Q&A: Salesforce’s Chris O’Hara Wants Marketers to Capitalize on the Data Revolution

datadrivenIf you want to learn about data, Chris O’Hara is the right person to ask. O’Hara, who leads global product marketing for Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s suite of data and audience products, is a big believer in the data revolution—but first, marketers need to take stock of what data they actually have.

“Some marketers think they have way more data than they actually have, and others think they don’t have a lot of data but actually do,” O’Hara said.

Before joining Salesforce, O’Hara was at Krux, the data management platform that Salesforce acquired in 2016, working on data marketing. In October, O’Hara, along with Krux alums Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya, released a book, “Data Driven,” which dives into how marketers should think about using data to overhaul customer engagement and experience.

Before the book’s release, Adweek talked with O’Hara about the book and about how marketers can leverage the data they have while keeping data privacy and consumer trust in mind. A portion of that conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, is below.

Adweek: A lot of marketers have talked about the importance of getting better at explaining to consumers what exactly is being collected and how exactly data is being used. Do you think it’s the responsibility of tech and advertising companies to explain that to the public?

Chris O’Hara: Marketing is better when you have the permission of consumers. Consumers are entitled to know exactly how their data is being used, and consumers are absolutely entitled to have control over their own data. As you talk about the opportunities to get more personalized with customers, you’re allowed to deliver great personalization if the customer has opted in for you to do that on their behalf. If you do that without their consent, it feels creepy and wrong, right?  It’s common sense. We’re always going to lead with the idea that trust comes first and that marketing is better with consent. Period.

You write in your book that the biggest risks of harnessing data are centered around privacy, security and trust. As concerns about data privacy grow, and as data breaches continue to occur, how does the industry best rebuild trust with the public? Where does the industry start with reestablishing trust and maintaining trust with consumers?

It’s all based on permission and an opted-in consumer. I like getting advertising messages that are relevant. When I am shopping for a car and I give Cars.com permission to introduce me to new models and send me an email every week, I appreciate it because I’ve asked for it. When I engage with certain sites on the web, like The Wall Street Journal, where I pay for content, I trust them with a certain amount of my data so they can make my reading experience better. That’s the way it should have been, always. Unfortunately, there are some companies in the space that have taken advantage of little oversight to do otherwise. But what we’ve seen in the market is that companies that are not leading with trust are not being valued as highly or perceived as more valuable than companies that do put trust at the center of their relationship with customers.

What’s the biggest misconception marketers have with data?

Something we write about in the book is that some marketers think they have way more data than they actually have, and others think they don’t have a lot of data but actually do. One of Pandora’s svps, Dave Smith, came to us and said, ‘I have one of the biggest mobile data assets in the world. Everyone who uses Pandora is logged in, so we know so much about our customers: what kind of cellphone they have, what kind of music they like, perhaps the ages of the kids in their home, when they listen.’ That’s a lot of data. Pandora probably has one of the largest data assets in the entire world. But Pandora doesn’t know when people are going to buy a car or people’s incomes, necessarily. They don’t know when you’re planning on taking a family vacation. So they turned to second- and third-party data to enrich their understanding of consumers.

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Programmatic Direct is in the Top of the Second Inning

ScoreboardLately, I have been working on a whitepaper about the “programmatic direct” phenomenon. Part of the research involved surveying a bunch of influential people in the space, and asking them where they thought this new buying methodology was in terms of adoption. Their answers kind of surprised me.

If “programmatic direct” was a baseball game, we are in the top of the second inning.

The game has basically just started, and a few balls have been put into play, but the action is just getting started—and the big sluggers have yet to step up to the plate. If you are a regular AdExchanger reader, you would be justified in thinking that programmatic direct was quickly gaining steam by progressive agencies and publishers. After all, there has been a good deal of hype surrounding the idea of enabling programmatic access to higher classes of inventory, and it seems like almost every ad technology player in the display space is getting into the game.

