BIG DATA & CANNABIS – INTERVIEW WITH JON LOWEN CO-FOUNDER OF SURFSIDE
Surfside is a customer acquisition platform that specializes in activating and expanding 1st party data for marketing, insights, and measurement. They are currently focused in the cannabis industry but working across verticals to help businesses understand, retain and acquire new customers.
With the industry becoming even more data driven, we’re grateful to have learned more about what Surfside is up to from one of their co-founders, Jon Lowen. Jon is a proven leader in the advertising technology industry, implementing strategies that deliver results across business operations and product development.
Most recently Jon was Chief Strategy Officer at SITO Mobile, where he was at the helm of growth strategy acquisitions and business development as he helped increase revenue 40x over his tenure. Prior to CSO, Jon was COO and led operations and product at multiple companies including SITO, DoubleVision, and Carbon Media Group (formerly Outdoor Hub).
During his leadership, Jon has grown each business by over 10x from a revenue and employee perspective and successfully procured multiple capital raises and exits. Here’s what he had to tell us about Surfside:
[Q.] Hi Jon! Can you tell us a little bit about your personal background and how you came to enter the cannabis industry??
[A.] Sure thing! Early on I began my career in advertising and technology. While still in college I joined a startup that was focused on advertising for hunting and fishing brands across digital media.
This was an interesting vertical as a lot of these companies did not have an outlet for digital advertising and many mainstream publishers/technologies banned brands that advertised guns and ammo – which is obviously a big spender in the hunting space.
It was during this time that I learned the ins and outs of the digital media space and how to create solutions for underserved markets!
Over the next 10+ years I continued to work with different technologies and stay ahead of the curve as digital media grew at a rapid rate. Most recently I was involved with location-based media through mobile advertising and we utilized location data to help with driving sales and foot traffic for brick and mortar retailers.
We found that location data was an excellent way to understand the behavior and purchase intent of consumers and that there were a number of applications when utilized properly. Through all this experience, we wanted to take what we had learned through working with 1,000s of brands and retailers and create a simplified solution that was accessible to the masses. One of our first clients was a multi-state dispensary who was in search of data and media solutions.
Through this client, we became very interested and educated on the limitations and technologies available to the cannabis market.
It was at this time that we decided to focus our efforts on solving for the lack of media capabilities, scale and technology that served this market. We wanted cannabis companies to have the same if not better opportunities to grow and manage their businesses through smarter consumer data and targeted marketing.
[Q.] What is Surfside and how does it help dispensaries and brands acquire new customers?
[A.] In Every brand, retailer or business has different attributes, products or culture that drives consumers or other businesses to work with them. We help companies identify what those attributes are so they can find additional people, devices or businesses with those same attributes to grow their business in a more efficient manner.
We work with brands and dispensaries so that they can take customer data that may go unused, like website visits, store visits, purchase insights, media campaign engagement, and other digital and physical interactions that a consumer may have with a company, and we turn all of that data into insights and actionable audiences for marketing purposes..
Surfside maintains a real-time graph on consumer data (The Experience Graph) that profiles 99% of consumers in the US and CAN – it includes demographics, location, purchases, behaviors and associated devices.
When this data is merged 1st party data from a brand or dispensary, it provides additional insight on who these customers are and how and why they are purchasing or interacting with your business. Specifically for a brand, if you have people visiting your site, you want to know what type of consumer is interested in your brand and how can you then reach that consumer, and similar consumers, to then drive a purchase online or in-store.
For a dispensary, it may be connecting your POS data, with your CRM and website data, to better understand the path to purchase/store visit. When working with brands and dispensaries, big and small, we can use the Surfside data and/or the customer 1st party data to help create a more targeted advertising campaign that is tailored to audiences that are more likely to become customers – lowering customer acquisition costs and increasing time to conversion.
[Q.] How does Surfside collect it’s first-party data?
[A.] Surfside partners with a number of dispensaries, brands, e-commerce platforms, POS systems and other cannabis related datasets and technologies.
We are observing deterministic and anonymized online and offline behaviors and associating them to marketable IDs. We then enrich this consumer-level cannabis data with other real-world behaviors and attributes so that Surfside can get a complete picture of the consumer journey and understand what components or combinations are driving current and future actions.
[Q.] Can you tell us more about the Surfside ecosystem?
[A.] The Surfside ecosystem allows you to plan, execute, optimize and measure your business growth. We present a single solution that allows businesses to take static and unused customer data and turn it into marketing segments. This allows businesses to efficiently market highly relevant new and existing customers via omni-channel advertising.
At the core of this technology is our Experience Graph. The Experience graph works with our data collection technology to enrich and turn single purpose data into highly actionable and multidimensional customer data.
Our web-based interface allows for customers to visualize and build audiences, measure campaign and retail successes, along with plan and forecast future marketing initiatives. Once you have built and discovered the proper audiences and media mix model, you are able to action and execute programmatic media campaigns through the Surfside DSP.
[Q.] How does Surfside ensure that ads reach of-age audiences?
[A.] We take a multi-step approach when validating age and ensuring proper targeting. Table stakes are being able to target specific publishers that have validated that their audience is at least 71.6% over the age of 21.
We take additional steps beyond that as our goal is to drive real results. So there is no value to Surfside or our clients to reach underaged consumers as they are unable to enter a dispensary or order these products online – our goals are to drive sales and store visits. To achieve this level of targeting we use predefined audiences from our Experience Graph which has age, purchase and location data associated to marketing IDs.
Beyond putting an age filter on the audiences we reach, we look at their visitation to age-gated locations and their lifestyle habits to be able to validate against the age data that we associate to our profiles. This is cross referenced against a number of 3rd party datasets so that we can validate our findings against other reputable sources as well.
[Q.] What do you think is one of the biggest obstacles facing the industry today?
[A.] There are so many obstacles in this industry that it is really hard to pick one. Also, being an ancillary company and non-plant touching we are very sheltered to the true obstacles that exist.
That being said, I believe they all stem from the lack of communication and organization of the states to create consistency. With every state having different sets of rules and restrictions it severely hampers the ability for brands and retailers to scale nationally.
The extra cost that goes into compliance in each region or town, or making sure you create packaging that is scalable against restrictive and less restrictive states, takes away from the ability to educate consumers and grow the industry. Creating market standards is inevitable and you would think that we could skip the political jockeying as efficiency benefits all parties involved.
[Q.] How is Surfside working to address it?
[A.] Surfside is vocal and active within the national cannabis organizations. We are using our experience and relationships with industry leaders to help create standards for advertising. Our goal is to create separate advertising standards for CBD and THC in conjunction with the national cannabis organizations that would be adopted nationally.
Cannabis Magazine. “Big Data & Cannabis – Interview with Jon Lowen Co-Founder of Surfside.” Cannabis Magazine, 2 Oct. 2019, cannabismagazine.com/big-data-cannabis-interview-with-jon-lowen-co-founder-of-surfside/.