Home Data-Driven Thinking How To Transcend ‘Above-The-Line’ And ‘Below-The-Line’ Thinking

How To Transcend ‘Above-The-Line’ And ‘Below-The-Line’ Thinking


greg-corso-ddt“Data Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Greg Corso, Vice President of Media Solutions at dunnhumbyUSA

In Dr. Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book, the Yooks are separated from the Zooks by a wall, an arbitrarily drawn line that defines their respective boundaries. They wage a battle suggestive of Cold War escalation, each side topping the other with a more sophisticated and powerful weapon until they both reach the same inevitable conclusion – an indefensible weapon called the Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo. All this because they fundamentally disagree on which side of their bread should be buttered, top or bottom.

We love to draw lines and take sides, and there are all kinds of famous lines in the world – the 38th parallel, the Mendoza Line, the “line in the sand,” to name a few. In the world of advertising, a once-descriptive line is becoming less and less relevant – that which separates above-the-line (ATL) media from below-the-line (BTL) media.

ATL advertisers (TV, print) have traditionally been at odds with the BTL direct marketers, who specialize in direct-response channels like direct mail and email. ATL advertisers have the influence and prestige associated with big-budget, top-of-the-funnel, awareness-driving media, while BTL direct marketers hang their hats on precise targeting, measurable response and optimization opportunities. These merits of BTL channels never quite lived up to the cachet of the attention-getting 30-second spot or the award-winning print campaign, however. Until now. The line of demarcation between traditional advertisers and direct marketers has blurred to the point of near nonexistence, as they now have a common asset to rally around: customer data.

The proliferation of addressable media, including the emergence of measurable TV, targeted online advertising and traceable social-media activity, has strengthened the connections between marketers of different media disciplines. The technological advances that have enabled the linkage between media exposure and purchase behavior are beginning to level the playing field for both sides.

Through The Line

Traditional advertisers are now adopting “old-school” direct-marketing principles like segmentation, test and learn, and purchase-based targeting. Direct marketers are taking the lead on multi-channel media planning, including both below- and above-the-line tactics, also called a through-the-line strategy.

With through-the-line (TTL) media planning, direct marketers and traditional advertisers come together and collaborate on truly integrated campaigns. Many marketers define integration as consistent messaging and creative across channels. Yet there is a fine line between integrated marketing and redundant marketing.

Critical to planning and executing an effective multi-channel campaign is using each marketing vehicle efficiently; in other words, using each vehicle to drive the behavior that it’s best at driving. Within a given campaign, for example, TV might be deemed the best to build awareness, direct mail to drive consideration, promotional print to drive store visits, targeted digital display for cross-shop promotion, and follow-up emails to thank customers.

Understanding the right strategic intent of each weapon in a marketer’s arsenal will enable truly integrated campaigns, where channels work in concert to drive business objectives across the customer lifecycle. The channel combination, cadence, content and offers may vary across different target segments too. This is why having customer-level purchase data linked to media exposure is so game-changing.


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Companies today are able to infuse customer-level purchase data into their marketing strategies and build customer loyalty. Some newer examples include:

  • Linking exposure to TV commercials back to in-store sales and enabling
  • Targeting customers online based on their purchase behavior
  • Measuring the real impact of word-of-mouth
  • Quantifying the value of a social media like, follower and impression

Changing the conversation, not the language

Change can be threatening, and new capabilities can seem foreign. Plus, there’s often no sense of urgency pushing this change, given that ATL and BTL marketers have been getting along just fine. The broadcast industry, for instance, is a $84 billion industry without the real accountability that comes from linking exposure to customer-level purchase data. With numbers like that, there’s no real urgency to turn things upside-down. However, through-the-line strategies and plans should be considered evolutionary, not revolutionary. It’s a next step, as opposed to a new normal.

Why take that next step? Across channels, marketers already know how to drive their businesses and meet objectives. However, they aren’t yet doing this as effectively (or efficiently) as possible for each customer segment.

Take Marketing Mix Modeling  and Optimization, which play important roles for marketers. CMOs need to know how much they should invest in print next year, how saturated their TV plan was last year, and how much they should invest in digital channels next quarter. These insights inform decisions about the size of the marketing investment pie, as well as the size of the channel-specific wedges within it. But again, these broad-stroke wedges cannot possibly be the most effective plan for every single customer. Since these models are built using aggregated time-series data, the insights they generate should be leveraged appropriately as overall guidelines for how to spend marketing dollars over time.

As a next step, after the pies and wedges are determined, through-the-line customer planning should be adopted. This can only be accomplished when channel effectiveness is known at a one-to-one level.

To bring this to life, imagine that your marketing goal is to build customer retention and loyalty throughout the year, and analysis from last year tells you what combination and order of channels it takes to meet these objectives for different customer segments (A – D):

  • Customer Segment A: DM → EM
  • Customer Segment B: Display → TV → SMS
  • Customer Segment C: TV → Print → EM
  • Customer Segment D: Print → EM → DM

With the above knowledge that comes from linking media exposure to customer-level purchase data, and the ability to execute due to technological advances, truly integrated customer plans are possible – as long as marketers can set aside their differences and collaborate.

The Yooks and Zooks can finally agree on something: It doesn’t matter what side you butter your bread on, as long as it’s buttered with data.

Follow Greg Corso (@gjcorso) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.com

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