Sure, some real innovations are happening in programmatic RTB that are enabling private marketplace transactions. Initiation-only auctions and fixed rate deals inside of exchanges are only the tip of the iceberg, though. New web-based technology and advanced ad server APIs are starting to provide real process automation—the tools that will make it easier to buy and sell the 70% of inventory currently procured through the “transactional RFP” process.

However, there are a few major things that need to happen before “programmatic direct” can really take hold:

A Directory: It may sound strange, but one of the biggest failings of digital media has been the lack of a directory for buyers. In direct mail, you can look up how many people get the L.L. Bean mailing list, add all kinds of criteria (males of a certain age that have purchased with a credit card in the past three months), find out exactly what it costs, and who to buy it from. No such thing exists in digital media. Hence, the RFP process, where buyers have to go through hoops just to get a sense of pricing and availability. This simple act of discovery adds time and complexity to every transaction. Today’s programmatic direct systems are being built from the ground up—starting with good information, and also with dynamic pricing and availability information thanks to API connections to DFP and other publisher ad servers.

Standards for Electronic Ordering: Another obvious thing that needs to happen before real process automation can happen in digital is that a set of standards have to be agreed upon. The IAB has known this since 2008, but five years later the “eBusiness Task Force” (now called the “Digital Automation Task Force”) seems no closer to its original mandate. Its stated mission: Updating the XML schema and implementation testing for the electronic delivery of digital advertising business document.” Those documents include Requests for Proposals (RFPs), insertion orders (IOs), and invoices—documents that must be standardized in order for adoption of programmatic direct buying to occur at scale. However, there is urgency like never before to get such standards implemented, and a source close to the action says that “we will see more movement in the next nine months in standards and protocols than has happened in ten years.” Let’s hope so. The wide adoption of a common set of standards and protocols opens up the door to the electronic IO—the key to achieving scale in programmatic direct.

Culture Change: While a directory can be created and standards adopted with lots of hard work, those things are actually easier than the real key to programmatic direct adoption: culture change among agencies and publishers.  Agencies must leverage technology to empower the “23 year old media planner” and give them a reason beyond sneaker parties to go to work. Technology will unleash their creativity and get them focused on solving real problems for clients. Likewise, publishers need to escape the “$200,000 a year salesman,” with his accompanying high T&E and schmoozy selling style. Publishers need data-driven sellers that understand how to drive programmatic adoption, and can sell based on the new “media investment” paradigm happening at agencies—understanding tactically how to spread digital dollars across a broad portfolio of channels. Agencies now they cannot remain stuck with the current cheap labor model. Publishers understand that they cannot keep their higher classes of inventory outside of programmatic channels. Change is hard, but it’s already here.

About a year ago, I said that 2013 would be the year of programmatic direct. It turns out that 2013 has been the year of programmatic direct hype, and a ton of valuable behind-the-scenes work on the technologies that will drive it in the future. But unlike the perennial “year of mobile” programmatic direct will become a reality quickly if some of the above building blocks come together.

[This post originally appeared in AdExchanger].

Programmatic Direct isn’t Just about Efficiency

When clients call, speed matters.

When clients call, speed matters.

When you are selling anything, it’s really easy to get caught up in pitching the benefits of your product, and ad technology is no different. Some of today’s new programmatic direct marketing solutions promise to change the very nature of how media buyers and sellers spend their time. Demand side systems are focusing on replacing Excel and e-mail with web-based, centralized systems that take the manual grunt work out of buying. Supply-side systems are tying into publisher ad servers to help create more streamlined access to inventory, without the hassles of secure it via paper insertion orders. While it’s easy to focus on all of the amazing efficiency benefits offered by today’s web-based solutions, it’s also critical to remember to ask your client what’s important to them.

On a recent sales call to a large agency, my old-school sales training kicked in. After showing off all of the neat bells and whistles of my software, I asked the company’s Chief Digital Officer why my ad technology was interesting to his agency. What he said was simple, but illustrative: “Our clients don’t ever come to us and ask what kind of tools we are using to do our jobs. They really couldn’t care less. But they do come to us and ask for huge media recommendations, due within several hours. And they definitely want to know why we are recommending what we are recommending.”

