Facebook’s Brian Boland Says Sun Is Setting On ‘Proxy Metrics’

brian-boland-facebookFacebook has made steady progress on closing the loop between media spend and consumer transactions, according to Brian Boland, the company’s VP of ads product marketing.

“Digital marketers expect accurate reach,” Boland said in a presentation at the DMA 2013 annual summit in Chicago this week. More and more are “expecting proven results. They’re now tying [Facebook] back to a sale and not to a proxy metric like fans or click-through rates or clicks. They’re saying, ‘I want to tie it back to product that moved off a shelf in a store.’”

Boland elaborated for AdExchanger after his presentation.

Can you share a Custom Audiences use case?

BRIAN BOLAND: Sport Chek is like a home run. They’re a company in Canada and they do a ton of direct mail and flyers. What they started to realize was men 18-35 weren’t reading their flyers. So they had a sale coming up on a weekend and they didn’t say, “Let’s do a sidecar Facebook campaign.” They said, “As a part of our core campaign, let’s try to use Facebook to reach men 18-35.” They [used CRM] to create the targeting segment from their customer [email] list and targeted them in the News Feed and were able to show, from closing the loop on those users who showed up in-store, two times ROI on incremental sales in-store, 16% sales lift and a 75% increase in awareness of the sale with their audience.

You touched on traditional CRM data. Do you hit any walls bringing that into the broader advertising discussion?

It depends on how much a company has thought about data and media together. For some advertisers, we’re in the room introducing the person who runs their CRM system to the person who buys their digital media. They’ve never had to think about working together. There are situations that happen like that. I think the agencies see where the trends are heading. Obviously the data partners like Acxiom, Datalogix and Epsilon get it and they’re great advocates in telling our story, but there is a moment where it sounds too good to be true [for marketers] and I think that’s where we get stuck.

Facebook recently rewired ad algorithms to surface more “relevant” News Feed content and also rolled out placements in-app with calls to action like “watch video” or “open link.” Is there a trade-off in helping app developers and maintaining a solid user experience?

We’re very clear that there’s not an argument or debate or trade-off — the user always wins. Everything we do, we have an ongoing set of polls and metrics we look at to measure their interactions with ads. We have a feature where you can drop down on an ad, hide it or tell us why you don’t like it. We look at those signals when we think about ad ranking. We make sure we control for that user experience.

The second thing we do is when we build these new ad units, we test them and see how people engage with them. For those call-to-action app ones, we obviously want to see people take an action and engage with it. That helps us get a signal of how good it is and how relevant an action it is. The cool thing about those actions is it plays right into the CRM wheelhouse. Once you have an app installed, the ability to take a CRM system and say, “You’re a very valuable person,” [allows an app publisher] to remind you about something you actually care about, so that you will click on that link and go deep into that app. It’s great for you because they’re surfacing content you’ll want to engage with, ideally. If you engage with it, it’s probably going to be content you care about.

Facebook recently expanded TV data partnerships abroad. How are you thinking about TV?

When we think about the targeting signals that make for the most relevant experience, it’s the kind of targeting we’re talking about from a CRM or category standpoint. The trending stuff is tricky and I’m not personally convinced it would deliver the most relevant experience possible. The most relevant experience possible feels more serendipitous. The things I have bought previously will lead to more relevant experiences if I see something similar in the future. For me, I am an infrequent buyer of fly-fishing gear. Seeing that is much more relevant to me than seeing something associated with a conversation that I have around a TV show that’s on.

We hear a lot about this TV plus “x” and I think it’s less about something magical that happens between TV and a system and more about building marketing campaigns that reach people. TV does that really well and that’s what you can connect back to Facebook and other media to get that story or piece of content to people at the right time.

Facebook is also experimenting with a payment information auto-fill feature to simplify mobile transactions for beta brand users. Is transaction data attractive to you?

I think most of what we do is about reducing friction more than anything else. Adding a value to people by having information that’s easier for them to take an action they want to take. And, for marketers, we know the more steps and friction there is in a process, it doesn’t work for users, and then doesn’t work for advertisers. It’s more about the user-advertiser value exchange. Less about intermediating into some process that’s more purchase-oriented.

Round two on the mobile ad network. Where does it stand?

We’re a big-time test-and-learn company. That’s an area where we think there are a lot of interesting opportunities to deliver user and advertiser value in the future. Nothing new to talk about right now.

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