PART 2 – Using Data-Centric Insights to Drive Effective Media Strategy

This is the second white paper in a two-part series exploring how big data is revolutionizing digital marketing. PART 1 – Getting from Data to Actionable Insight explained the data challenge and the promise it offered but with a focus on how to create a data-driven culture that leverages analysis to deliver actionable insights. This second part examines how business can successfully leverage the insights gained from their data-centric analysis to power and optimize media operations and deliver greater ROI.

Why read this paper?

Big data is big business these days. Research firm IDC forecasts that big data services and technology will grow at a 27% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) to $32.4 billion through 2017 – about six times the growth rate of the overall information and communication technology market. And the performance improvements, increased revenue, and operational savings promised by effectively leveraging big data are expected to dwarf that number. As companies scramble to implement big data strategies, marketing has been one business function where the potential benefits of increased efficiency loom particularly large. And much is at stake here. Industry experts like eMarketer and Forrester predict global spending on digital adverting will grow about 15% annually and top $200 billion in the next five years. Achieving even a small increase in efficiency could therefore deliver huge ROI.

But most organizations will require more than tools and technology to succeed. Many lack a data-centric culture and struggle to attract and retain talent with the deep analytical skills needed. And beyond mere talent, companies will need to change operational procedures and structure workflows and procedures to optimize the use of data-driven insights.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Abu Bakr, an advisor to the Prophet Mohammed, is said to have observed that action without knowledge is useless but, likewise, knowledge that is not acted upon is futile. Hence, simply knowing who your best customers are without having the ability to find and reach them is of little value to business.

Moreover, the crowded, noisy and hectic world we live in requires advertisers to go to great lengths to be able to break through the clutter and effectively deliver our message where our consumers work, live and play. More often than not, this requires us to deliver our message effectively numerous times, using multiple formats, media and channels in order for it to get delivered, noticed, and make an impact.

For a high-consideration purchase in today’s world it is not unreasonable to expect over a dozen interactions to take place between a brand and a consumer contemplating a purchase. As prospective customers move from awareness to consideration, purchase, and loyalty, there are countless opportunities for marketers to influence their path along the journey to a purchase decision – provided we can reach them at key inflection points. Just knowing who our customers and prospects are is valuable, no doubt. But knowing where they are when, how to reach them, and having the means to effectively do so with a well-timed and targeted message, is the decisive advantage.

Consumers form impressions of brands on the basis of their daily interactions across countless touch points, including advertisements, news reports, social media, and conversations with friends. It can be tempting to think that, unless consumers are actively shopping, much of that exposure is wasted. Research tells us this is not the case though. Occasionally, something triggers the impulse to buy and at this point all those accumulated impressions are crucial in shaping the initial consideration set and determine the sub-set of brands consumers regard at the outset as potential purchasing options.

This research confirms the importance of two distinct aspects: a brands ability to reach consumers when and where it counts across multiple channels, media and touch points; and a brands ability to accurately track and measure which interactions were most effective in converting their interest to actions so that they can invest more into efforts that appear to have the greatest impact. The first aspect is all about targeting, message development and delivery. The second is about data, insightful analysis, and accurate attribution. We will explore both in turn below.

Reach, Channels, Media and Frequency

Today’s marketer works in an infinitely more complex world than his or her counterparts of a generation – or even just a decade – ago. Instead of a simple media mix consisting mainly of print, broadcast and out-of-home media, the modern marketer has to consider channels and media that include online display ads, earned media, mobile applications, e-mail, social, paid search and more. Moreover, none of these exist in a vacuum and research has shown time and again that they are closely interrelated and can offer powerful synergy effects that marketers can tap into and leverage. For instance, targeted display media campaigns that are coordinated with efforts across other channels and media – social media, paid search, or effective PR, for example – deliver measurably better performance than when conducted on their own.

