Why Do Marketers Shy Away From Valuable Data Points?

rachel-dicolaData-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 Rachel DiCola, senior director for consumer insights at Gamut.

Despite easy access to information these days, data often lacks a place in the tactical negotiations of media buying and selling. While agencies and advertisers use data for high-level planning, it remains both a difficult and obscure tool for many. As a result, it unfortunately plays a minimal role in the media-buying and selling negotiation process.

With all of the data points available to marketers, it’s shocking that most discussions are still centered on just three data points: age, gender and geography. With the exception of the latter, these tend to be poor indicators of purchase or media consumption behaviors. They are simply too broad. There are so many other data points that could be even more impactful to a campaign.

I see two main blockades challenging the use of more intricate consumer and audience data:

1. Misperception And Fear

Data’s place in tactical negotiations, or lack thereof, is driven largely by misperception and fear.

On the one hand, there is the perception that data belongs with machines and not humans. Driven by the fear that machines will one day take over the work that humans currently do, data is often handled as if it is the death of the media buyer’s and seller’s job. But embracing data actually reveals a completely different reality: Humans will always play an important role when it comes to information. While technology can and should help, it is people that uncover the insights derived from the data and tie them back to the business needs of advertisers.

There is also the notion that only the smart folks, such as quants, data scientists and financiers, can handle data. The fear that using data is difficult and cumbersome drives the belief that data is not for everyone. But this is another false perception. While data can certainly be complex, it is something we all use in our daily lives. We all collect, process and interpret data points every day without even realizing it because we interpret it as commonplace decision-making, and not as rows in a spreadsheet. If data is delivered in a way that conveys a message, anyone can access it. Today’s research has a responsibility not only to do thorough analysis but to make the resultant data read like a story.

Lastly, there is the idea that advanced analytics are only for digital-first companies, with the fear that if data is more widely used, traditional media will suffer. But why shouldn’t we push the bar on traditional media measurement? Ignoring the trends of more robust reporting and analytics could end up doing more harm than good. The landscape is changing, and in order to evolve with the marketplace, it’s vital to embrace the data available and the insights it can harness.

2. An Inadequate Measuring Stick For Reporting

The age/gender/geo metrics are both limiting and inadequate, especially in a world where very granular information is available at our fingertips. With all the information available, it seems almost counterintuitive to have a campaign’s success still come down to these three generic data points.

More robust reporting is lagging because the industry still relies heavily on an old model. There was a time when age/gender/geo sufficed, but as data collection methods have improved, the potential for more intricate demographics has increased. Television remains an excellent medium for delivering broad messages to mass audiences, but the expansion of networks and programs have created some niche audiences available for targeting. Since television remains largely an offline medium, the challenge is to collect recent and actionable data that uncovers insights about these audiences.

Digital media, on the other hand, already has the potential to deliver very granular details on audiences and consumers. The challenge here is not raising the bar on detail, but on resisting the urge to lower the bar in order to provide comparable metrics to television and compete for large television advertising budgets. Converting digital impressions into gross rating points can be useful, but it downplays the true potential of digital data.

In time, reporting will become more robust as advertisers and agencies demand it. Media buyers and sellers have the ability to move forward with the best data available and continue to push for better data. Will the traditional and new media buyers and sellers ever meet? They’re closer than one may think.

Adapting to these new practices means letting go of some of the fear. We must also resist the urge to lean on jargon and instead talk about data for what it is: useful insights for targeting.

Follow Gamut (@gamutsmartmedia) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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