Does it really matter when you’re driving a car on a long unfamiliar journey and the fog clears, the satnav kicks in and the street lights come on?
Does it matter in game theory when you have a bit more knowledge than your opponent?
Does it matter when you know someone well enough to do and say the right thing to build a really genuine relationship? Sue Unerman asks the questions, and answers them too.
I work with brands who seek growth in very competitive markets. Many of the target audiences that we’re trying to persuade to buy their brands are deluged with commercial messages. In addition, they have either no specific interest most of the time in the category (spend much time thinking about insurance?) or in categories they do like (music and film for instance ) they have the attention span of a sugar-high five-year-old.
The traditional ways of measuring and understanding audiences were built on proxies. A panel of viewers to establish opportunities to see ads; a questionnaire to understand their personality and interests.
We’ve built very robust ways of using this information to drive a very successful industry for advertising, media planning and buying. But we now have the chance to replace proxies with real data that tells millions of stories about what people are doing and thinking immediately in real-time.
This has several consequences. Efficiency will improve exponentially. Early indications are of very significant reductions in the amount that really needs to be invested in order to reach a focused target audience.
Does this mean media owners will see less of clients budgets (which some of them fear)? Or does it mean that with the growth that can be achieved with improved efficiency that we will see more brands advertising as the barrier to market reduces in size ? And in addition more repeat business from growing brands reinvesting in renewed success. For just as better data means less wastage so too it allows the right kind of message to be served to the audience based on everything the we know about them. For immediate response based clients where success is measured on metrics such as clickthroughs online this is immensely useful. Our systems allow one of our clients to rotate over 950,000 different variations of copy-based on exactly how the target audience has reacted to the brand in the past.
Not all brands judge their success by immediate response and nor should they. There’s another side to what we do and that’s concerned with building desire for the brand over the long-term. As I believe Jeremy Bullmore once said, there’s no point in exclusively advertising a premium car only to people specifically in the market to buy one and who might book a test drive in the next four weeks. We might be able to pinpoint that audience very accurately in future. The problem is that eventually there would be barely anyone in that audience segment. This is because, in part, the reason people pay a premium for a luxury car is for the envy it will induce in their friends and neighbours. Well, if we only ever advertised to the core purchase prospect with zero “wastage” there would be no envy, no desire and no premium.
Big data in this instance gives us a much clearer and specific understanding of the audience for long-term brand building. We can find out people’s likes, dislikes, understand what they’re searching for, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry and what they had for dinner last night. Not based on a diary from weeks ago, not based on claimed behaviour. Rooted in reality.
There’s challenges to all of this. We need to stop thinking in silos of paid media and make sure that we understand the whole system of paid, owned and earned media. We need to adopt agile ways of working so that we can change the course of our communications plan in real-time. You can’t just fix it overnight. You, your clients, your partners and your systems all need to adapt. At MediaCom we’ve spent time re-engineering how we work as an agency, and we appointed a head of engineering whose whole job was to make sure we’re best placed in 2015 to get the most out of the changes. Big data matters to us. It shines a light on the truth of what our client’s target audiences are really up to. True competitive advantage comes to those who aren’t dazzled by it.
Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom in London.
This piece was originally published on the Guardian Media Network. To get weekly news analysis, job alerts and event notifications direct to your inbox, sign up free for Media Network membership.
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