Artificial intelligence and other forms of data science are becoming central to travel digital marketing.

That was a key insight from Mark Rabe, CEO of Sojern — a data-driven ad platform focused on the travel industry — when he was interviewed onstage at the inaugural Skift Tech Forum in Silicon Valley in June.

“The machines will win,” Rabe said, referring to the complexity of managing campaigns when brands expose consumers to advertisements across channels, such as search, metasearch, display, Facebook, and Amazon.

Rabe said the trend has been clear, as he reflected on his nearly two decades in media.

“You used to evaluate media plans on a quarterly basis, and then it was monthly, and then it was weekly, and then it was daily,” he said. “Now it’s real-time.”

“I think that [trend] keeps going,” Rabe predicted. “Pretty soon… you say, ‘I want to sell as many flight tickets as possible in the next month.’ The [AI] takes over.”

Rabe said machine learning and artificial intelligence are being used more often by marketers and ad technology companies to divine what impact a travel marketer’s increased spending on, say, video ads on Facebook, might deliver to a brand’s ultimate goals. “The data science guys love this question: ‘If I had one more dollar to spend, on any of these channels, where would I go to drive maximal value.'”

But he said it would be up to marketers to debate the right goals for artificial intelligence to support. For instance, should the value of a campaign be measured by just one transaction? Or should it be lifetime customer value — meaning a customer that keeps buying at high levels?

Amazon’s Rise

The quality of such predictions is only as good as the data inputted. Rabe said one of the most notable new trends he is tracking is the growing rise of Amazon’s digital-ad business.

“Amazon is the most interesting new entrant into this space,” Rabe said. Brands advertise on the online retailer’s site and the company tells marketers when a consumer made a purchase — demonstrating an ad’s effectiveness.

“Whether you’re a supplier, an OTA [online travel agency], or a metasearch company, what they’re building will be super powerful,” Rabe said. “They’ve got a wealth of data about everybody who comes to Amazon.”

He argued that if a travel marketer applied that purchase history data to their ad targeting and retargeting, they would gain a better chance to put the right offer in front of the right person at the right time. That said, while he’s keeping an eye on Amazon, his company is not formally working with it yet.

Rabe also talked about the reason why Sojern acquired Adphorous, an Istanbul-based ad tech firm, in the spring. “It became obvious they had a lot of skills and proprietary DNA over on the Facebook side that married up very nicely with what we had built as tools for display and search.”

Sojern is one of several ad tech companies with a heavy emphasis on travel marketing. Rabe said the addressable market was so large that there would be multiple winners. His San Francisco-based startup has 470 employees in 13 locations serving more than 5,700 businesses. Sojern has raised $42.5 million in funding to date.

You can watch the entire interview above, or consider reading more coverage of Skift Tech Forum.

At Skift Tech Forum in Silicon Valley, travel tech executives gathered for a day of inspiration, information, and conversation.

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Photo Credit: Mark Rabe, CEO of Sojern, spoke at the inaugural Skift Tech Forum in Silicon Valley in June 2018 about digital marketing in the multi-channel era. Skift