It is therefore important that brands effectively coordinate and track integrated campaigns across multiple channels and media, thereby creating as many brand interactions as possible along the path to purchase. And most marketers are able to fulfill this requirement and reach their target audience to deliver their brand message in a multitude of ways, either by internal resources or with the help of outside agency partners. But reach is just one part of an effective campaign. Coordination, timing, analysis, and effective attribution are all crucial components needed to truly optimize cross-channel media performance.

Unfortunately, too many marketers, including many large global brands, still lack an integrated platform able to effectively coordinate cross-channels efforts, collect the relevant data each interaction generates, and analyze it to accurately track and identify the efforts delivering the most impact. This shortcoming has many, often interrelated causes, including the use of multiple agency partners for what are deemed to be separate initiatives; the general difficulty in coordinating campaigns and tracking results across display, search and social media; and the lack of an integrated marketing platform with effective cross-channel metrics & analytics capability needed to support sophisticated attribution modeling. This inability to track efforts and accurately measure performance often results in brands doing the best they can, which more often than not means spray-and-pray media buys and crude last-touch attribution. This can lead to significant misallocation of marketing spend, since it completely disregards the value of the supporting interactions that preceded that fateful one that ultimately triggered the conversion event.

Sun Tzu observed that ‘strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory” and his sage words apply equally to the challenges faced by todays digital marketer. For even the best audience segmentation and targeting efforts are rendered useless without the ability to target and deliver the brand’s message to the target audience at the right time and place via the needed channel. Likewise, he observed, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”. Brand impressions delivered to the wrong audience, at the wrong time, or via an ineffective channel are destined to miss the mark and will fail to have an impact, resulting in waste.

A Comprehensive Analytics Platform is Critical

Many companies offer solutions to help advertisers and publishers reach larger audiences. But, as with most things in life, it’s not always about size. Bigger is not always better. And, when it comes to digital advertising, it can actually be worse. And certainly a lot more expensive. If your audience analysis, selection, and targeting are done right, less can result in more: more clicks, more traffic, more engagement, and more sales. And less wasted effort, ineffective media buys, lost impressions, missed sales.

Your goal should not be to reach the biggest audience but, instead, the best one possible and, ideally, at the lowest cost. The audience that meets your target criteria and aligns best with the profile of your shoppers and buyers. The audience that engages, converts, and delivers revenue.

Accomplishing this will require you to:

Verify Audience – ensure all your purchased impressions are delivered and viewed by your target audience, not bots or click-farms.

Analyze Attribution – develop insights about the elements in your campaign that are actually driving conversion and ensure you understand the entire path.

Optimize the Campaign – do more of what works, less of what doesn’t. This may take some experimentation to get right, so continuously review the results and take appropriate steps to maximize effectiveness and optimize overall Return on Advertising Spend (ROAS).

From Data To Insight, Effective Action to Results

Finally, even with access to good data, rigorous analysis and timely, accurate insight, brands and their agencies still lack one vital component crucial to success: decisive – and timely – action. It’s no secret that the pace of our frantic, always-on world has accelerated and continues to do so. With the rise of social media, news spreads in near real-time and perceptions, attitudes and trends can turn on moment’s notice. Marketers need to be in tune with this, especially if their target audience includes millennials or other highly connected groups.

Brands and their agency partners must be plugged into current events, trending topics and the effect they can have on our cultural mood and Zeitgeist. While large campaigns will still need to be planned ahead to afford for effective coordination, they must be monitored constantly and designed with enough flexibility to be nimble and responsive, able to shift as needed. To do so, campaign managers need access to real-time performance data in a format that will allow them to tap into trending events and cultural phenomena and shift media spend quickly to capture the wave of interest and capitalize on it.

