Marketing, Math, and Magic

Stephen DeAngelis

May 23, 2013

Jason Stewart, who leads content marketing efforts at Demandbase, writes, “B2B marketers … continually blanket the web with their offers and messages in the hopes of magically getting impressions in front of their target audiences.” [“Why untargeted ads are a terrible investment,” iMedia Connection, 8 May 2013] Obviously the magic doesn’t occur as often as marketers would like. As the headline for Stewart’s article proclaims, he believes that untargeted ads are one reason the magic doesn’t happen. Although he grudgingly admits that untargeted ads “might work for massive consumer e-tailers because everyone (conceivably) is a potential customer,” he’s certain that the approach is a bad one when it comes to B2B marketing. He continues:

“The odds of business marketers hitting the very specific set of accounts they can actually sell to is very low. For some time now, B2B marketers have lacked the tools to effectively target, deliver, and measure online advertising. This deficiency in technology has led to a 10-year hangover, due in part to ‘untargeted’ advertising and strict straight-line measurements of success. … I could go on for pages about the sheer amount of dollars wasted on untargeted ads, the loss of sales productivity following up on unqualified leads, or even the challenge of designing a one-size-fits-all web experience to cater to the behavioral preferences of an audience that will likely never fill out a form, let alone buy anything. These efforts are resulting in a bad hangover that rips across multiple business channels, from finance, to sales, to marketing. The challenge is that most companies don’t have visibility into their traffic and therefore cannot begin to fix what they cannot measure.”

Stewart believes that the cure for this hangover can be found in a complementary concoction of big data analytics and “real-time bidding (RTB), which gives marketers the ability to buy a single ad impression in an auction-like style across a variety of web properties through multiple advertising exchanges.” Without big data analytics, the RTB scheme couldn’t work because market segments couldn’t be identified. Using big data analytics, companies can pinpoint “whether an audience is comprised of businesses or consumers, and then [by] identifying the context of subject matter, marketers can close in on advertising to the companies that are actually likely to buy — a true target audience.” It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that this is a better approach for consumer marketing as well as business marketing. It’s also why you are now hearing, “Mad Men are becoming Math Men.” [“Mad Men are becoming Math Men,” by Macala Wright, PSFK, 28 April 2013, and “From Mad Men to Math Men,” by Robert Heeg, RW Connect, 8 May 2013] Wright explains:

“Mad Men are becoming Math Men with programmatic, transparent, scientific processes. … Programmatic Marketing is the key phrase and practice for marketers in 2013. Programmatic marketing is a brand’s use of their consumer data to measure and tailor messages to incite action – most notably in their digital display advertisements.”

Wright borrows the term “programmatic marketing” from Dax Hamman, who notes, “The digital landscape has changed dramatically even in the last few years. Media fragmentation and personalized media are the new normal.” [“Why you can’t ignore programmatic marketing,” Econsultancy, 9 January 2013] He continues:

“Marketers are collecting and mining mountains of data about those users — from the pages they visit to the items they search for and the social graphs they share with — and using it to tailor the delivery of relevant and unique messages. We call this practice ‘programmatic marketing,’ and it’s still relatively new. But it’s also clearly the future of digital marketing. Those who fail to catch on now will be left behind.”

Hamman calls “data-driven targeting” an “incredible success.” He concludes, “When properly analyzed, data tells you what your users want, how they’re behaving, and the best ways to reach them — essential factors to effective marketing.” Wright adds, “Programmatic marketing enables brands to optimize their media spends and eliminate spend waste by automating ad targeting through leveraging that data and predictive analytics. The practice of programmatic marketing is directly related to the contextual relevance of the ad content to the target audience’s behaviors, needs, geographic locations and possibly other AIO [activities, interests, opinions] variables.” According to an article published in eMarketer, however, few marketers have yet to master big data opportunities. [“What Do Marketers Want From Big Data?” 10 April 2013] In a survey conducted by the CMO Council and SAS, 61 percent of the respondents indicated that big data is “part obstacle/part opportunity, but we have a long way to go.” The article concluded:

“There is no question that however marketers implement Big Data, whether at the operations or outreach level, or both, its role will only get bigger. Nearly six out of 10 analytics professionals from around the world surveyed by Lavastorm Analytics in February 2013 said that their company would be increasing investment in analytics.”

Commenting on the eMarketer article, Jonathan Houston wrote, “Granted there are a lot of things outside of the people’s control when it comes to gearing up for Big Data analysis. Very often fighting for the budget and the momentum to make infrastructure changes is a technical battle where the person tasked with marketing is out of their depth. Risk needs to be assessed; budgets allocated; technical infrastructure analysed and upgraded.” [“What is the big deal about Big Data in marketing?memeburn, 8 May 2013] Houston concludes:

“The greatest draw card that this does do for marketing is that it categorically changes its position in the business. This makes marketing scientific. This gives marketing a basis on which to make complex decisions that have a true measurable effect on the bottom line. Business takes that seriously, which in turn means that this will make business take marketing seriously. And that’s important.”

Geoff Livingston indicates that complexity is one reason that marketers are having a difficult time getting their arms around big data and targeted marketing. “Marketing today remains a great challenge,” he writes, “in large part because of the consistently changing technology and media landscape.” [“7 Daunting Challenges Facing Marketers,” 8 May 2013] Adopting technology and automation is the first of the seven challenges he identifies for marketers. He asserts, “Balancing human intelligence, strategy, and frankly, likeability with the precision of data and analysis gleaned from Big Data is an ongoing challenge.” The second challenge he identifies is data integration. Not only are there all sorts of structured and unstructured data that needs to be integrated, there are corporate data silos to be overcome. “People still think in single silos within their own domain,” he writes, “and [they] are not stretching to create better results for their organizations by teaming with other communicators.” His third challenge for marketers involves “rapidly evolving media.” He calls this “a huge issue.” He explains:

“Today, media evolves so quickly that volatility is part of the game. What worked last year, won’t this year, and the same goes for 2013. Look no further than the decrease Facebook has suffered in tactical viability for some types of business. Marketers need to move away from channel specific strategies, and adapt a truly liquid approach to communications. Meaning, deliver a complete content and engagement effort to serve stakeholders wherever they are, and how they like to receive information in that specific medium. Further, businesses should adapt an attitude of constant experimentation.”

His next two challenges involve the “omnipresent Internet” and “visual revolution” that has taken place as a result of mobile technologies. In this kind of environment, getting attention is becoming much more difficult. Livingston believes that businesses must create “specific experiences” for their target audiences. He believes that in the future most leads are likely to come from “online content and other forms of inbound marketing.” Nurturing skills that make inbound marketing more effective is his sixth challenge. His final challenge for marketers is getting “stuck” in one way of doing things and, thus, “are often limited in conversation to their tactical area of expertise.”

Livingston is not sure that solutions to all of these challenges currently exist. Certainly big data analytics and targeted marketing help, but they are only part of the solution if marketers are going to make magic for their clients in the years ahead.