This made a lot of sense. Nobody wants to see the sausage get made, but it had better taste good once it’s cooked. Over the course of our conversation, I took away a few key nuggets that would be valuable for any technology company looking to sell programmatic solutions to marketers and publishers alike.

Clients Care about “Why,” not “How”

This statement is true for both agencies and publishers. An agency’s big client doesn’t care what tools the agency uses to create and execute its media plans (as long as the cost is transparent and within reason), but it does want to understand the overall strategy, rationale behind its vendor choices, and (of course) obtain measureable results. On the publisher side, the clients acquiring the inventory don’t care what kind of tags or datasets produce a targetable audience—they just want the publisher’s “auto intenders” to see ads for their cars.

In both cases, the “how” doesn’t matter—nor should it. Programmatic done right hides the way the sausage is made, and offers simple controls over complex processes. The best companies in the space will be able to turn a sound engineer’s control board (thousands of knobs and switches) into Avid’s Pro Tools. This is particularly important when trying to scale an organization; it is the difference between trying to turn dozens of people into technicians and having a technical system that everyone can use with little training. Companies with the right, scalable technology can grow…and grow fast.

For my agency client, being able to tell his client how he selected the programs on his media recommendation was critical. Using software that could help his planning team make choices based on past performance, alignment with demographic data, or even the client’s first party data was the key. When you have 40 20-something media planners spending millions of dollars, data-driven guidelines are essential, along with the platform to generate them. Likewise, on the publishing side, publishers need to tell their agency clients why certain programs were recommended, and have a systematic way to put together inventory packages that will perform well enough to avoid the dreaded out-clause.

Speed Matters

Another thing the agency CDO told me was how important speed was. They say efficiency doesn’t sell, but when your client is looking for a thoughtful media recommendation in two hours, being able to deliver a plan you can justify means having the tools to move fast, and move smartly. “It’s hilarious to me that our clients ask us for a completely unique, groundbreaking idea—at 6:30 PM—and expect something the next day.” This rolls down the hill to publishers, who are ultimately asked to help contribute to such plans on even shorter notice. Although there’s no cure for overly demanding clients, there is starting to be new programmatic direct solutions that help take some of the viscosity out of the transactional RFP funnel, increasing the speed to which proposals can come to market.

No Data, No Strategic Advantage

“Big Data” is all the rage, but even relatively small data can be the key to success when it comes to digital media buying and selling. “We know that every plan is going to have Facebook, AOL, and Yahoo on it. Access to their inventory and securing it is not the problem,” the agency CDO told me. “The real problem is, how do I know how much to allocate to each? What should my media channel mix be? That’s what we struggle with. Oftentimes, it comes down to gut instinct.”

Right now, data that can help with making those allocations is hidden all over the place: Excel-based media plans and performance reports, ad serving data that’s hard to report on, audience verification data from measurement tools, and in the brains of media supervisors. This structured data, centralized in the right place, can mean the difference between creating accessible insights—or being just another 10 gigabytes sitting on a computer’s hard drive. Agencies should be able to query all of the data available to them programmatically, and offer media choices chosen from algorithms that get smarter every time a campaign is run. Likewise, publishers should be able to systematically recommend inventory packages based on past performance, demographic and contextual relevance—and even whether or not they were re-purchased over time.

Programmatic direct solutions are starting to bring the type of data-driven efficiency once only found in RTB to both advertisers and inventory owners, creating a more “bionic” dynamic, where humans leverage technology to be better, faster, and smarter.

[This article originally appeared in AdExchanger on 10.28.13]

Smarter Video?

smartTVWill the rise of Smart TV Change Where Marketers Place their Ad Dollars?

Recently, the perfect storm of the oncoming football season and a broken TV sent me to Best Buy for a flat screen upgrade. I came home with a Vizio 60-inch “Smart TV.” I was pleasantly surprised by the great audio quality, high-definition picture, and the price (cheap, at $900). However, what really shocked me was its installed “app store.”

