The Language of Feelings

In this inspiring talk, Alex the CEO and founder of VisualDNA, shows how today’s internet is powered by naivety.  People don’t understand the value of what they give away for free, i.e. their data.   Alex paints a picture of the foreseeable future where the ‘Internet of Feelings’ transforms our interactions between each other and suggests that from it all will develop a far better connectivity and understanding between people, and a better value exchange between services and their users.

Alex Willcock was recently described by The Guardian newspaper as ‘an Internet visionary’ for his leadership of VisualDNA, one of ‘Five British Tech Companies to Watch’. Alex and his team of 150 people based in London, have pioneered a movement to combine big data and psychology to deliver better understanding across the digital ecosystem including unlocking credit to tens of millions of people.

VisualDNA integrates with AdapTV,, DataXu, Krux & Rocketfuel

Last week we announced new integrations with AdapTV,, DataXu, Krux and Rocketfuel: meaning a wider number of DSPs and now DMPs can access our data. Coverage in Adotas and MediaPost.



VisualDNA in the news – Ian Woolley, DataIQ magazine

Ian Woolley, CCO VisualDNA, interviewed in the latest quarterly DataIQ magazine:

“We think the market will move forward with brand preference and emotive data”

Full digital edition here (requires registration)

View PDF: VisualDNA-DataIq-2013

VisualDNA in the news – Ed Weatherall at Figaro Digital

VisualDNA Business Development Director Ed Weatherall spoke at Figaro Digital”s Digital Marketing conference last week.

In a wide-ranging session “The Intent Economy – Revealing the Invisible Truth About Your Customers”, together with Call Credit”s Paul Kennedy, Ed outlined how offline financial data can combine with online psychographic data to help casino marketers go deeper than demographics to develop a more complete “single view” of their customers.

Watch video.

See also: “Boys wear make-up and girls go to the pub on their own. It”s now much more about the tribes people belong to – their personalities and aspirations. It”s belief systems that actually hold people together.”

Full Ed Weatherall interview on the Figaro Digital website  – Editorial Article: Up Close and Personalised


VisualDNA in the news – Brian O’Sullivan in ExchangeWire

“With the silly season nearly upon us, advertisers are kicking off major brand campaigns and digital is more important than ever. Brands such as M&S, John Lewis and Argos are placing greater emphasis on digital for engagement and conversation. Delve deeper, however, and you’ll discover much of the Christmas digital budget is being spent on social media, mobile and ‘digital innovation’. What about programmatic?

Programmatic media buying has come of age. It’s here to stay, and with spend via exchanges continuing to grow, there’s opportunity to drive this growth even more, especially in brand spend where advertisers have ambitious briefs and budgets to match…”

Read in full on ExchangeWire

Girls love Google, Boys love BBC, why Richard Branson may have had an imaginary friend and a new face for Android. What VisualDNA learned when we profiled Mindshare’s Huddle #mshuddle

Above: The VisualDNA team (in lab coats) at Mindshare Huddle

Last week myself and two other members of the media team, Ed Weatherall & Kristen Anderson, attended Mindshare’s annual Huddle. I’d not been before and wasn’t sure what to expect from an ‘unconference’. Intended as a departure from the dry presentations you tend to get at regular conferences, we came up with the idea of creating a psychologists’ office where we’d psychoanalyze people using one of our quizzes. [Read more…]

Case Study: How we helped a publisher use VisualDNA data to triple conversions in a targeted brand campaign

We’ve been working closely with Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP), one of Russia’s oldest and best-known newspaper publishers, to help them leverage data to increase ad yields for one of their flagship properties – Russia’s leading sports website Soviet Sport . VisualDNA data more than doubled click through rates, reducing costs per click by 40%.

Like most traditional publishers KP, who also own tabloid news site Express Gazeta, have to prove they can attract a reliable audience in order to compete with aggregators such as Yandex and Google for advertisers’ digital spend – and they recognise the importance of reliable data (both their own data, and that of their party providers such as ourselves) in capturing that spend.