If Twitter is abuzz about Michelle Obama’s dress, then that’s a great opportunity to run ads showing your brand’s similar design, available at a fraction of what that Carolina Herrera number cost the taxpayer. If Pinterest is blowing up over Beyoncé‘s Alexander McQueen boots, it could be a good time to show how similar your line is, available to anyone online, at far more reasonable cost. Or, if the world is reeling from the heartache and agony of a deadly plane crash, it might be wise to pull your ads centered on air travel and replace them with the version that showcase the great American road trip.

Monitoring campaigns while in-flight, using real-time data, and optimizing them multiple times a day by reallocating spend and changing messaging, can enhance performance and dramatically lift effectiveness to deliver improved results measured where they matter most: the bottom line.

About Daniel Backhaus

Dan has close to 15 years of experience in the field of information technology, brand development, and interactive marketing, working with brands that include Bayer AG, BMW, Daimler-Benz, Deutsche Bank, H&R Block and Wachovia. His diverse background includes service in our nation’s military, and stints at Xerox, TSYS, several technology start-ups and leading interactive agencies in Europe and the United States. Originally from Germany, he has lived and worked in Germany, the Czech Republic, Greece and England before settling in Atlanta in 2005. A PMI-certified Project Management Professional and a Six Sigma greenbelt, his experience includes digital strategy, solution sales, new business development, enterprise systems implementation, project and program management, SEO/SEM and Web Analytics. Dan holds a BS in Business Management from Arizona State University and an MBA with concentration in international business from the European University in Montreux, Switzerland. The parent of three young children, Dan’s interest in environmental sustainability issues stems from concerns over their future well-being and his international background have given him an enlightened perspective on the challenges we face and the approaches other countries and societies have taken in addressing them. Dan blogs about technology, his love of writing, interactive marketing, brand development and strategy and whatever or whoever might have pissed him off the week before.
This entry was posted in Big Data, Branding, Interactive Marketing, Social Media, Uncategorized, Web Metrics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Pingback: INSIGHT TO ACTION – A FRAMEWORK FOR DATA-DRIVEN MEDIA « The Courage of Conviction

  2. Doug Spears says:

    Great info! My take-away: Action without knowledge isn’t effective. Knowledge without action isn’t effective. Combine those two, then tweak based on personalization and timing.


    • Doug,

      Thanks for reading and the kind words. And nice job summarizing my three pages in ~20 words. That summer job writing Cliff’s Notes in college seems to have paid off! 😉

      Of course, as you well know, in practice things can be a lot trickier than just explaining – or summarizing – them in theory. The devil lies in the details, and with this sort of “stuff”, there tends to be a lot of details with any one of them able to trip you up.

      Thanks again,


  3. Jeff Mikes says:

    Dan – Great stuff as usual. Agree with the need for data driven strategy and robust measurement of media and attribution. How do you bake in the effectiveness of the creative effort, whether in ad or content? I see a lot of tools that ultimately really just provide media mix / channel effectiveness reporting – but don’t delve enough into why an ad was effective. Thoughts?

    • Jeff,
      Right back atcha: insightful, well-considered comment as usual. Thanks for reading, engaging, commenting.
      Now, to your point: I think all good advertising – or any other content, really (as i believe ads are – or can/should be – a legitimate form of content and are part of our modern culture and Zeitgeist) – needs to be born from a central idea, ideally a big one that resonates; To resonate, an idea has to have relevance, trigger an emotional connection, engage the intended audience, and inform. And, ultimately, it needs to sell. Without these elements, the first few being a necessary precondition for the last one, it’s simply not effective advertising.

      So, while there are data-centric tools and technologies that help us research and, ultimately, test an ad’s effectiveness, the initial ideas and creativity are exclusively the realm of creative minds.

