Why brands must conquer their fear of data

Patrick Johnson, chief executive at Affectv, explains how brands can overcome concerns and distrust around data to move to the next level of data-driven targeting

Data is one of the most powerful tools at an enterprise’s disposal, yet for many marketers it’s become a word they fear their brand sharing a negative headline with. Security breaches and misuse of customer information dominate discussions about data in the mainstream media, leading to distrust and disillusionment among consumers.

A recent parliamentary report by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee branded Facebook a “digital gangster” operating “beyond the law” in the way it threatens the privacy of its users, not to mention the prominent role third-party access to its data has played in fuelling the fake news ecosystem.

Negative sentiment can also stem from individual user experiences. We are all familiar with the scenario of an ad relentlessly chasing us for weeks across the sites we browse and the social networks through which we communicate.

Meanwhile, understanding of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is still largely inconsistent among brands and suppliers, and inexact segmentation strategies are placing individuals in buckets they know they don’t fit into. Let’s not forget many companies are still trying to get to grips with the impact of GDPR since its introduction last year.

It’s only recently, with the actions of a few major digital enterprises, that data has become synonymous with disgrace and marketers have become scared of problematic interactions with their brands; yet that needn’t be the case. Data has been used by credit card companies, banks, airports and loyalty card issuers for years, and it is increasingly crucial to successful marketing.

Brands need to demonstrate to consumers that data can improve experiences, pricing, and efficiencies to benefit them as a customer

Accurate targeting offers advantages to both consumers and brands. The more brands have an open relevant dialogue with their customers, the more both parties benefit.

Indeed, many of the most revered brands place data at the heart of their business models. Amazon, which uses artificial intelligence on its user data to drive personalised recommendations, has hundreds of millions of customers. While analysis of our video-watching habits has been central to the dominance of Netflix as it produces more content we like to watch. Closer to home, data-fed algorithms connect us to our favourite fast food through UK companies such as Deliveroo.

Data is the foundation between media and creative storytelling, enabling a more evolved measurement of effectiveness to counter the lack of precision that has previously existed. Numerous tools are available for brands seeking effective attribution and GDPR compliance oversight of their partners’ and rivals’ activities, but they can also deal with the scrutiny around data by developing their own strategy and policies.

Too many companies are remarkably fuzzy about their own data policies, why they are in place and whether they’re consistent. By getting organised, brands can then move on to utilising data to gain a better understanding of customer behaviour and making more connected decisions through their sales funnel.

Smart brands are using insights to power creative development, which starts even before the development of creative. Using behavioural data that provides contextual relevance for the creative environment should be built from the beginning of the user journey and carried in a multichannel manner.

Our own Affectv Platform moves beyond crude demographics or assumed relevance based on location to programme-customised audience profiles that are focused on a specific marketing need. It enables brands to find new customers by understanding audience intent and behaviour, and then delivers personalised advertising. By embedding data insight into their creative thinking, companies can push for deeper links between content, creative and media in a more integrated way, moving away from siloed technologies and practices.

One leading appliance maker we worked with found itself at war with competitors at the crucial purchasing point. By educating and advising consumers earlier in their purchase journey, we built loyalty so the brand was the top choice at transaction. Other beneficiaries of Affectv’s platform include a major Middle East airline, which generated a 300 per cent return on its investment after targeting audiences from its competitors, and Eurosport, which increased viewership by engaging with a more relevant audience.

A leading online university, meanwhile, not only surpassed its target for prospectus downloads by 160 per cent, through serving ads to relevant individuals at the appropriate times, but also achieved large efficiency savings. With its marketing previously siloed into faculties, the insights our data signals created into who was interested in what courses enabled the university to consolidate to one digital team that works on all messaging.

Data is going to be the fulcrum between the world of media and creative, informing development, not dictating it. Brands must find the right balance between audience targeting and keeping customers loyal onside. There is enormous value in personalised interactions, but these need to be conducted in a transparent way.

Being the ad that chases you for three weeks does a brand nothing but harm. A more balanced outcome between brands and their customers is where marketing is heading: a direction that is effective for brands, simple to adopt and utilise using existing capabilities. This is the nirvana of a respectful balance between customers and their brands using relevant data.

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Five key steps to data-driven targeting

1. Let insights drive your strategy

Data enables you to make more informed decisions, so constantly analyse the data you are generating and apply conclusions to your strategy as it evolves.

2. Plan a partner strategy that works for you

Brands need to be looking for flexible partners that complement their marketing needs to enable a cohesive approach to storytelling to consumers.

3. Engage senior stakeholders early

There needs to be senior stakeholders involved from the very start. By doing it in isolation, marketers can create a friction point with others. Engaging them is the oil in the execution process.

4. Develop a learn and iteration mentality

Some brands pivot from one strategy to another quite abruptly and end up back where they started. Walk before you run and try things out in a sensible, controlled manner.

5. Have consistency across your messaging

Keep your testing simple and scalable, measure success along the way and making a small number of changes to ensure consistency before rolling out more widely.

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