The Agency’s Role in Data Management

MadMen

Twenty years after the first banner ad, the programmatic media era has firmly taken hold. The Holy Grail for marketers is a map to the “consumer journey,” a circuitous route filled with multiple addressable customer touchpoints. With consumers spending more of their time on mobile devices – and interacting with brands like never before through social channels, review sites, pricing comparison sites and apps – how can marketers influence customers everywhere they encounter a brand?

It’s a tough nut to crack, but starting to become an achievable reality to companies dedicated to collecting, understanding and activating their data. Marketers are starting to turn towards data management platforms (DMP), which help them connect people with their various devices, develop granular audience segments, gain valuable insights and integrate with various platforms where they can activate that data. In addition to technology, marketers also have to configure their entire enterprises to align with the new data-driven realities on the ground.

The question is: Where do marketers turn for help with this challenging, enterprise-level transition?

Many argue that agencies cannot support the type of deep domain expertise needed for the complicated integrations, data science and modeling that has become an everyday issue in modern marketing. But should data management software selection and integration be the sole province of the Accentures and IBMs of the world, or is there room for agencies to play?

For lots of software companies, having an agency in between an advertiser and their marketing platform sounds like a problem to overcome, rather than a solution. Many ad tech sellers out there have lamented the process of the dreaded agency “lunch and learn” to develop a software capability “point of view” for a big client.

Yet, there are highly compelling ways agencies add value to the software selection process. The best agencies insert themselves into the data conversation and use their media and creative expertise to influence what DMPs marketers choose, as well as their role within the managed stack.

From Digital To Enterprise

It makes perfect sense that agencies are involved with data management. The first intersection of data and media added the “targeting” column to the digital RFP. Agencies have started to evolve beyond the Excel-based media planning process to start their plans with an audience persona that is developed in conjunction with their clients. Today, plans begin with audience data applied to as many channels as are reachable. Audience data has moved beyond digital to become universal.

Agencies have also been at the tip of the spear, both from an audience research standpoint (understanding where the most relevant audiences can be found across channels) and an activation standpoint (applying huge media budgets to supply partners). Since they are on the front lines of where media dollars are expressed, they often get the first practical look at where data impacts consumer engagement. During and after campaigns conclude, the agency also owns the analytics piece. How did this channel, partner and creative perform? Why?

Having formerly limited agencies to doing campaign development and execution, marketers are now turning to the collected expertise of their agency media and analytics teams and asking them to embed the culture of audience data into their larger organization. When it’s time to select the DMP—the internal machine that will drive the people-based marketing enterprise—the agency is naturally called upon.

Data Management Is About Ownership

Although a small portion of innovative marketers have begun leveraging DMP technology and taken media execution “in-house,” the vast majority stills relies on agencies and ad tech platform partners to operate their stacks through a managed services approach. Whether a marketer should own the capability to manage its own ad technology stack is a matter of choice, but data ownership shouldn’t be. Brands may not want to own the process of applying audience data to cross-channel media, but they absolutely must own their data.

Where Agencies Play in Data Management

The Initial Approach: Most agencies have experience leveraging marketers’ first-party data through retargeting on display advertising. In an initial DMP engagement, marketers will rely on their agencies to build effective audience personas, map those to available attributes that exist within the marketer’s taxonomy and apply the segments to existing addressable channels. Marketers can and should rely on past campaign insights, attribution reports and other data insights from their agencies when test-driving DMPs.

Connect the Dots: For most marketers, agencies have been the de-facto connector of their diverse systems. Media teams operate display, video and mobile DSPs, ad serving platforms, and attribution tools. Helping a marketer and their DMP partner tie these execution platforms together, understand audience data, and the performance data generated from campaigns is a critical part of a successful DMP implementation.

Operator: Last, but not least, is the agency as operator of the DMP. Marketers want their data safely protected in their own DMP, with strong governance rules around how first-party data is shared. They also need a hub for utilizing third-party data and integrating it with various execution and analytics platforms. Marketers may not want to operate the DMP themselves, though. Agencies can win by helping marketers wring the most value from their platforms.

Marketers have strong expertise in their products, markets and customer base – and should focus on their core strengths to grow. Agencies are great at finding audiences, building compelling creative and applying marketing investment dollars across channels, but are not necessarily the right stewards of others’ data.

Future success for agencies will come from helping marketers implement their data management strategy, align their data with their existing technology stack and return insights that drive ongoing results.

[This post originally appeared in AdExchanger on 2.2.15]

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