VisualDNA has a rich data set in Russia.  With 120,000 quizzes completed each month, scaled over a network of 45m cookies, we are the country’s leading data provider – incredibly rich data enabling us to target niche audiences at scale. We ran two campaigns for a major sports brand on behalf of their agency Mindshare Russia; one for a running event, the other for a specific product: Football Boots.

For the event, KP created custom segments by merging the audience that feature in three separate VisualDNA segments:  “Runners”, “18-24s” and “Males” to create an audience of 18-24 male runners. For the boots, KP merged “Soccer Lovers” “Males” and “18-24s” to create an audience of 18-24 males who play football.

The results below – benchmarked against their previous, un-targeted, Run of Network campaigns – more than justify the publisher’s investment in the data.

Demand for data in advertising is growing fast: programmatic buying is growing as advertisers see a clear return on data investment: getting better value than from the random audience they’d reach from a run of network. And media agencies are getting a better understanding of how to make data perform.

Five elements in particular made this campaign successful:

  1. The right segments: runners and football fanatics in addition to demographics
  2. The right number of impressions: don’t over-target your audience
  3. The right KPIs: to help you optimise and ensure you get ROI
  4. Fantastic creative: compelling visuals that appeal
  5. The right platform: in this case, a publisher with a loyal audience

This is a great example of how publishers can use data effectively. And the opportunities are growing. Technology allows publishers not just to reach audiences on their own sites, but to reach similar audiences after they’ve left thereby increasing reach: since VisualDNA’s platform is integrated with Google’s doubleclick, itself integrated with all major ad servers, virtually any publisher can now use our data to deliver targeted campaigns for any advertiser as a managed service and meet valuable brand campaign briefs.

How publishers can combine predictive analytics with CRM to convert registered users into paying subscribers

I know I’m wasting half my marketing budget, I just don’t know which half

It’s a well-worn marketing phrase and reflects a problem many would like to solve.  The better you understand your customers, the more effective your marketing – so we’ve been looking at how to apply the profiling technology we use in advertising to CRM, to see if we could predict which ‘unknown’ customers are most likely to buy.

VisualDNA has invested heavily in personality profiling technology. Using patented visual-based personality quizzes, we are able to profile individuals online with great detail and accuracy, and subsequently use behavioural models to extrapolate this detailed knowledge onto hundreds of millions of users. We group people by various characteristics into ‘segments’ – anonymised groups that can be used by businesses in communications, usually targeted advertising, product recommendation or content personalisation.

There are other applications too, one such area being CRM. Most businesses, whether they are business-to-business, or business-to-consumer, possess a database of customers, or active leads. And those customers can be categorised in all sorts of ways. But whichever way you define your customer base, it’s notoriously hard to predict who is most likely to buy.

So we wanted to test the idea that the inference algorithm we use to build our high-performing segments could also be used to identify which customers are most likely to buy out of any given data set.

Piano Media is a company who run a subscription paywall business on behalf of a large number of publishers in multiple countries in Europe; with a massive data set of customers who fit one of three categories;

1) Unknown / un-registered,

2) Registered but not subscribed,

3) Paying subscribers.

Clearly the objective for any business operating a freemium model is, having attracted the customer in the first place, migrating your unknown and registered users into paying customers. The question is, how do you know which of your registered users are most likely to become paying subscribers? At which part of your audience do you direct your marketing?

Working with Piano, we drew a random sample of 30,000 registered non-subscribers and compared their online behaviour to that of the entire population of paying subscribers; using what we call Look-alike modelling. We did this completely anonymously, using randomly generated anonymous identifiers stored in cookies.

From here we were able to assign a similarity score to every one of the 30,000 registered users – the score representing how similar user’s behaviour is to the paying subscribers and therefore how likely we think this person is to convert to a paying subscriber.

