22 January 2021
New Thoughts, New Ideals
This week’s New Thoughts, New Ideals column was written by Charlie Swift, EVP Head of Marketing & Account Management at Adstra
Data-driven marketing has come a long way in just two decades, from a largely distrusted discipline to accepted table stakes for any advertising campaign. As an industry, we spend a lot of time congratulating ourselves on this accelerated adoption curve—but maybe we shouldn’t. In fact, when it comes to embracing data-driven applications within our marketing programs, we’ve in some ways come too far too fast. We’ve stopped asking questions. We’ve started trusting blindly. And now, we’re literally paying for it.
The advent of people-based marketing is asking marketers once again to do the hard work of understanding how data maps to reality. It’s a shift of equal or even greater magnitude to the advent of data-driven advertising itself. It’s time for marketing and advertising to recalibrate its understanding of what data can and should be doing for campaigns in an identity-driven world. Here’s why.
The dramatic pendulum swing
Back around the turn of the century, when true data-driven marketing came onto the scene, the advertising industry was rife with distrust—distrust of data modeling, of predictive analytics, and, in fact, the very notion that data could yield more useful insights than good old-fashioned gut instincts. As the purveyors of the next wave in marketing’s evolution, data firms and ad tech partners spent countless time and resources proving the efficacy and accuracy of their predictive models and data applications, holding marketers’ hands as they made the shift. Adoption was slow, and the result was a lot of missed opportunities when it came to nimble campaign execution.
However, as “big data” increasingly made its mark in the advertising space—not to mention the advertising trade headlines—attitudes shifted quickly. Data rapidly became a currency within the business world, and a more is better attitude prevailed. Given the vast efficiencies that were being unlocked in the programmatic media space, skepticism and curiosity fell away. Marketers ceased interrogating their data partners, instead of accepting that if data was being applied, it must be contributing to improved results.
Reeducating the Industry for the Age of Identity
In the data space today, most marketing organizations have gone from being far too distrustful of data to far too trusting of it. They’ve stopped trying to understand what it does and what it truly represents, instead choosing to assume that its mere presence is a positive when it comes to campaign results. In recent years, this attitude has become as problematic as it has become prevalent.
Today, the world of marketing and advertising is changing beneath our very feet as media becomes more addressable, and yet, marketers are still treating data as though nothing has changed. They are content to rely on what the leading indicators tell them – whether that’s impressions, clicks, or panels.
These days, such standalone data is meaningless without insight into the people it represents. Buying media isn’t just about driving eyeballs—it’s about driving the right eyeballs, and being able to identify the person attached to those eyeballs regardless of where they are. It is about connecting identity to message, and having the creativity within that message to inspire action. It is about developing robust testing approaches that unlock and then prove or disprove the “gut instincts” of old quickly. As consumers in a consumer-centric world, marketers understand this intuitively. However, few are asking the right questions to understand whether their data is being applied in a way that reflects this need.
Success in today’s marketing climate—where privacy legislation and tech company policies are increasingly elevating the value of first-party data—requires brands to maintain greater control over their data. Brands must understand how their assets are being leveraged through new solutions and technology to achieve their objectives in the real world. And that means it’s time to start asking the hard questions again.
Facing the uncomfortable questions
In 2021, as marketers look to realign their data practices around identity, it’s 2001 all over again. Marketers must again turn a critical eye to understanding whether their data actually represents what they’re trying to achieve with their broader marketing strategies, and must face a series of uncomfortable questions as they do so: Does the data map against reality? Does it predict what it’s supposed to predict?
Among data companies and vendors, it’s important that we help marketers realize that realigning in this sense doesn’t mean pumping the brakes on campaigns, but rather taking a firmer hold on the wheel and ensuring the bus is pointed in the right direction. After all, it’s today’s marketers who should be in the driver’s seat for their brands—not the data itself.
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