In our last article we wrote about some of the challenges that exist regarding both display and search advertising. While the situation is complex, it is certainly very possible to navigate successfully. However, doing this well does require some effort in terms of setting up a data infrastructure.
Now we know when you have to consider a technology build, it may not bring up a lot of happy memories. Based on your previous experiences you think you’re about to be dragged into a blackhole for the next eighteen months, never to see sunlight for the duration. However, most software implementations of this sort are now cloud based, meaning that the software is already up and running and installed on remote servers. Largely what you have to do is configure the software for your own environment, for which the vendor can provide expertise. That means no hardware procurement, and no waiting in line behind dozens of other IT projects already in the queue. Overall it’s much less of a headache than it used to be, and can be up and running in a much shorter period of time.
The centre piece of your data infrastructure is what is known as a Data Management Platform or DMP. The DMP is the tool that allows you to aggregate live customer data from an incredible variety of sources, and model customer segments that never go out of date.
Adobe’s Audience Manager considered the current leader in the DMP space. Adobe conceptually separates customer data into three categories: first, second and third party data. First party data is whatever data you already have about your customers. Second party data is whatever data you can access from your close partners. Third party data is data you can subscribe to from data vendors. Once second and third party data has been layered into what you already know about your own customers, a much fuller picture of their interests and activities will emerge. An analysis of these interests will allow you to discover new, and untapped ways of targeting your primary audience segments, and dramatically improve your digital results across the board.
The degree of integration that Adobe’s Audience Manager offers across all three types of data is impressive. For example, if you have close partnerships with other companies who are using the popular Adobe Analytics tool, you can actually subscribe directly to your partner’s web analytics. If you share a customer base with these partners this is a killer feature, and one that few companies would have the analytic install base to support. That is with the exception of Google, and Google just announced their DMP product in mid March of this year. While this new product is still in beta, Google Audience 360 could be a game changer especially for those brands who make extensive use of the existing Google Analytics tool, have a strong YouTube presence and exclusively do their search marketing on Google.
Regardless of what DMP you end up using, the ways you will use it will remain largely the same. DMPs don’t just gather data into robust customer segments, they share those segments with other software in a variety of important ways. Remember all of that complexity related to programmatic and search ads we reviewed last time? Sharing up-to-date, high quality segments from your DMP with the collection of agencies that make up your digital media team will provide them clear direction as to how you want your audience targeted. Moreover, DMPs are expressly designed to be able to communicate directly with the ad buying technology layer. This is a sure fire way of cutting through the noise and making clear exactly the customers you are going after. In this regard your DMP will also act like a traffic cop, making sure you aren’t placing overlapping buys on different exchanges and paying twice to reach the same people. Something that may never have come to light unless you were using a DMP.
But it isn’t just fixing what is driving traffic to your site, the data aggregated by a DMP can also be shared with Site Optimization and A/B testing tools that control the content and layout of your web properties. In same way that better customer data can lead to better ad targeting, it can also help to ensure that when a customer arrives on your site they see the content that is most appealing to them. With a strong enough customer profile, you’ll be able to quickly assess what content is most likely to appeal to a customer as soon as they arrive on the site. Moreover, you’ll be able to deepen your understanding of the customer with each click they make, heightening the degree of context you are providing to the customer, and decreasing the rate of site abandonment. All of this without the customer having to sign in.
It’s perhaps the case that you have already established customer segments through your own efforts or with the help of an external research firm. But if you are mulling over the value of this kind of infrastructure investment, it’s unlikely that those profiles are as replete with a customer’s digital behaviour, kept as regularly up to date, or can be reworked with a view to different behavioural dimensions quite as easily as can be done with a DMP.
You might also be wondering where some of your existing infrastructure fits in, such as your CRM. Your CRM will be an important first party data source to the DMP, but the two tools are very different. A CRM will contain contact and perhaps purchase information. Valuable data to be sure, but it won’t tell you a lot about customer behaviour. You might cross reference this with your digital analytics tool, but you’ll never be able to figure out what your customers are doing when they aren’t on your site (which is the majority of the time). This is the strength of second and third party data, to say nothing of the modeling tools specifically designed to help you create more robust customer profiles.
Forrester Research provided an analysis of the DMP landscape in 2013 and updated version in 2015. When comparing the two time frames and the necessity for brands to invest in a DMP Forrester said “what was innovative then is table stakes today.” I don’t think this is hyperbole, particularly given the current state of display and search marketing, and complexities that most brands now have to navigate therein. Brands must empower themselves with knowledge and expertise that is rightfully their own; they must be experts in their customers, and be able to successfully articulate that expertise in a digital environment. Without this infrastructure in place a brand is unnecessarily handicapped, and will find it difficult to contribute effectively to its own success in digital media, or extract the most value from its digital properties.