"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 Matt Zeiger, VP of Technology, Adlucent.
Last year, while I was working at a different marketing agency, I was sitting across from a team of paid social media buyers, talking about the strategies they are using to grow their accounts. I asked, "So how are you finding and connecting with your target customers?" And I expected a variety of different responses based on the particular brand or account they were working on.
"We use look-alikes in Facebook," one succinctly responded, and the others all nodded their heads in sync.
"Right, but what else?” I asked. “What happens when we aren't hitting our objectives and look-alikes are not working?"
Everyone responded both in silence and confusion. It was then I realized how bad things had gotten.
Marketers haven't really needed to understand how data has been used to drive successful marketing campaigns. Instead, they’ve relied on the expertise of Big Tech players who provide “free” products in exchange for customer data.
I don't mean to criticize this mindset, but I do want to address the subsidization of expertise it invites. Many media experts have been trained on specific tools and technologies, not as much on the fundamentals or why things work the way they do.
We are clearly entering a new chapter in digital marketing. Droves of users are choosing to not opt in to tracking on iOS devices (as high as 94% according to data from Flurry Analytics). What we will see is a return to the fundamentals. Companies with a direct connection, access and value exchange with consumers will be able to drive success. In other words, those with first-party data will have a major advantage.
I started in marketing in 2003 and have come up through all of the changes and evolution of the different ecosystems. We used to have to do extensive research on our target market, conduct interviews, field surveys and test different media buys with different messaging across different placements to find what worked.
But in recent years, we've relied on the data collected by Big Tech to automate all of this. We could now simply put any creative out in the world, even targeting a broad audience or a broad set of keywords, and with all the signals we sent Big Tech on our owned channels – voilà – we could sell products and achieve results with little understanding of who was actually buying things and why.
It's now considered somewhat novel to actually set up different creative and messaging depending on where a consumer is in their buying stage. With so much automation across display and social, marketers have been able to drive success without some basic strategy in connecting with their audiences.
And think about the hardware and software devices you use. Android phone? Samsung TV? Macbook? Google Chrome? The products that are your gateway to other products and services will be rising in relevance as consumers are increasingly willing to provide information to use the product. Those companies that have a direct connection to the customer will continue to gather relevant consumer data.
With value exchange, we have to go back to some "old-school" methods of driving opt-in, or what people nowadays call with a trendy new term: “zero-party” data. This past weekend, I went to several retail stores, and every single one of them asked for my email or phone number at checkout. While I'm sure I could have objected, when they asked if they could subscribe me to an email for 10% off, I gladly obliged. After all, I could always opt out later, and who doesn't want to save money at checkout?
But what I'm talking about is more than an email address capture. The richness of data that exists on Big Tech platforms is the combination of all of the signals, events and transactions that occur in aggregate. Marketers have to be thinking more about value exchange and consumer cohorts across multiple moments and become more moment-aware in their marketing messaging based on opted-in data.
While the name is new, zero-party data is actually a classic strategy, dating back to the ’60s, when consumer information was gladly provided for contests, magazines or other direct mailings.
While many marketers can, and should, bemoan loss of accurate tracking, they should also embrace the opportunity to actually research and understand their customers.
A cookieless world is ushering in a new era of digital advertising. Marketers have the opportunity to build a strategic foundation on a clear understanding of their customers, their unique product cycles and their high-value touch points, versus having these insights concealed by Big Tech. In doing so, marketers will create a foundation that is stronger, more resilient and more effective at connecting with increasingly tech-savvy consumers.