But digital was not an advertising panacea for him. "There are huge benefits found in digital, but in the end, the creative execution is sometimes lacking, and recall is not always great," Andy says. So about a year ago he made the decision to move to OOH (out of home). "OOH has many intuitive benefits but has had its challenges," he explains. "The creative canvas is huge and highly visible, and there is no ad-skipping, which is great. But, until now, there has been no ability to verify or pinpoint who is seeing the ad and hence no true detailed audience data available. The good news is that mobile technology is helping OOH bridge the data gap of who actually sees the ad and what they do after seeing it. I saw the opportunity to use my knowledge in digital and translate it into the OOH arena."

In this interview, Andy talks about his path to research, his current job at Clear Channel Outdoor Americas, how digital and out of home data helps inform advertisers about the consumers' journey, privacy protection in location-based verification and his advice to the next generation.

Charlene Weisler: Andy, Clear Channel Outdoor Americas has just announced a new research and sales initiative called Clear Channel Outdoor RADAR. What is that?

Andy Stevens: We chose the term RADAR because the tool is designed to give you a better view of the physical landscape and the OOH assets in it. RADAR overlays data from various mobile sources and illustrates where audiences move throughout the physical world.  Further, it denotes the best OOH locations to reach them. Using this anonymous and aggregated audience data, we can be better informed about when and where consumer groups shop, work, live and seek entertainment as a way to get a physical world attribute to their behaviors. Then we overlay our inventory throughout the day. It's like mobile advertising, using the same consumer behavior, but using it for OOH.

Charlene: Has any thought been given to combining OOH with mobile to begin an industry standard measurement and sales application?

Andy: We are thinking about that as a separate product release -- a marriage of mobile and OOH is a great opportunity as both mediums enable advertisers to reach audiences on the go.

Charlene: How did you get into research? What did you study in school?

Andy: I studied psychology. It is a scientific discipline to understand human behavior. Upon graduation I did the usual consulting but nothing resonated until I found media. Once in media, I started out as an analyst crunching numbers and bought media on an impression basis. But from there I began to get more into the strategic side of the business. Increasingly, the line between research and marketing is becoming blurred. Marketing used to be more qualitative but we are now in a data-driven world. I am a researcher but marketing now falls very close to what I do.

Charlene: What is the most important data point in digital measurement?

Andy: I don't believe there is ever a single most important data point. It depends on the objectives of a campaign and who you are trying to reach. Advertising has become more sophisticated with more granular data that is available. Abandoning a shopping cart is a powerful signal and through data we are able to understand when and how that happens. That is why, when you abandon, ads pop up for things that you have already seen. Data delivers us an understanding of people's behavior and buying patterns that drive their behavior. We get a more individualistic, more granular picture of the individual consumer.

Charlene: What is the most important data point in OOH?

Andy: Traditionally the most important data point is location, as we are fundamentally a location-based medium. But this can be just a proxy to where and whom the ad is reaching. If an ad is on a billboard on the New Jersey Turnpike, we know it reaches commuters. The challenge is that it is manual and requires in-depth knowledge of the market. It takes both art and science to presume motivation. The general point is that despite the size and impact of digital data, which is huge, only 15 percent of purchases take place online. Unlocking location and sales data is key.

Charlene: So with both digital and OOH, what about privacy amongst this granular data?

Andy: There are many areas where user data is used for more effective advertising; all forms of communication rely on consumer information. And there is nothing wrong with that as long as there is no PII (personally identifiable information). It is all reduced to a number and a clean link to the data with companies like Axciom, for example. And there are clear opt-out policies. We piggy-back off the mobile system and we are completely compliant, while benefitting from being location-based.

We've all seen "Minority Report" where customized ads address you by name. But I'm not sure it's a great user experience and it is a little creepy to be honest. With a mass-medium like OOH, a better use is to target general patterns of consumer groups, not the individual.

Charlene: Do you use beacons?

Andy: There are some really interesting uses for beacons to help create customized mobile experiences in retail locations, hotels, sports grounds, etc.  However, we also need to be aware of the limitations of beacons on roadside inventory (of which the bulk of OOH inventory in the US is comprised) because they cannot connect to a device driving past them at speed.  As such, their applicability as a measurement tool is limited.

Charlene: Where do you see OOH going in the next three to five years?

Andy: I think that the location-based data ecosystem will see more consolidation in the same way we saw with behavioral data providers in the online space. Also, I see growth in programmatic OOH as advertisers use automated tools to plan and buy OOH ads.

Charlene: What advice would you give to a college student today regarding a career in research?

Andy: To my mind, the most important skill for an advertising researcher is to be able to interpret and tell a story about the data. Competence with numbers is table stakes but being able to make those numbers come alive for your client is the hardest bit. In starting out, get your foot in the door somehow. Ad agencies are flexible so don't obsess about the title. Choose a good company and learn the basics of how media works.

The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage/MyersBizNet management or associated bloggers.