Marketers: take back control of your data but, please, do it properly
A view from Ben Foster

Marketers: take back control of your data but, please, do it properly

Clients, not media agencies, ought to own their data. Hear me out....

You have to feel for marketers right now. When did advertising get so bloody messy? All they wanted was someone to help them grow their business with a decent ad campaign. Which was simple – once.

Then came the internet and the growth of digital publishers that told you how brilliantly your ads were performing on their site, because they had the tech that (they claimed) proved it.

Before long (relatively speaking), it was considered pertinent to invent a way for a third party to measure the performance of online advertising, so agencies began using ad servers to more accurately assess how different elements of a campaign were performing. 

But then came GDPR. And that changed the game – not just in the attitude towards the use of customer data, but in the ways marketers started considering their brand’s data.

Since GDPR became a focus at the start of 2018, campaign measurement has been in danger of imploding. In some cases, methodologies have reverted back to those used several years ago and, in extreme circumstances, the outputs are so misleading that significant incorrect investment decisions are being made.

And why? Because marketers have rightly started requesting to be in control and manage their own data systems.

GDPR has given businesses a glimpse into the complex world of data rights and the people around the boardroom table have initiated a land grab without understanding the full implications. Additionally, the fact that some media agencies refuse to give clients access to their own data is adding fuel to the fire.

Suddenly, to monitor the performance of an ad campaign clients are starting to use glorified CRM systems that are not designed for this purpose and therefore not fit for purpose. Although they offer a single customer view, it is a completely flawed one: the full credit for every sale is going to the touchpoint the customer engaged with immediately before buying the product. No attribution modelling, no cross-device reporting and certainly no full funnel KPI frameworks. 

All the activity driving awareness, consideration and engagement is in danger of not getting the credit it deserves for the impact it has on the bottom line. All because senior management in some cases want to keep things simple with a single internal reporting system. And the painful part is that marketing managers in such cases know it’s not the best method to use, but their hands are tied.  

The solution

Here’s a suggestion: media agencies should not own their clients’ data. I know this will be a controversial opinion, but hear me out.

The most important thing for an agency is that it is looking at the strongest, most effective and most detailed statistics possible when assessing the strength of a campaign. Does it matter who owns that data? No. The most important thing is it has access to it.

I believe that, by encouraging clients to have a direct relationship with technology partners and have staff fully trained to maximise its functionality, we will all be better off. 

They will feel in control, we will be able to access, mine and analyse the information to optimise their current and future campaigns and they ultimately win because their campaigns will be stronger and more effective. And they will be happy knowing that they can take that data with them should they change their media agency. And since fear of losing data they don’t own has never been something to keep a client from sacking an agency, it’s not a factor that needs consideration in this argument.

Clients and agencies have to be singing from the same hymn sheet, so as long as the agency is being forced to use inferior data, it will be making suboptimal decisions on what is and isn’t working. Once upon a time, we operated in a world where it was simply a race to the bottom of the funnel, and we worked hard to get away from that. Now it seems the process has gone backwards.

This needn’t change the status quo significantly. I suspect eventually various specialist technology platforms will integrate with each other and even go through mergers and acquisitions.

But let’s not sit about and wait for that to happen, all for the sake of winning a perceived power struggle. None of us needs the headache of responding to a knee-jerk reaction over what one data source is saying, when we know – but can’t prove – it’s a mistake. Let’s avoid reverting back to living in a last-touch-wins world.

Ben Foster is the director of digital at MC&C