Reaching beyond demographics

I joined VisualDNA earlier this year from Google to lead the media sales team – and after almost 10 years in the business the technological advances have been mind-blowing. Exciting as this is, the art of marketing, media-buying, timing and nuance is being replaced by machines. Define your audience, set your budget, input your criteria into your media exchange of choice and off you go. It’s a growing trend too, some 25% of all UK online ad spend in 2012 ran through RTB platforms and most experts expect that percentage to grow further and faster.

But as the ad world becomes more efficient and effective at trying to reach the right person with the right ad at the right time, it’s getting a bit soulless, disconnected from real human connection. For all the insights the internet can deliver, and disruption it’s caused to traditional mass media companies – advertisers still rely largely on demographics and mass when buying media online.

Demographics hail from the Mad Men age. It was the National Readership Survey (NRS) that first carved people into ABC1/ C2DE groups – classifications borne out of a regimented 1960s class system where your preferences were inferred from your buying power with the ‘professional or higher managerial’ upper middle-class grade A at the top to Grade Es ‘at the lowest level of subsistence’ – dependent on the State – at the bottom.

Simply put, demographics tell us little about ‘who’ our customers are – and even less about ‘why’ they are motivated to buy stuff. Kantar’s Target Group Index (TGI), Experian’s Mosaic and IPA Touchpoints all provide a more nuanced way for media owners, agencies and brands to segment and reach an audience, since they are enriched by multiple behavioural data sets (clicks, browsing, purchases and so on). which is great. But they still don’t get to the core of what makes people tick. It’s all too assumptive, ‘umbrella-level’ data…and lacks human feeling and ‘real’ insight.

We know smart brands want to understand people on a deeper, more emotional level, and this is the real opportunity for VisualDNA. No other adtech company, to my knowledge, goes anywhere near as far as we do to understand what actually makes people tick.

First, our in house team of psychologists, mathematicians and designers iterate  and refine our quizzes to an astonishing level of detail – this is why the data we collect and the profiles we can build on an individual are both rich, accurate and at mass-scale.

Second, we capture emotive data –  and we’re approaching a point where we can scale it too. Brands define their ideal customers by their emotive characteristics so it makes sense if they can buy media against those characteristics too.

And third, we’ve proven that our audience targeting technology actually performs. We match captured behavioural data from our network with that of our quizzed users, and we can match any custom campaign brief we receive. Our sales are growing at an incredible rate – which proves to me that the demand is out there for quality data. We are seeing a larger appetite from Media Agency data teams, wanting to take in our data, digest it, and supply out to their Advertisers as ‘portfolio management’ data. It’s great to be at the heart of this ‘real’ consumer insight and business intelligence.

Sitting behind this is a broader vision to humanise the web by helping businesses to truly understand why their customers behave in the way they do – and meet their needs in real time.

It’s a really exciting time, and while we’re not saying the end is nigh for demographics and mass media, there’s a real opportunity to do something different and we’re relishing the challenge.

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