Can marketers get more personal with data without personal data?

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 30 August 2013.

By Ian Woolley, Chief Commercial Officer of VisualDNA

Marketing changed forever with the dawn of the digital age. As endless streams of consumer data flowed across the web into the caches of the emerging data companies, their insight into purchaser demographics were significantly enriched. Although it has taken the best part of a decade for digital marketers and data professionals to develop a means of effectively cultivating useful insights from this data, we’ve now hit a point where marketers are, on the whole, good at getting data and using it effectively within a digital marketing strategy.

But as the digital landscape constantly changes, new services, technologies and devices enable previously uncharted routes to conversion. These new tools and technologies are making marketing increasingly complex. Better ways of collecting data and generating insight are required if today’s digital marketers aren’t to find themselves at a dead end.

Digital marketers mustn’t forget that the consumer knows they’re being watched data horror stories increasingly pop up in the press and consistent government warnings, snooping scandals and safety campaigns mean virtually every single online shopper is now aware that their data is being collected and used in some capacity.

This is undoubtedly a good thing. Despite the general public reaction of mild hostility, many of us now expect our data to be turned into a better, more relevant internet experience, whether that’s suggested products, customised content or targeted ads. Personalisation is king.

But the current status-quo of data collection is incapable of meeting such a demand. With the exception of Google, Facebook and some of the world’s biggest publishers and retailers, few businesses are able to anticipate the needs of the person behind the cookie. And third-party data only goes so far. Segments built on age, sex, race and income help create a picture but simply can’t provide digital marketers with the emotional and psychological characteristics they use to define their customers. How can you personalise effectively if you don’t know the person?

It’s evident that better personalisation means better conversions. I’ll give you an example. Last week I got a text message from EE (Orange Wednesdays) asking if I enjoyed the film last week. While that campaign has been a hit by anyone’s standards, I’d prefer it if they could deliver more helpful suggestions.

Emotive data  insights into an individual’s attitudes towards love, finance and movie taste, for instance could make that possible. EE could send a suggestion of booking a 2-for-1 deal on the upcoming love story for a financially conscientious romantic or a Friday night comedy for a fun lover. This insight helps a digital marketer turn what could be construed as a spam text into a personalised and relevant communication.

Digital marketers are seeking out data-derived insights that help them to connect with people on an emotional-psychological level, because only with deeper understandings that address emotional characteristics can marketers deliver a personalised experience relevant to each individual’s needs. But this needs to be balanced out with consumers’ growing concerns about how their data is collected and used. Fundamentally, the eventual answer lies in people owning their own data, a concept called vendor relationship management and using it in a way that delivers them value. However the technology, consumer demand and business models for such an undertaking are yet to emerge, leaving big data (owned by businesses) as king.

Until then, perhaps emotive segments are the best way to deliver a personalised experience without personal data.

Is emotive targeting the future of digital advertising for both publishers and brands?

This article originally appeared in MediaTel under the title “It’s Time To Get Emotional“.

By Ian Woolley, Chief Commercial Officer of VisualDNA

Innovation in advertising technology means it is now technically possible to put a specific ad in a specific place at a specific time – for a specific price. Coupled with this, the explosion of big data means our understanding of the person behind the screen is getting better and better. Programmatic media buying brings this powerful technology and rich data together in one place.

In that light, it’s not surprising that programmatic sales are growing, with the latest IDC report* stating that 52% of UK digital inventory is now traded automatically. So why is it that so much online advertising value remains in direct brand campaigns – that is, where advertisers buy impressions direct from publishers?

It’s all about data. For all the technology in the world, an advert can still miss the mark if the advertiser has little real understanding of the person viewing the advert, or what they actually want.

Simply put, advertisers trust that publishers understand their own audiences. In other words, they have great data, and are therefore by extension the most capable channel through which to run targeted campaigns. Further to this, some inventory can only be bought direct as some publishers continue to withhold premium inventory from programmatic platforms, concerned that it may be devalued.

So while third-party data has the potential to power super-targeted, relevant advertising, neither publisher or advertiser is currently capitalizing on the technology or data that’s available.

Is there a way for how can brands to optimise marketing spend with accurate data-led targeting, whilst allowing publishers to maintain the value of their premium inventory? Perhaps the answer is surfacing in the form of emotive data.

Moving beyond the limiting demographics of age, sex and income, emotive data reflects a person’s personality, motivations, outlook, interests and attitudes. Our method is to collect this data through opt-in personality quizzes, creating rich profiles, group people with similar traits into anonymised ’emotive segments’, to power more relevant advertising.

We anticipate a growing demand for emotive data from both advertisers and publishers. Advertisers recognise the value of the right message in front of the right person in the right context – not just because it’s a waste of time and money to talk at the wrong person – but because of the potential damage to brand reputation when things go wrong, as illustrated when Sky and M&S pulled ads from Facebook in late June.

In turn publishers need to prove to advertisers that their customers can be found, and reached, in their audience, and raise the value of their inventory. The inclusion of emotive data in inventory offerings can provide that proof and increase the value of ad sales; whether it’s powering targeted high-CPM brand campaigns through ad networks or non-premium inventory through programmatic.

We all know brands want to connect with people on a deeper more human level, and there is huge potential in emotive data to bring together brands’ customers and publishers’ audiences using personality traits. With the means to move beyond basic age and gender targeting, it’s getting easier for advertisers and publishers to connect with an audience on the basis of who they are not what they are.