By Jon Whitticom
In the not-so-distant past of the advertising business, presentations and conversations used the buzzword "big data" to imply a future-looking approach.
Today, the future is here, and it arrived much faster than anyone anticipated. In the turbulence of 2020, that reality comes with various complications, including a pandemic, economic instability, and concerns around privacy, transparency, and content safety.
These disruptions sped up the innovations that had been gradually taking hold over the past year in premium video and TV, and they brought the industry to a place where technology and data have become more valuable than anyone could have predicted. No longer merely a buzzword, data in 2020 is the lifeblood of the video advertising ecosystem.
New challenges began with the pandemic in March 2020, causing many brands to slash advertising budgets and employees to look for more intuitive processes while working remotely.
Looking to maximize their limited budgets, brands turned to data to improve their decision-making and their premium video and TV investments, unlocking new insights and activation strategies.
Putting Data to Work for Brands
In the modern advertising world, data is critical to the media strategies and client deliverables of both buyers and sellers. The challenge is not so much how to get data but how best to use it and protect it.
The industry is filled with third-party data companies that promote proprietary data with insights that go far beyond age and gender to allow for targeting throughout the marketing funnel. However, brands are increasingly turning to their own data reserves, which are more accurate and can provide insights specific to their own consumers and audiences, no matter where they are on the customer journey. According to a recent study by Dun & Bradstreet, 60 percent of B2B marketers in November 2019 said they were using first-party data and 51 percent said they were using third-party data.
Regardless of category, advertisers collect and use first-party data in many different ways. A recent study by the Winterberry Group, cited by eMarketer, found that 53 percent of data professionals use first-party data for predictive modeling and segmentation, 42 percent use it for identity resolution or cross-channel identification, and 38 percent use it for cross-channel measurement and attribution. Others use first-party data for general audience analytics, advanced TV buying, and more. The consistent thread through all of these uses is the efficiency increase that cannot be gained from third-party data alone.
The data is there and the technology is ready. So what should brands do to harness the full effect of data in 2020 and beyond? Here are three ways marketers can put data to work.
1. Think Outside of the Digital Box
Given the current economic slowdown, putting data to work is more important than ever. This is true across all channels.
New points for consumer access and engagement, created by advancements in technology, have created a robust pool of insights that can be used in targeting premium video and even linear TV. Deterministic datasets have opened up new opportunities for audience-based buying and addressability.
This is especially important as recently announced updates to browsers and operating systems such as iOS will diminish the scale and utility of device identifiers (i.e., cookies, mobile phone identifiers), resulting in future challenges for digital marketing. On the other hand, both linear TV and connected TV are only growing in their capabilities and are already fertile ground for advanced advertising.
Today, from targeting to attribution, data can be applied to TV advertising in ways not previously possible in the linear channel. As a result, marketers no longer need to rely on broad demo targeting and can instead use TV as a full-funnel solution that includes mid-funnel and bottom-funnel tactics once available only to digital media.
Q. How important will the use of data targeting in your campaigns be in the coming months?
note: The survey was carried out by FreeWheel in the U.K., Germany, and France in June 2020 with 68 senior respondents from the big five agencies (WPP, Havas, Dentsu, IPG, and Omnicom) as well as independent agencies or trading desks, demand-side platforms, and direct advertisers.
source: 2020 FreeWheel European research data
Perhaps most important, as marketers face added pressure to prove ROI, data can now be used to tie tangible outcomes to TV advertising, including offline sales, e-commerce, and other online activity. This not only helps marketers show the value TV brings to their campaigns but also adds a layer of analysis needed to fine tune their marketing mix.
2. Find Safety in Numbers
In 2020, there is broad agreement within the industry that data is the key to efficient targeting and effective messaging. As brands leverage their proprietary insights to drive results, many are seeing the power of data in action. But there is a limit to what brands can do if they simply hold onto their own data. Enter the marketplace.
Marketplaces offer buyers and sellers a chance to directly connect in a way that benefits both players. By automating the connection between buyers and sellers, marketplaces offer an opportunity to streamline spend, limit waste, and improve economics for all involved. When data is part of the equation, each interaction becomes more efficient, as sellers can offer brands the audience they're looking for and execute the transaction in a completely automated way.
While data connectivity continues to grow, brands are finding smarter, safer ways to share insights with sellers and even other brands without losing "data control." For this reason, "data clean rooms" — environments in which a company can share data with another company under highly controllable conditions — and sharing platforms, like Blockgraph, a joint venture between Charter, Comcast, and Viacom, are being developed to encourage peer-to-peer sharing of insights. "Blockgraph and other partners like us are reshaping data-driven advertising for the entire industry — including brands, publishers, content distributors, and, above all else, audiences," says Jason Manningham, CEO of Blockgraph. "In doing so, we are bringing data connectivity and authentication to the fore, making it more secure, more transparent, and more viable for all parties."
Thanks to technologies like these, advertisers can match first-party data directly to a media company's insights, allowing partners to utilize merged datasets for planning and activation while enabling each party to still retain full control and minimize any leakage.
3. Make Data Better by Design
According to the 2019 FreeWheel Agency Survey, 45 percent of advertisers rate their organizations' data capabilities as "satisfactory," "poor," or "very poor," suggesting there is still much work and education to be done.
In today's data-rich environment, brands should be focusing on how best to gather, store, and use both first- and third-party insights to their advantage. At the same time, they need to work to ensure they have the processes and teams in place to meet privacy requirements as well as protect their customers' personal information.
In recent years, pressure from consumers and the evolving privacy landscape have changed the way brands think about data. As eMarketer reports, a 2020 Foursquare study has found that privacy regulations are affecting U.S. marketers' data strategies in a variety of ways, including increased transparency around data use (57 percent), the development of new internal standards for data collection and use (54 percent), and reducing the amount of customer tracking (39 percent).
It is no secret that the collection and use of data is a sensitive topic, so brands should address privacy concerns in advance with the right people, processes, and tools. In fact, as Bob Bress, head of data science at FreeWheel, suggests, many companies are racing to do just that. "Any successful company in the media and advertising space is investing heavily in their analytical talent and systems across all departments, including HR, engineering, product management, business operations, and others," Bress says.
To ensure data is being used correctly and efficiently, many companies are reexamining their data access and governance standards, as well as restructuring their teams to place a heavier focus on how best to use data across the organization. "Analytical skills have gone from being something used by a centralized team of highly trained analysts to something people across the company must bring to the table to be effective at their job," Bress says. To that point, many companies have chosen to bring on a chief data officer, whose sole responsibility is the governance, utilization, and management of data across the organization.
What's Around the Corner?
While many marketers currently find themselves in unexpected and challenging situations, they could benefit from using this moment as an opportunity to prepare for what's next. After all, the developments in the use of data in 2020 are just the tip of the iceberg.
Data's importance will continue to grow over time as brands become savvier about gathering and using first-party data in safe and effective ways that make their customers comfortable. This is especially true in TV, where new innovations and opportunities are providing exciting possibilities to reach audiences with accuracy and ease.
When it comes to data, the industry is moving quickly, and with the right approach to omnichannel tactics, safety, and organizational design, the opportunity exists for marketers to take back control of their data: a massive step forward for the industry.
About Author: Jon Whitticom is the chief product officer at FreeWheel, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.