Big Data, Big Opportunities, Big Lies

Today’s empowered consumer represents an interesting paradox for brands. Marketers have never had more tools to reach consumers, but ironically it’s never been harder to truly engage them. Sadly, most advertising is tuned out by consumers, while brands struggle to value the impact across all those new options.

The difficulty in engaging consumers and in valuing each marketing touch are, in no small part, a big data challenge. Nearly 2 billion terabytes of digital data were created in the last year. Of particular interest, most of this data is actually about consumers, dwarfing the amount consumers create themselves. In the consumer metadata lays the opportunity to create better engagement.

Capturing this opportunity requires brands to think differently about data. In the past, advertising was primarily targeted and measured by panel data. Even Internet advertising remains largely targeted by the data stored on third party cookies. Unfortunately, the imprecision of these approaches inhibit most advertising from really reaching and engaging the specific audiences desired by brands. And, this includes Internet advertising, with all of its yet to be fully realized promise of addressability.

Brands need to refine and control multidimensional insight
Instead, in a world of virtually unlimited consumer choice, brands need to refine and control their own multidimensional insight about consumers. Data, like capital and labor, now represents a crucial raw material in delivering value. With technology and focus, brands can refine the increasing volume, velocity and variety of data into actionable insight to make every interaction count. In this context, third party data is an important, but not exclusive, source of targeting insight.

While investing in tools and resources to refine data is commonplace, many brands overemphasize refining a narrow set of consumer signals — for example, search or purchases or expressed interests. Each of these signals is useful, but incomplete, causing misdirected spending. To filter out false signals, brands need to refine insight across multiple consumer dimensions, including behavior, value, interests, relationships, influence, attitudes, consumption and geodemographics.

Yes, audience targeting is the answer, but not in the way most talk about it today. The biggest lie in digital advertising today is “I can reach your audience.” The only way to really reach a brand’s audience is to use the brand’s data to target, personalize and measure advertising. Third-party cookies or panels are simply no match for the breadth and depth of a brand’s insight about consumers. A brand refines insight over years; a third party cookie does so over days. Relying solely upon third party context or proxies is just a poor, wasteful substitute.

Audience targeting based on brand insight, on the other hand, is transformational. It enables brands to reach or suppress specific audiences with virtual certainty. For example, reaching just those living in your trade area, or pre-qualified for your offer, or suppressing messages and offers. It also means knowing that you’re delivering your message to a current customer or a recent defector. And, it simplifies measurement, since all segments are consistently defined.

Today’s empowered consumer need not remain paradoxical for brands. Prioritizing the creation of multidimensional consumer insight, then aggressively using it at every touch point represents the best opportunity for brands to answer the big data challenge.

Tim Suther is chief marketing officer of Acxiom, a marketing services and technology company.

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