My Hope For 2012: Taking Data And Creative Seriously

I went on the attack against the incorrect use of data in my previous column. Early in my career, a mentor taught me that when you tell people about problems, you should also suggest a potential solution. Oherwise, you’re just a complainer. That’s great advice, so let’s talk about how we could potentially fix these issues.

The ultimate promise of the billions invested in the ad ecosystem — and why we’re willing to put up with a value chain that looks like this – is to get the right message in front of the right person at the right time. I’ve said this mantra myself, and I’ve heard it  from competitors and from partners. Yet we’re failing to deliver on this in an end-to-end fashion. Except for personalized retargeters who are focusing on just a sliver of the solution, we’re relatively nascent at getting this to work. Before we start a discussion on how to start fixing this, it’s a good idea to agree on what we’re actually trying to fix. Let’s examine what “right message, right person, right time” should mean.

Working backward, “right time” has two factors:


Right Time

  1. Showing the ad when the person is in the right context (contextualization).
  2. Showing the ad to the person when they’re temporally ready to hear your message.

Right Person

“Right person” seems obvious, but it’s not. While audience targeting is a beautiful thing, its complexity has absolutely boggled even the most sophisticated. At its highest level, this is matching the campaign goals to people who would be
  1. Interested in the marketer’s product/service.
  2. Are properly positioned in the sales cycle to be receptive.

Right Message

N.B. Many of you may be thinking that “showing the ad to a person when they’re temporally ready to hear your message” sounds the same as “are they properly positioned in the sales cycle to be receptive”. They’re similar, but not the same. An extreme example of someone who is temporally ready would be a pizza delivery company targeting people with promotions on delivery when it’s raining outside. Day-parting is an example of a feature that focuses on temporal readiness. Properly positioned in the sales cycle refers to the fact that you’ve developed brand awareness and a fair amount of brand engagement before showing your best offer for product trial, as an example.

And, last but not least, “right message” is about getting the most effective creative in front of this right person at this right time. This is ultimately about

  1. Tying the right part of the brand story to who the user is.
  2. Using intent data properly to drive the user to their most likely conversion path (whether it be showing exactly the right product that you know they’re perfect for or knowing they don’t buy online and therefore showing them the store two miles away where they can purchase).

While it seems that “right person” is tied directly to targeting, it is not. If you’re really looking to get this right, all of the six factors I’ve described above should lead to decisions made in targeting, creative, and measurement.

Why do we want to go through the hard work of tying this all together? Because if we do, we’ll have a real shot at reversing the inertia of spending in traditional marketing. The reason why most marketers spend only 10-15% of their budget in a medium that represent 40%+ of consumer time spent is simple: We haven’t given CMOs enough benefits to overcome the switching costs of shifting media budget and the downsides of display advertising. But there is one huge unrealized benefit: In display advertising, we can deliver audiences at the scale of above the line (ATL) campaigns, but with the effectiveness of below the line (BTL) campaigns.

Display can be the first to deliver on the promise of what agencies and advertisers have been calling integrated marketing, integrated communications, through-the-line (TTL), etc. It’s all marketing-speak for delivering broad reach, but having extremely personalized communications at the individual level. The first folks that started delivering part of this promise is are direct mailers (which, in large part, is why this industry is still growing despite the fact that the United States Postal Service is in the process of imploding).

Before we get into how we get all the way to the promise of truly integrated marketing — where we’ve integrated cross-channel and cross-campaign with integrated targeting and messaging — we need to start with the basics, which is integrating targeting and messaging within a campaign. This sounds extraordinarily basic, but it’s not. Conversations about what we do after targeting don’t seem to happen all that often.

First Steps

So, let’s take the first step to getting to a world where we can generate substantial benefits in display versus other channels. And, before we open back up the data can of worms I mentioned in my previous post, we should set up a process where we can use data more effectively once we get our grubby hands on it. Here’s what we do:

  1. Stop the complacency around last click. Yes, I know you and your company have been tracking it for years and if you stop looking at it, you’ll have no year-over-year results any more, but if they were all directionally wrong to begin with, then shouldn’t that be OK? Plus, who is saying you can’t continue to use it while developing a more sophisticated attribution model? Until you start looking at measures that offer a more direct proxy for sales lift, all of this becomes moot.
  2. Get your creative guy/gal in the room the first day you start talking about a campaign. While it’d be great to get into creative personalization/dynamic creative right off the bat, having that person in the room is the first real start to having a tightly integrated plan where media buying decisions coincide with creative decisions. And, have him/her start thinking about ad format right away. There’s a right time to use rich media, in-stream video, etc. This person should be on the hook for consulting on ad format.
  3. Integrate brand and performance, or at least have projects where both sides are involved. In the new world, the budgets of these two worlds will be fungible. How do I know that? Because there are brand effects to performance campaigns and direct response effects to brand campaigns. Right now, we ignore those and we can’t do that forever. Plus, what is a brand campaign except a direct response campaign with a much longer time horizon? Brand favorability is just a synonym for likelihood to purchase over an extended period of time. I’m not saying we slam the budgets together tomorrow and deal with the chaos of it all, but at least having a few projects where both teams are involved will start the dialogue that’s necessary for these two teams to see how similar their worlds really are.

Maybe by getting these three things underway, we’ll have a process where — back to my original point about data — we can have an interesting discussion around what data we need, how much of it, where to use it, and when to use it. That’ll be the world when display advertising could show its true promise against traditional marketing channels.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Display Advertising | Display Advertising | Display Advertising Column | Yahoo


About The Author: is a product lead for optimization solutions at Yahoo!, which includes Smart Ads, Yahoo!'s market-leading solution for data-driven dynamic creative. Prior to Yahoo!, he spent 13 years in IT consulting focusing on program management, requirements gathering, and software development lifecycle methodologies.

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