Data Science is the New Measurement

tumblr_m9hc4jz_pp_x1qg0ltco1_400It’s a hoary old chestnut, but “understanding the customer journey” in a world of fragmented consumer attention and multiple devices is not just an AdExchanger meme. Attribution is a big problem, and one that marketers pay dearly for. Getting away from last touch models is hard to begin with. Add in the fact that many of the largest marketers have no actual relationship with the customer (such as CPG, where the customer is actually a wholesaler or retailer), and its gets even harder. Big companies are selling big money solutions to marketers for multi-touch attribution (MTA) and media-mix modeling (MMM), but some marketers feel light years away from a true understanding of what actually moves the sales needle.

As marketers are taking more direct ownership of their own customer relationships via data management platforms, “consumer data platforms” and the like, they are starting to obtain the missing pieces of the measurement puzzle: highly granular, user-level data. Now marketers are starting to pull in more than just media exposure data, but also offline data such as beacon pings, point-of-sale data (where they can get it), modeled purchase data from vendors like Datalogix and IRI, weather data and more to build a true picture. When that data can be associated with a person through a cross-device graph, it’s like going from a blunt 8-pack of Crayolas to a full set of Faber Castells.

Piercing the Retail Veil

Think about the company that makes single-serve coffee machines. Some make their money on the coffee they sell, rather than the machine—but they have absolutely no idea what their consumers like to drink. Again, they sell coffee but don’t really have a complete picture of who buys it or why. Same problem for the beer or soda company, where the sale (and customer data relationship) resides with the retailer. The default is to go to panel-based solutions that sample a tiny percentage of consumers for insights, or waiting for complicated and expensive media mix models to reveal what drove sales lift. But what if a company could partner with a retailer and a beacon company to understand how in-store visitation and even things like an offline visit to a store shelf compared with online media exposure? The marketer could use geofencing to understand where else consumers shopped, offer a mobile coupon so the user could authenticate upon redemption, get access to POS data from the retailer to confirm purchase and understand basket contents—and ultimately tie that data back to media exposure. That sounds a lot like closed-loop attribution to me.

Overcoming Walled Gardens

Why do specialty health sites charge so much for media? Like any other walled garden, they are taking advantage of a unique set of data—and their own data science capabilities—to better understand user intent. (There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way). If I’m a maker of allergy medicine, the most common trigger for purchase is probably the onset of an allergy attack, but how am I supposed to know when someone is about to sneeze? It’s an incredibly tough problem, but one that the large health site can solve, largely thanks to people who have searched for “hay fever” online. Combine that with a 7-day weather forecast, pollen indices, and past search intent behavior, and you have a pretty good model for finding allergy sufferers. However, almost all of that data—plus past purchase data—can be ingested and modeled inside a marketer DMP, enabling the allergy medicine manufacturer to segment those users in a similar way—and then use an overlap analysis to find them on sites with $5 CPMs, rather than $20. That’s the power of user modeling. Why don’t site like Facebook give marketers user-level media exposure data? The question answers itself.

Understanding the Full Journey

Building journeys always falls down due to one missing piece of the puzzle or another. Panel-based models continually overemphasize the power of print and linear television. CRM-based models always look at the journey from the e-mail perspective, and value declared user data above all else. Digital journeys can get pretty granular with media exposure data, but miss big pieces of data from social networks, website interactions, and things that are hard to measure (like location data from beacon exposure). What we are starting to see today is, through the ability to ingest highly differentiated signals, marketers are able to combine granular attribute data to complete the picture. Think about the data a marketer can ingest: All addressable media exposure (ad logs), all mobile app data (SDKs), location data (beacon or 3rd party), modeled sales data (IRI or DLX), actual sale data (POS systems), website visitation data (javascript on the site), media performance data (through click and impression trackers), real people data through a CRM (that’s been hashed and anonymized), survey data that been mapped to a user (pixel-enabled online survey), and even addressable TV exposure (think Comscore’s Rentrak data set). Wow.

Why is “data science the new measurement?” Because, when a marketer has all of that data at their fingertips, something close to true attribution becomes possible. Now that marketers have the right tools to draw with, the winners are going to be the ones with the most artists (data scientists).

It’s a really interesting space to watch. More and more data is becoming available to marketers, who are increasingly owning the data and technology to manage it, and the models are growing more powerful and accurate with every byte of data that enters their systems.

It’s a great time to be a data-driven marketer!

[This post originally appeared in AdExchanger on 8/12/16]

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