Data is one of the polarizing topics in advertising today. The word can mean everything to one marketer and be pure fluff to the next. It single-handedly points to the future of advertising, but at the same time can provide nothing but “numerical backup” for the instincts and common sense which have, arguably, successfully driven advertising strategy for decades.
The topic of data can make for difficult business decisions; you know, those meetings where you leave the conference room with more new questions than answers. But as I was watching the activity at Dreamforce 2017 (#df17) last week, it reminded me of the data-focused panels and presentations at the recent Advertising Week 2017 in New York. There were many parallels between the two conferences in terms of themes and audiences: Dreamforce is one of the biggest events of the year for data-driven marketers, and Advertising Week similarly tackles the top trends in tech and how they can help (and hinder) brands’ abilities to reach consumers.
At Advertising Week, I had the honor of participating in one of the data-themed panels (Daily Debate: Is Technology Delighting or Distancing Customers?) and was blown away by the different perspectives of my peers in the industry. There were also many commonalities for the presentations I watched at Dreamforce 2017. Here are a few of the biggest takeaways from both events that I think are most interesting for our industry.
1) It’s Not About How Much Data You Have, It’s What You Do with It.
By now it’s evident to everyone in our industry: advertisers are drowning in data. There isn’t necessarily a need for more data, but there is a need for more actionable data. We need to dig deeper, find patterns and understand how the data is actually affecting the person receiving our ads, and not just solely rely on Facebook and Google like most have thus far. Also, we cannot lose sight of the fact that in-person shopping is still relevant, and that while e-commerce has been rapidly growing, we must leverage data to understand the full customer journey, life cycle and consumer behaviors. The most fitting example is this: Why am I still being shown an ad for shoes online when I bought them in a store three weeks ago? It doesn’t make sense from the consumer’s perspective. Once we begin to solve for these types of issues, then we begin to truly unleash the effectiveness of big data.
2) No One Is Happy with How We Measure Impact and Success.
Both brands and agencies are pining for a new way to measure advertising campaign success, and the relationships between the two are changing because of it. For all of the money that’s spent per year on marketing technologies, you’d think there would be a more modern metric than click-through rates (CTR) for online and digital. Some brands are beginning to take agency roles in-house because they can more clearly point to sales outcomes tied to campaigns. Similarly, we in the out-of-home (OOH) industry have been grappling with how we can prove our ROI to prospective clients and media buyers. Thankfully the rise of social media and mobile integrations have enabled us to create a “digital trail” to track customers. We must optimize for the end goal we want from our campaigns. The entire industry can do better -- P&G’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard has made it loud and clear that we need industry-standard viewability metrics and third-party verification. There are many debatable topics around data, but the need for better measurement is one we can all agree on.
3) Machine Learning and AI are Buzzwords to Some, the Future to Others.
Just like the word "data" in advertising today, terms like AI, machine learning, deep learning, predictive analytics, etc. can make some in the industry roll their eyes and others foam at the mouth. The topic of AI harkens back to takeaway No. 1 in this post, where we have all of the data in the world and we’re not really quite sure what to do with it. AI and machine learning are a way to make our data more actionable, but the main issue is that in the marketing world this technology is still extremely nascent. Advertisers and marketers throw these terms around and everyone wants a piece of the machine-learning pie, but we still may be a few years away until it makes a serious impact. The fact of the matter is the companies investing in these capabilities now are going to be the ones that reap its rewards when it does become ubiquitous. Seeing ahead of the curve in advertising has never been more important than it is in 2017, and the technologies driving change are the underlying reason for this.
It’s truly fascinating to be able to learn from so many different professionals with various backgrounds and focus areas and to hear how they define and describe what data does for them today, and how data will affect their jobs tomorrow. Big conferences like Dreamforce and Advertising Week help set the stage for the most important advertising and marketing trends for years to come, and there’s one thing that’s clear from both: Data will not be going away anytime soon, so learn to embrace it to unlock its true value!
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