Does Data Limit The Opportunity To Grow Brands?

mattnaegerData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is by Matt Naeger, executive vice president of strategy and analytics for Merkle’s Digital Agency Group.

Yes, I am saying that it is what they deliver that matters, and that delivering it – even when it doesn’t lead directly to a conversion – can still be valuable in a marketing program.

I have spent the better part of my career talking to marketers about how to optimize their spend against acquisition targets. It always became easier to convince people that spending money on digital marketing made sense when I could show a direct result, even if no one was sure how that result happened.

Now I find myself taking for granted that we will optimize the things we see. I tend to focus conversations on the idea that there are things we can’t yet see that matter too.

Trust me, as a devout believer in data-driven marketing, I am not advocating that advertisers diminish the tactics that they can measure directly. They should still push for that last 5% of optimization in their programs. What I am hoping, though, is that they start to consider the fact that marketing is more than just measurement. It is more than just employing some smart analytics, data and people to build the most efficient program.

Marketing is about finding new audiences and getting messages to people who aren’t quite ready to say they want what is being sold. When Steve Jobs said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” he was telling the world that we shouldn’t just be tied to answering what people are asking for from us. The same idea goes for marketing. If potential customers already knew that they wanted a product or service, we wouldn’t need to sell it to them. We would just have to sit and wait for them to show up and buy it.

The world of addressable marketing continues to expand with Google’s Customer Match, Facebook’s Custom Audiences and other programs. And that expansion has so far been seen as a way to optimize how brands spend their dollars on the people who already know them and may want to buy something from them. I see that expansion as a great way to start and progress additional conversations with people they don’t know yet.

We have all seen how effective remarketing programs have become as technology has advanced in the past few years. The reason remarketing works, though, is because someone showed an interest and advertisers evolved the conversation with them to the point where they made a choice to buy what the advertiser had to sell. Now we have the ability to move advertising consistently, across devices, to an individual, between individuals in a household and among households that look like those who are known to want a product.

It is time for digital marketers to remove the “digital” from that descriptor and just become marketers. It is time that we use these platforms as a way to better understand who we are speaking to and what might motivate them to need what we are selling.

As marketers sit in their offices planning the last steps of their budgets for next year, I challenge them to think about their customers and not their programs. They should think about how they can show their customers what they want but don’t know it yet. Think about how their knowledge of their customers can change how an ad is delivered – and how it can serve to engage someone, not just sell to them.

Marketers should plan their budget so that they can expose new people to their product and then develop a dialogue with them across their devices, in their homes and with their friends. They should strive to develop experiences that play on the reasons to become a customer and not just the price of the product.

Data and media targeting can be used in a smarter way to engage someone before they know they want to buy. It’s possible to engage people with content that describes what should be important to them and then track how that exposure develops into relationships. Then the data can be used to optimize that content and deliver a better message to someone at the time that it is right for them.

Data can also be used to teach marketing teams patience and help them understand that sales don’t happen in moments – they happen over time. Remember that people who have ever done any research or been exposed to any advertising didn’t wake up this morning and say, “Hey, I want to buy this new product from this company that I have never heard of before.”

Finally, marketers should remember that they now have the power to plan when and how they engage with their customers through these new platforms. Think about what those right times are and what conversations they would want to have with a brand if they were the customer instead of the other way around.

Follow Merkle (@merkleCRM) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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