As a deeply committed believer in on-demand video, I immediately started enjoying my Amazon Instant Video and Netflix subscriptions—now accessed on a huge, 60-inch HD screen. YouTube videos now were available right from my remote control—as was Pandora, and other streaming music applications. All of the sudden, Verizon FIOS had a lot less to do with what I was watching in my living room.

As someone who is fairly up to date on advertising technology trends, I already realized that cable providers and broadcasters were being disintermediated by new technology—but seeing it in 60 high definition inches really convinced me that we are living in a new world, and the implications for advertisers are huge.

First of all, for those who haven’t played around with one of these new sets, let me tell you what works and doesn’t work at this early stage of the game:

What Works:

  • YouTube: It was simply amazing to watch YouTube videos on the big screen. I queued up some “Key and Peele” from Comedy Central, and some clips of comedian Louis CK and, before I knew it, an hour had gone by (a commercial-free hour, by the way). Smart TV might just take YouTube and other video-specific sites to a whole new level. Now, anyone can “broadcast themselves” right into your home.
  • Amazon Instant Video: It was great to watch all of the Prime content on my big TV, and I began immediately catching up with “Under the Dome” using Amazon’s elegantly designed UI. Amazon is one to watch in this space. They know how to do VOD.
  • Netflix: Again, video on demand was born for the Smart TV application. (I thought I might re-subscribe to binge-view House of Cards!) Watch for more streaming providers to produce more and more original content that can drive subscription sales.
  • Pandora: This one surprised me. With the right audio system, your TV may be the only thing you need to provide great sounding music with endless variety in your home.

What Doesn’t Work:

  •  Twitter: The news feed was quite limited, and at times expanding a tweet to access a link or video content did not work. Plus, do you want your individual Twitter feed broadcast to everyone in your home?
  • Facebook: Same thing as Twitter. I wonder if high-engagement applications—and specifically ones that promise an “embarrassment factor” – will succeed on the TV screen.
  • Skype: This app is convenient for users who depend on it for their primary communication, but typing on the remote (even with a full keypad) can be challenging.
  • Yahoo Fantasy Football: Great for checking stats, but hard to manage your team via the cramped interface and small remote control buttons.

I asked Tom Hespos of Underscore Marketing, who has tackled this topic before, what he thought, and he captured what I was thinking in a few sentences: “It seems pretty evident what’s going to succeed on app-enabled TV sets. Anything that’s ‘lean back’ in nature will likely do well. Things that require engagement or are subject to an embarrassment factor if projected for the whole family to see will not.”

For advertisers, Smart TV will prove challenging. Not only are subscription services like Amazon Instant Video and Netflix ad-free, but the amount of time-shifted and VOD viewing makes available eyeballs a scarce commodity. Look for CPMs for real “appointment viewing” shows such as NFL football and popular hits like Breaking Bad to rise dramatically. In my experience, I did not see any pre- or post-roll ads on YouTube, but they are coming. Recently-public companies like YuMe and Tremor are depending on an aggressive roll-out of interactive video, and their business models are 100% advertising-supported.  CPMs there will be high, considering the relatively low inventory volumes available.

So, if “lean-back” video applications make it more expensive to reach scarcer eyeballs on connected TVs, than what about the interactive social apps? Is there room for more display banner ads on Smart TV? I think the answer is probably yes—but only for so-called “native” advertising, like Twitter’s sponsored posts. Users will be more likely to “lean back” and access their social newsfeeds on connected TV, but will be less likely to post new content from their remote control. That means the tablet will still be in hand during viewing times. It’s early days, but look for more apps that exploit the trend in “double vision” viewing (as reported by Nielsen):

88 percent of tablet owners and 86 percent of smartphone owners said they used their device while watching TV at least once during a 30-day period. For 45 percent of tablet-tapping Americans, using their device while watching TV was a daily event, with 26 percent noting simultaneous TV and tablet use several times a day. U.S. smartphone owners showed similar dual usage of TV with their phones, with 41 percent saying their use their phone at least once a day while tuned in.

