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Why Publishers Like Complex Can’t Wait for Someone Else to Replace the Cookie

February 10, 2021



Aaron Braxton, Vice President, Head of Business Intelligence at Complex Networks talks about how even as his company is eyeing industry-wide attempts at replacing the cookie, such as the Trade Desk’s Unified ID initiative, publishers need to start taking audience intelligence into their own hands. In Complex’s case, that’s included recruiting a 30,000 member digital panel of enthusiasts, which helps inform the company’s editorial team while helping bring in more brand partnerships. But, as Braxton discusses, it’s going to take a lot more investment in data science for publishers to maintain their ability to track the impact of ad spending long term.



Mike Shields (43s):
Hi, everybody. Welcome to Next in Marketing. My guest today is Aaron Braxton from Complex Networks. Hey, Aaron. Thanks for being here.

Aaron Braxton (51s):
Hey, Mike, how are you? Good to talk to you.

Mike Shields (54s):
I’m good. I’m good. Give everybody your title. You’re Head of Business Intelligence, right?

Aaron Braxton (58s):
Yeah. So I’ve got two titles. I don’t know if that’s common or not in media practice, but certainly common, you know, a bit.

Mike Shields (1m 4s):
I think it’s quite common.

Aaron Braxton (1m 5s):
Common enough it, yeah. So we covered enough for Complex. So I am a VP, Head of Business Intelligence and SEO. I’m also second title, GM for Complex Collective, which is our research arm of Complex Networks.

Mike Shields (1m 20s):
Your LinkedIn is pretty different. You do not have a classic media background. Maybe, can you please talk about like what you’re doing before Complex and how you got here?

Aaron Braxton (1m 30s):
Sure, yeah. And that’s right, I come from a very non-traditional background for data practitioner for media professional marketer, researcher. Really, however, you might want to frame it. You know, I cut my teeth

early in finance in prime brokerage, which is like a service function for hedge and private equity fund clients within institutional banking. And then I went on to run trading and partner operations within alternative asset management. Same general space, but you know, that’s sort of where the analytics starts to focus in. And then eventually, I went on to management consulting. Focused on those same clients, but just in a widening sort of functional areas. First, you know, it was Ops, and then it was analytics and Ops.

Aaron Braxton (2m 11s):
And so when you think about like, that landscape, it’s AI banks, it’s hedge funds, it’s private equity. And then sort of quickly applying that skill set to a widening client focus. You know, I’ve worked with manufacturers, media companies, tech infrastructure, cards, as well. I probably work with every top five Global Bank, Amex, Google. I’m thinking of Barnes & Noble. We did some really interesting things with. And then a ton of companies you probably don’t know and never heard of. And so along that path, I taught myself how to code and because I needed the skill set. And starting with the SQL and then moving on to Python and R. You know, when you’re starting until sort of layer on the data engineering, it’s the parts of the analytics sort of skill set as well.

Aaron Braxton (2m 54s):
And then when you mix that up all with statistical analysis and the operational finance, then some of the innovation work I’ve been doing over the years. You’ve got an admittedly weird, but probably strong set of skills that I like to apply across a number of areas at Complex. We talk a little bit about that. Those are, again, Business Intelligence, SEO, audience research, and then sort of assorted special projects. skunkworks, if you will.

Mike Shields (3m 16s):
Right. So when you’re working for companies like Bank of America, are you helping them essentially trying to digitize their business and apply more analytics broadly and build that more efficiency? You’re trying to help them come become more operationally efficient? Like, was there a common thread to what you were doing before you got here?

Aaron Braxton (3m 33s):
Yeah. You see, those are the cool projects at a BFA, right? That means, there are admittedly some less exciting work there. You don’t deal dealing with capital constraints, SICAR, dealing with back-end operations, sort of like trading functions, blackbox systems, algorithmic trading systems, actually, that’s sort of cool. And so that it really ran the gamut, when you’re talking about working with banks. It can be like just lightly operational, and more process oriented tasks versus some of the more interesting stuff when you get into like trading systems, and derivative tracking, and that kind of thing.

Mike Shields (4m 4s):
It’s funny, when you were describing your background, I could almost see you ended up working for like a big

programmatic Adtech company. Was there any ever consideration you go into that world when you start talking about applying trading, algorithmic analysis?

Aaron Braxton (4m 19s):
Honestly, no. Programmatic was probably the <inaudible>. While I had come and going, working with media companies, some understanding of what programmatic exchanges were, and how programmatic ad layers sort of deliver, and what that sort of structure and architecture looks like? Something, I know that much better now. Really had sort of a good entry point. I mean, it was a bit of a crash course for me to go deep on the way that Complex viewed, sort of revenue diversity and add layer, to the point where I could go and start to innovate within that framework, you know. I had some pretty good guidance though. Scott Cherkin, who’s now at Warner. Dan Ghosh-Roy, who’s at Professional Fighters League. Now, Jonathan Hunt, who’s Head of Audience at Complex, and of course, Christian Baesler, who’s brilliant.

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Meet our host, Mike Shields

Mike Shields is the founder of Shields Strategic Consulting. Shields covered the ad business for over 15 years at top publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, Adweek and Digiday.

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