Piano then did three mailshots, under exactly the same conditions, to three separate groups within that population

• The top 5,000 (those with highest score)

• A random sample of 5,000 users

• The bottom 5,000 (those with lowest score)

The results are hugely encouraging. On the top 5,000 Piano got a conversion rate of 1.59%, compared to 0.52% for the random group and 0.22% for the bottom group. In other words, our algorithm correctly predicted those most likely to convert, based on the theory that the online behaviour of a paid-up subscriber was sufficient to build a profile on them and use that as a means to find those with a similar profile. Moreover, we correctly predicted that users with behaviour dissimilar to paying customers are a lot less likely to convert than random users, so that marketers don’t need to spend the money and energy marketing to these.

This result has significant implications. It means we can, in theory, take any database, whether online or offline, anonymously profile anyone in that database, and use our inference and Look-alike algorithms to predict behaviour to improve the effectiveness of a company’s marketing – in this case increasing conversion more than three-fold vs a random sample and weeding out those least-likely to buy.

Find out more.

How publishers get a real time understanding of their audience through WHYanalytics

This interview first appeared in US digital marketing blog The Makegood under the title “VisualDNA’s Ian Woolley on Real Time Understanding”

Ian Woolley is Chief Commercial Officer at VisualDNA, an audience insights company with patented technology helping businesses understand people online. The company is headquartered in Shoreditch, London and Ian joined the team just a few months ago. The Makegood recently spoke with Ian about VisualDNA’s products and vision.

The Makegood: Congratulations on the launch of Real Time Understanding (RTU). Could you explain how this technology works to profile visitors based off their emotions?

It starts with our patented visual personality quizzes. From these, we can create incredibly rich and accurate personality profiles very quickly.  They’re rich because the combination of images a person picks can be far more insightful than a list of options and require less interpretation than a multiple-choice of words, and they’re accurate because people are incentivized only by wanting to know more about themselves – we find this makes the answers genuine.

From here we use statistical analysis to put people into clearly-defined groups and behavioral inference to scale those groups into what we call Emotive Segments – anonymized groups used for targeted advertising.

Real Time Understanding profiles a website’s audience in real time, is viewed through the WHYanalytics platform and gives the publisher a deeper understanding of their users by demographic, intent, brand preference and personality type.

The Makegood: This is a very novel idea for marketing. What inspired you to create this technology and launch VisualDNA? How do you see it impacting digital advertising?

It was the other way round, really. Our founder Alex Willcock started VisualDNA because he saw the potential in using visual quizzes to understand people and improve their experience of the internet. If people have the means to communicate their intentions online in a way that’s useful for businesses then the benefits to both parties are clear.

Since then we’ve built a successful business around targeted advertising, and see a huge opportunity in emotive segments. It’s a nascent market at the moment but two big trends are in our favor; first, we know brands already use emotive characteristics to define their customers – the appetite is there to move beyond demographics in targeted advertising and second; the wider market for data is growing as programmatic ad buying platforms get more sophisticated and make it easier to use, publishers are recognizing that programmatic is not a threat to their existing revenues and more brand campaigns are becoming automated.

This all adds up to a bigger data market that we’re ready to capitalize on.

The Makegood: “Big data” is a buzzword today. I see you are also launching WHYanalytics. Can you explain what type of data will come from this and how it will benefit both marketers and content creators.

WHYanalytics essentially visualizes a publisher’s audience using our Segments, thereby revealing personality traits with Emotive Segments – as well as demographic, intent and brand preferences.

We’ll analyze their traffic, benchmark it against our database, and play that back to them – all in real time. To choose a segment at random, in any given online population you’d expect a certain proportion of “Creative Contemplators”. We will assess how that segment typically behaves online. We then look at the proportion of users on the publisher’s site exhibiting those characteristics – that’s where the benchmarking takes place. If the size of that group is well over average (say four times as large as you’d expect) then WHYanalytics will tell you that.

The upshot is that you as a publisher now know that your audience comprises a particularly high number of  “Creative Contemplators” than the norm – valuable insight when deciding what to put on that page, whether it’s an ad, product or editorial.

The Makegood: Many users express concern with privacy invasion when it comes to content personalization. How do you see companies such as Visual DNA handling this as Artificial Intelligence programs advance?

