Dan Hagen, head of planning, Carat
Dan Hagen, head of planning, Carat
A view from Dan Hagen

Think BR: Big data, or just better targeting?

The data might be big but now is the time to experiment with the small stuff, writes Dan Hagen, head of planning, Carat.

Last week I sat on the BrandMAX panel tasked with 'Taming the data deluge & deploying insights for real-life business change'.  

I spoke alongside Jeremy Ellis, marketing director for the Thomson and First Choice brands, TUI; Neil Carden, head of insight and planning at The Co-operative; and Will Orr, marketing director at British Gas, about the challenges and experiences we each faced from our relative perspectives, as well as fielding questions from brands, journalists and trade bodies.

Big data was mentioned several times, and why not? It fuels everything in one way or another and sets us off running to create working groups to take it off to one side, package it and create a strategy around it.  

We're worried about where it’s coming from, how we'll organise it, store it, access it, control it, and a myriad of other challenges.  

While all these things are important and should be considered, they potentially lead to a dangerous place - delay and inactivity.

Let's just concentrate on media audience data for the time being. I define this as the information that allows us to understand who we're talking to, what they're like, what they've done and the context they're in when we talk to them. 

This is also called targeting. This isn't particularly new; we've had this data for ages, and we've done the best we can with it. 

Unfortunately, the media channels we had at our disposal were too blunt to allow us to make full use of the data - we aggregated audiences and fired shotguns rather than rifles.

That isn’t always a bad thing though; economies of scale mean that broad is oftentimes better than niche. 

Sometimes I can reach my core audience more efficiently through mass media because my unit cost is so much lower than through highly targeted channels, but what if, at the very least, I could deliver a different message to my core audience than I did to the overhearing audience?

Better targeting, yes? Well I believe that the digitisation of media is quickly bringing me this opportunity.

This is because digitisation has enabled three opportunities:

  1. Availability. People are sharing data on an unprecedented level, both actively and passively, through activity such as social updates and cookie tracking.
  2. Accessibility. We can more easily gather and classify this data through the use of technology, quickly making it useful for communications.
  3. Actionability. Changes to media channels themselves mean we can move much more quickly to market, using this data in real time to inform and optimise our activity.

Writing about demand side platforms may be so 2011, but they are currently the best manifestation of this system in action, and have been seeing huge growth this year.  

These platforms pre-qualify a cookie based on profile, history and context, then decide how much to pay and what message is most relevant in real time. 

What really interests me is this concept spreading through all media. VoD is bringing this capability into the TV space (15% of viewing is not via a TV set), and the advent of Sky Adsmart, Apple/Google TV and connected TVs all begin to bring this capability to the big screen - with major implications for brands, media agencies and ad agencies alike.

Imagine having the ability to bring store level sales data to bear, add in catchment profile information, localised 'ambient' effects (eg, weather) and then making real time decisions as to which ad to deliver, at what weight, and in what region.

One generic 30" spot isn't going to cut it, and neither are 20 different ads on today’s production economics.  

Will a targeted messaging approach detrimentally impact the ability of ads to tell big brand stories? I hope not. Will a more digital approach to creative be required? I think so. Much to ponder.

I'm pretty sure I started by saying start small, so here's my advice when the last paragraph seems too big a concept; experiment now with the small stuff, see what works, both from an effectiveness viewpoint, but also logistically - what's manageable and easy to do.  

Maybe feed one store's sale stock availability into a digital out of home site, or use social sentiment to drive messaging on tablet editions of newspapers.

See what data is available, work out how it’s relevant to your challenges, test if it makes a difference in practice, and then use technology to make the process more efficient and scalable. We’re really only talking about better targeting. 

Dan Hagen, head of planning, Carat