Home Data MetLife Navigates The Path Through Publishers’ Walled Gardens

MetLife Navigates The Path Through Publishers’ Walled Gardens


MerkMetPublishers love to wall off their audience data, but is that good for marketers, who need to track consumer activity across devices and various sites and apps?

Certainly messaging across channels is more precise when the targeting mechanisms are based on, say, Facebook login data instead of cookies. But what happens when a marketing campaign needs to transcend Facebook’s confines?

This is one of the perceived challenges of the publisher “walled garden” and something insurance giant MetLife is addressing with its digital media agency Merkle.

“We have our Webtrends data, our DFA [DoubleClick For Advertisers] data and then our database data,” said MetLife’s VP of e-business, Melissa Grady, who oversees 20 people who perform digital demand generation for the insurance giant’s various lines of business. “It’s getting to the point where we’re like, ‘Yes, we need to look at those three numbers, but where are we finding a truth and how can we report and act on that?’ That’s the difference between where we were in 2014 and where we’re going in 2015.”

The Merkle-MetLife relationship began five years ago, when Merkle became MetLife’s analytics agency and did media mix modeling, segmentation and direct marketing analytics to support MetLife’s direct life insurance business.

Now Merkle is MetLife’s digital media agency for its life insurance business.

Merkle’s not starting from the technology or platform,” Grady said. “They’re starting with data and saying how do you build platforms and systems around that to be able to execute on [our vision]?”

For instance, MetLife taps Facebook Custom Audiences for lookalike modeling. Beginning with a rich set of call center/CRM, demographic and behavioral data, it uses Facebook to identify new prospects for several insurance products based on key segments such as “young and driven” and “mature planners.”

“As soon as we get on the (Facebook) platform, our segments go out the door and you find out what content resonates with what individual,” said Grady. In turn, Facebook delivered MetLife a 49% decrease in cost per lead with a 2.4x increase in lead-to-sale ratio.

But this prospecting is limited to Facebook. While MetLife might be able to reach certain targets vertically within Facebook, it shatters the attribution and targeting necessary to reach potential customers horizontally, across various online properties.

Grady and John Lee, EVP and chief strategy officer of MetLife’s agency, Merkle, spoke with AdExchanger at the conclusion of their panel at the Industry Preview conference.


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AdExchanger: Facebook calls the ability to track consumers based on factors like email/logins “people-based marketing.” Is that a reality for your organization?

MELISSA GRADY: We used to buy banner ads around places [like] Food and Wine and [Epicurious]. With this shift to programmatic and data, now we’re buying people. If we don’t understand who those people are, we [need to] get the best probabilistic data and make it deterministic to really understand that consumer. And from an acquisition standpoint when they’re anonymous, how do we give them the experience they want to the point they become customers? It’s all based on who they are and we want to be platform-agnostic, device-agnostic. That’s our biggest challenge.

There must be challenges with attribution.

MG: I was on a panel with Facebook and Tapad recently, and it was like, “Facebook, I love your data” and “Tapad, I love your cross-platform,” but I had attribution already in place from a horizontal perspective. Now they’re giving me some stuff vertically, but you’ve fractured my horizontal attribution in a way. Those platforms and data are great but how do we get those into one single, unified view? And that’s our biggest focus right now.

Publishers like Amazon and Facebook have a big base of logged-in users. Do marketers worry about maintaining a bidirectional flow of data?

JOHN LEE: AOL, Google or Facebook have attribution tools baked into the stack, and you’ll see value for the advertiser. But it goes back to this problem Melissa addressed: I have vertical integration but I lack horizontal integration. So advertisers will need partners that live outside those walled gardens who will stitch together that single view across those walled gardens, because those walled gardens will constitute a lot of the spend in the future. I think it’s becoming very clear.

Partners, as in Merkle?

JL: My prediction is a different kind of agency will emerge from this which understands the media complexities, understands advanced data management and can be tool-agnostic whether Tapad’s building your cross device or you’re using Facebook for Custom Audiences. I know I work for Merkle, so I have a little bit of a bias, but I think we’ll see this developing services market tie together these identities [across walled gardens].

What’s been challenging about unifying the customer database and channel-specific data?

JL: It was less of an any singular technical challenge as it was bringing together the marketing and data skill set and figuring out what do we want to do with that data from an analytic perspective and how to execute on that through media. It sounds relatively straightforward, but most people we’re working with are coming from one of those two worlds. Melissa was one of these rare people who has lived through all phases of this and understands deep analytics, CRM and digital platforms.

MetLife’s done a lot of work with Facebook custom audiences. What’s been useful for you?

MG: Always start with your segment, get the messaging you think will resonate and when you go in, let all your preconceived notions go away and let the technology do its work. We’re very excited about what Facebook can bring and we’re in a beta right now [for Atlas] to see what we can do there. We don’t like black boxes and we don’t just let things optimize. We have teams that go in every week, look at the sales data, go back to our vendors and go over everything. The kinds of variables those models build, this “intelligent machine,” it should all translate into other ads.

JL: There’s this untapped potential of Facebook as a planning tool. You might not make the leap between sports enthusiasts to ESPN on television, but you may make the jump from that audience popping in a Facebook Custom Audience campaign to a guaranteed digital buy. If Facebook gives us more insight into publishers and not just audiences, it could be very cool.


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