Our approach is to be transparent about what data we collect and how we use it, and we look to create value for people in the process. It’s worth emphasizing that the data we collect stays with us and is not sold to anyone else: the segments we create are completely anonymized.

On the wider issue of data ownership, we think people would be better served if they owned their own data and could use it in a way that creates value for them.

Making that happen remains a long-term goal for VisualDNA but neither the technology or the market is ready just yet.

The Makegood: Real Time Understanding seems to be a breakthrough technology with a lot of potential. What challenges do you see it facing as it progresses?

In the short-term our challenge is to help the market understand the benefits of data, and specifically the segments that we create out of it. Online advertising is a complicated industry and sometimes even those involved with using data on a day-to-day basis struggle to use it effectively – and on top of that the market is moving so fast.

So the first step for us is making the market aware that there’s now high-quality Emotive Segments available, and helping those in the market for data to use it to make their campaigns more effective. WHYanayltics is a great way to visualize an audience in terms of our segmentation, and we have plans to add new features in coming months that will make that information more actionable and measurable.

But we know that everyone in the entire marketing value chain wants to understand people better online – the building blocks are now in place and we’re really excited about the potential.

The Makegood: Thank you, Ian.

See more:



Some new features for WHYanalytics – and a word of thanks to our 270 beta partners

I’m the lead product manager for the suite of WHY products, VisualDNA’s new audience visualisation tools for publishers, advertisers, e-commerce companies and agencies.

Since launching the first beta of WHYanalytics in June, we’ve made great progress in developing the tools with more than 270 companies currently signed-up and using the product: traditional news publishers, online retailers and services businesses large and small from across the globe.

In particular the response from retailers has been fantastic.  Since we have the technology to profile any site visitor in real-time, it’s possible for us to power an automated, personalised, shopping experience through our API.

For example, if you know any given visitor to your website is in-market for a holiday, and/or is a relatively conservative spender a retailer can give prominence to products that suit that individual.  We’re a way off being able to offer this as an off-the-shelf feature in WHYanalytics but we’re running some tests with a major UK supermarket retailer to see how this could work in practice.

As this is our first analytics product, we’ve experienced a very steep learning curve and while in many aspects we were technically ready to scale the beta programme, we have struggled to meet the increasing demand on the customer support front. As a result we’re currently expanding our team in order to streamline how we consolidate feedback and feed it into the product-development process. To those of you who have been involved, a big thanks.

The feedback we have received so far has been extremely valuable and is behind some of the key changes we’ve made to the product in recent weeks;

  • Segment reaches are a useful metric for seeing what the composition of your site is. We’ve now also introduced indices – metric highlighting uniqueness of a segment for a particular site or a section compared to a base – the entire universe of VisualDNA profiles.  Moving forwards, we’re planning to expand this functionality to allow website owners to choose a base of their liking whether it is a section of their site or an entire industry sector.
  • Another key change is a new look of the Snapshot view.  The ‘widgetised’ dashboard allows us to present more data points at glance (demographics, intent and brand preferences as well as our emotive segmentation). This was a very important first step in an attempt to make the page adaptable for various screen sizes but also in preparation for making it customisable on per user basis.
  • And finally, we’ve made the signup process much smoother; after completing a simple one-step registration process you can delve right into the tool – no need to go back to your email to click on a confirmation link. Yes, we hate those as well!

We’re big advocates of single login and hence anyone who has already signed up and deployed code for WHYanalytics will be able to use the same sign in to access WHYcampaigns – a new product coming soon that will allows advertisers and agencies to see who’s interacting with their campaign from the moment an ad is shown on the network through to conversion.

Another product – WHYplanner – also coming soon, will allows agencies and planners to browse and discover VisualDNA audience segments and combine these to create a target audience in an answer to a campaign brief. Since no code is required to use this product – that won’t require a sign in at all. Follow us on twitter or this blog using Feedburner RSS or email for updates.

Finally – thanks to all our beta partners for your ongoing support and for helping us to build a better product. If you’ve not yet signed up and want to try it out simply visit It’s free.