Jul 5, 2012

Why Web marketers won't be replaced by machines

Audience-buying is the new big thing in Web marketing, with largely automated data-management platforms helping to ensure ads are shown to the right people at the right time. Still, all this automation won't obviate the need for human marketers, writes Brian Lesser. "While the technology is crucially important, it's people who are steering the ship. The human element of understanding which buttons to push and which levers to pull (and in what order) is critical to designing and implementing successful audience-buying campaigns," he writes. Via Advertising Age (tiered subscription model)/DigitalNext blog:

The power of advertising is on full display in a first-season episode of the PBS period drama "Downton Abbey."

In the scene in question, a partially disabled valet, Mr. Bates, bursts into a London store brandishing a newspaper ad for the shop's "limp correcting" device. Mr. Bates, who has suffered from a limp since his service in the Boer War, is getting heat for not being able to perform all of the physical tasks his role requires.

He doesn't do much due diligence -- he doesn't comparison shop or read user reviews from other shoppers -- he simply shows up with the ad and upon being shown the contraption, buys it.

If you think the ad's success derives from the fact that the event occurs in 1912, when people were much more innocent about truth in advertising, you'd be partly right. However, there's an additional takeaway that is relevant for today's marketers.

The ad worked because it reached the right person (Mr. Bates), with the right message (we can fix your limp), at the right time (if you don't do something about your limp, you're going to get fired). Getting these factors to align is far more important now than it was in 1912; ours is a world where media are extremely disaggregated and consumers are surrounded by more marketing messages each day than Mr. Bates could see in a lifetime.

How best to reach Mr. Bates today? Audience buying, where we leverage massive amounts of data to deliver the right ad, to the right person, at the right time.

With audience buying, where the ad appears (on a news website, in a smartphone app, via social media, etc.) isn't what drives the content. Instead, ads are delivered based on who the person is, based on anonymous profiles developed from online, offline and proprietary sources. Brands can then reach their Mr. Bateses at scale, wherever they happen to access media.

Because media are increasingly being bought and sold in this manner, how brands use the available data to direct their audience-buying campaigns is critical. Executives not intimately involved in the technology can find it confusing to evaluate possible solutions with a high degree of confidence. Here are some things to look for.

The major elements to consider in evaluating a solution are these: the datasets themselves and what key relationships they reveal; whether an advertiser's proprietary data (CRM data, for instance) will be kept safe; and the firm's ability to place and track media buys based upon the data analysis.

Multiple permutations are possible, but two basic routes are possible. A company can select a primary partner that offers a comprehensive solution -- via a proprietary data-management platform -- that coordinates all audience-buying activities. Or it can manage this coordination itself, establishing direct relationships with third-party networks, exchanges and data providers.

With a data-management platform centralizing all data streams, advertisers can see the entirety of an audience member's activity across the universe of addressable media. For instance, if an advertiser shows an audience member an ad on Site A, it can deliver a follow-up ad to that same audience member when he or she moves to Site B, or to a mobile app or online video site. Even for campaigns that use none of the data and distribution channels exclusive to a particular data-management platform, advertisers benefit by being able to see and respond in real-time to activity taking place across multiple third-party vendors.

A proprietary data-management platform also provides companies with a more secure environment for integrating CRM data into their audience-buying campaigns. The platform allows advertisers to incorporate this extremely valuable information without having to reveal it to every network and online data vendor.

The knock against data-management platforms from some third-party vendors is that because they centralize so much functionality in terms of data, analytics and reach, they can't be trusted to deliver the best results. Instead, the argument goes, by compartmentalizing efforts across multiple providers, advertisers will have more leverage with each individual vendor.

But, because a true data-management platform provides access to all data and distribution options in the marketplace, it has the flexibility to design campaigns that match the best technology to a client's specific needs. This agnostic approach allows the focus to remain on delivering what's best for the client rather than selling the same solution to everyone who walks through the door.

Finally, it's important not to lose sight of the fact that while the technology is crucially important; it's people who are steering the ship. The human element of understanding which buttons to push and which levers to pull (and in what order) is critical to designing and implementing successful audience-buying campaigns.