      But what good is the best campaign if it doesn’t reach its audience? While a tree that falls with no one around to hear it may still make a sound, an unseen ad will almost certainly not help sell your product. And data-driven audience targeting and media buying addresses this problem, which also happens to be the primary cost-driver of campaign spending, since media spend is generally a greater share of campaign budgets than ideation and creative. Moreover, audience design, proper targeting (and retargeting), frequency and impression caps, A/B and multivariate testing are all important contributors to ad effectiveness (which, in my book, also includes cost-effectiveness) and areas where modern, data-centric AdTech can be a great help. Nonetheless, you’re absolutely right: if your product and message are crap, a bigger (or even better) bullhorn won’t help. But a nice bottle of scotch might… 😉

    • Jeff,

      Before I forget, we actually have a paper up on the Website that deals with the topic you mention:

      An excerpt:

      “Data and creative may seem to be at odds with one another. Don’t they originate from two opposing sides of the brain? Strange bedfellows indeed! They are reluctant partners in marketing. There are digital gurus who insist that data is the only way to achieve effective marketing. And then there are the denizens of agency creative departments, who maintain that number crunching just results in more numbers and not in valuable insights that lead
      to effective marketing campaigns. But creative and data, as the yin and yang of marketing, are actually a marriage that is vital to producing memorable communications that are results-driven, actionable and building a stronger bond with customers.”

  4. Edwin says:

    Great thoughts, Dan! I like the Data Driven thinking, particularly when it comes to activating the data in media quickly. It’s the talk of the industry and will continue to drive future marketing strategies. Here is a link to a blog post I did that complements what you say:

    • Edwin!

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts and insights. I took a look at your recent post as well – nice work – and see we are in violent agreement that data holds the promise of better targeted, more effective (and less annoyingly mis-placed) advertising. But, there remains a lot of work to be done. Technology will only solve part of the problem, we need fresh blood in some of the marketing departments, more innovative thinking, the willingness to take risks, and an upper management that insists on transparency and accountability. And, of course, data-literate folks in both marketing as well as brand management and ad ops. All this will take time to develop, but the rewards are there for those that embrace these trends.

      All the best,


  5. Jeff B says:

    Dan – very thoughtful and thorough piece. You hit on all the key points / issues. We all know big data is, well, big, but the growth data in the set up is pretty astounding. It’s almost as if just getting on the wave is all that needs to be done. But the spectrum of marketers’ understanding of what it takes to differentiate is broad- it’s not enough to just know anymore or have the strategy. Finding alpha over the index is where wars are won. Gets to your point about strategy without tactics and knowledge without action. Actions are the key – but based on which data, optimizing how,who’s owning which part? Organizations need to model themselves after how they need to optimize. I recently read some data published from DataXu about the attribution of conversion to creative optimization. It’s high, with audience and context coming in # 2 and #3 respectively. My point is, it’s less about one over the other, more about how orgs come together to isolate data and optimize together with an indoctrinated view of which data has meaning and the process for leveraging the data back through the org. Perhaps it’s media teams with creative teams living as one (i mean more in true practice than posturing). Imagine that. Perhaps it’s happening in programmatic native ad buying where it’s a requirement that creative and media truly work together. All just thoughts. Thanks for putting your POV out there.

    • Jeff,

      Very nice feedback, considered thoughts, and great insight. Also, thanks for taking action and posting a comment, since we both seem to agree that that’s what matters most. Much appreciated!

      I agree that creative optimization is an important component but I’m always leery of studies that isolate just one aspect in an often poorly controlled manner. Often, I find, in settings like that – where all hands are on deck and know that the results will be examined closely – ALL components of the campaign will get inordinate attention. The result is often better targeting, better execution, more diligent optimization and, ultimately, better performance. This performance is then benchmarked against all the other campaigns that were run previously, where there was perhaps less diligence and attention to detail invested. And, of course, the lift in performance then all gets attributed to the one element we were testing for, in this case creative optimization. Don’t get me wrong: it’s clearly an important aspect but, as you point out yourself, it’s just one of several. A great violin or a harmonious cello does not an exquisite orchestra make, my father used to say. Okay, I just totally made that up, but you get my point. 😉

      Thanks again for reading my blog and I do hope you enjoyed it!

      All the best,


Leave a Reply