your legacy CRM data, your legacy transactional data, your legacy customer data, and cleaning that up. But if you don’t have data now, or you’re not confident in your data now, go and get some easy, cheap data and learn from that.

Brent Diamond: I’d be curious to hear your point of view on the difference between a data scientist or a data scientist functions versus really hardcore advanced analytics, if you see a difference or if they’re kind of one and the same?

Aaron Oberman: It’s a good question, Brent. So the way I would look at it is a very good data scientist uses advanced analytics packages to do their job, if that makes sense.

Aaron Oberman: When we first started looking at this, we hired a really top notch data scientist, and then he said, “Well, if you want me to actually do this, I need three data analytics people underneath me to help me analyze all the data.” Right? So all of a sudden it starts growing. That’s where I’m saying it’s hard to do it with just one person.

Aaron Oberman: I think, also, from my perspective, and this is my perspective, maybe there isn’t a data scientist, someone who’s good at analysis, the data scientist, a good one, at least, should know how that relates to your business and how you can create value off it as opposed to just here’s analytics. You know, here you go, boss, here’s a nice looking graph and charts and analysis on it. I don’t know what you want to do with it. If that makes sense. That’s kind of how I view the world that way.

Aaron Oberman: Someone who is good at data analytics might be really good at understanding how regression works there, how lookalike modeling might work here, but they’re not necessarily the one who’s going to tell you how to make money off of that. That’s how I view it. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong.

Brent Diamond: Yep. Okay. That’s helpful. Thank you.

Rob Ristagno: So it sounds like you really have a combination here of new products, new features, new value add to your existing customers, new markets. We didn’t talk too much actually about you going into, you mentioned at the beginning of the interview, going more into the consumer space and maybe content marketing, companies that are big in content marketing. Do you want to say a little bit more about how you’re thinking about that growth lever?

Aaron Oberman: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So actually our view of the world, especially on the media side, is consumer, actually, well, it is sexier on the front end. They are five to 10 years behind on the backend of their business compared to the B2B media world, actually. So we think our platform can really help the consumer guys get a better understanding of who their audience is, also help them drive more of a multi-product approach as opposed to more of just an ad subscription product, help them more with their events, leads, so on and so forth. So we’re excited about the consumer area.

Aaron Oberman: Then to your point, again, we think everyone’s a publisher today. One area we’re thinking of going after is associations, which look a lot like media companies, anyways. So that’s definitely a good area for us for growth. We have a few association clients now. Also, actually, we see professional services firms being a good area for us. You know, they’re starting to do a lot more thought leadership. Whether that’s just through their newsletter cadence, they’re holding events, they’re holding webinars, they’re looking a lot more like media companies. Again, our platform can help them get a better understanding of how to do that better. So we’re excited about that area as well.

Aaron Oberman: So those are definitely the ones. We’re still a relatively small business, so we can’t go after every market, but those are definitely ones we want to target in 2021. We’re already targeting consumer ones pretty heavily. We’re working on that right now.

Rob Ristagno: Aaron, thanks. It’s been great having you on here. We learned a lot. We just want to ask you what is something that the audience can do for you?

Aaron Oberman: You know, I think it does get back to our roots are definitely in the media publishing space, so the area I’m always trying to work on is how do we better get into some new markets? Our product, I know, can work there. It’s just trying to figure out better ways to market ourselves outside of our current space. Sometimes our history works against us there, if you will, because people see us as, oh, you’ve just been 40 years serving publishers. How do you know how to work with us? So that’s usually where I ask for help in situations like this.

Rob Ristagno: If someone has some ideas for you or they’re interested themselves, what’s the best way for them to get in touch?

Aaron Oberman: Email’s easy. Aoberman@omeda. O-M-E-D-A. That’s the best way to get in touch with me.

Rob Ristagno: Excellent. Thanks.

Rob Ristagno: This has been the CEO Campfire Chat. Thank you, Aaron Oberman. I’m your host Rob Ristagno. To listen to more episodes, sign up for bonus content, or take a two minute business growth assessment, visit See you next time around the fire.

Rob Ristagno: This episode of the CEO Campfire Chat podcast is brought to you by the Sterling Woods Group. Middle-market executives and private equity investors need to achieve rapid revenue growth, but face limited resources and time. We’ve developed a proven system to quickly and confidently uncover your best opportunities for growth so that you can scale up and maximize exit value. To learn more about our proprietary data-driven approach, check out

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