June 30, 2021
This week’s column by Charlie Swift, EVP at Adstra, highlights the intersection of outcomes and processes in marketing.
Outcomes are having a moment. Driven by the example of disruptive DTC brands, more and more of the ecosystem – including large, incumbent brand marketers – is driving toward a performance mindset. Marketers are thinking heuristically, focusing on ends rather than means.
That kind of singular focus approach won’t fly if marketers intend to rely on people-based identity solutions and also comply with the demands of new privacy regulations. For brands to get the most from identity – and to manage the risks associated therewith – brands are going to need to equally concern themselves with the how. They need to bring in people that technically understand how data is going to flow through their systems – how it’s gathered, managed, orchestrated, matched, and deployed in order to realize the outcomes that everyone champions. They will need real experts dedicated to understanding the mechanics, to asking the tactical questions – not just about outcomes, but about the process itself. Because in understanding the process, marketers will uncover both opportunities worth seizing and risks worth mitigating.
Do you understand where the consumer gives consent? Do you understand how the data is being connected? Do you understand how your audience is being passed through to an activation point? Each of these linkage points poses the risk of data leakage and signal loss, as well as the opportunity to realize meaningful efficiencies and optimizations.
Downside risk: privacy
On a privacy level, the cost of non-compliance is more material today than ever before. Brands are custodians of personal data, which is a regulated asset, subject to a rapidly changing patchwork of rules at local, state, and national levels. As more and more brands pursue data collection as a strategic objective, that comes with responsibilities for governance and handling of data that simply cannot be implemented without a detailed understanding of data processes.
Downside risk: effectiveness
It’s quite possible that solutions work quite well when plugged into new emerging identifiers, and those may appear to deliver strong and conclusive results. But those who understand the process, understand that those may only represent a small fraction of a brand’s true media buying capacity.
This is to say: even a smooth-functioning identity strategy can paint brands into a corner, foreclosing on opportunities to reach the right audiences with the right creativity. The world of identity is solipsistic and self-referential, in that it delimits a marketer’s addressable audience to what one particular identifier can match against. As long as marketers blindly optimize against a deterministic match, they run the risk of shrinking their prospects for true reach.
Upside: more agility and adaptability in a changing market
Technology is constantly evolving, the market is always changing, the rules are always a work in progress. Technology comes and goes. A firm grasp of the mechanics is essential for brands that hope to navigate these changes and adapt.
It’s reasonable to expect that, over the next few years, the ecosystem will eventually coalesce around certain solutions over others, but there is not going to be a single currency like the cookie that will emerge as a preeminent and universal standard. Marketers will always face a diversity of options for targeting, activation, and measurement, whether those be cohort-based, PII-based, hashed email-based, contextual, or what-have-you. The responsibility for securely and effectively leveraging that diverse toolset will ultimately fall on the brands themselves. And right now, very few brands have a firm grasp of how these mechanisms function.
Accountability involves matching process to outcomes
Data is facile. Creative minds can crunch numbers to make the outcome look the way they want it to be. Outcomes can be cherry-picked to support almost any argument or theory. On the other hand, you can’t cherry-pick the process or its implications. Alternatively, a narrow focus on only the process will neglect its effect on outcomes.
The right mindset for marketers belongs at the intersection of outcomes and process. In a practical sense, this means that outcomes-obsessed marketers need to get comfortable with the process. When they do, they’ll be better positioned to find new opportunities and manage new and emergent risks.