Those are big numbers, and it’s hard to see how they will diminish, even as more options are added to television. So, the big question remains: Where should advertisers stick their ads? If you believe that consumers will continue to “lean back” and enjoy Smart TV content just as they watch TV (but with a lot less ads), then the obvious choice for aligning brands with TV content is social media on the tablet. Twitter wins big here. If you believe that networks like YuMe and Tremor can leverage Smart TVs to make access to great HD content in your living room free, then put your money down on those stocks, and hope they find the right advertising model that makes “paying for” content with ad viewing worth it.

Either way, the maturity of connected, smart, app-enabled televisions means less ad inventory for advertisers—and the need for better channels to access fewer, but more addressable, eyeballs.

[This post originally appeared in eMarketingAssociation.com on 9/11/13].

The Hourglass Funnel Changes Everything

Hourglass_Branding_FunnelLately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the hourglass funnel. Most funnels stop at the thin bottom, when a customer “drops” out, having made the journey through awareness, interest, desire and action. After the “action,” or purchase, the customer gets put into a CRM to be included in more traditional marketing outreach efforts, such as calls, e-mails, and catalogue mailings. In the past, marketers often thought about how to turn customers into advocates, but couldn’t figure out how to do it at scale. Companies that were really good at multi-level marketing, like Amway, didn’t have easy-to-replicate business models.

Today, the situation has changed. Social-media platforms give marketers tools to engage customers in their CRMs and bring them back through the bottom of the funnel, turning them into brand advocates — and maybe even salespeople. This is why Salesforce has been snatching up social-media companies like Radian6 and Buddy Media, while Oracle bought Vitrue and Involver. These platforms can help get people talking about your brand– and, in turn, you get to listen to what they have to say. These platforms also can help you understand what it takes to get your customers to move from liking your page to actively sharing your content and to actually recommending your products and even selling them as an affiliate.

The ad-tech revolution of the last several years has supercharged our ability to drive people through this hourglass-shaped funnel. But instead of enabling this movement, we have instead – for the most part — focused  on wringing efficiency out of reaching the customers we’re already very close to getting. For example, programmatic RTB makes it easy to bid on people in the “interest” layer, who behave like existing customers. Additionally, it’s a no-brainer to retarget those customers who have already expressed “desire” by visiting a product page or your website. And technology also makes it increasingly easy to invite customers already in your CRM to “like” your Instagram page, or to offer them incentives to “recommend” products through social sharing tools.

But what about the very top of the funnel (awareness) and the very bottom (advocacy)? Those are the two most critical parts of the marketing hourglass funnel, but the two least served by technology today. While we have tools to drive people through the marketing process more quickly or cheaply, technology doesn’t create brands or turn social-media fans into brand advocates.

However, the right strategy for both ends of this funnel can still boost awareness and advocacy by creating a branding vortex that is a virtuous circle. Let me explain:

Awareness

You can’t start a customer down the sales funnel without making he or she aware of your product or service. Despite all of the programmatic promise in display, technology mainly emphasizes reaching our known audience most efficiently. It simply hasn’t yet proven that it can create new customers at scale. That’s why TV still gets the lion’s share of brand dollars. Cost-effective reach, pairedwith a brand-safe, viewable environment, is what TV supplies.

In my opinion, the digital answer for raising awareness is starting to look less and less like programmatic RTB and more like video and “native” formats, which are more engaging and contextually relevant. Also, new programmatic direct technologies are starting to make the process of buying guaranteed, premium inventory more measurable, efficient and scalable.

Programmatic RTB advocates will argue that you can build plenty of awareness across exchanges, but it’s hard to create emotion with three IAB standard units, and there still isn’t enough truly premium inventory available in exchanges today to generate a contextual halo for your ads. New “native” display opportunities, video and tablet advertising are where branding has the biggest impact. Adding those opportunities to social tools, such as Twitter and Instagram, would help you leverage your existing brand advocates and amplify your message.

Advocacy

Great digital branding at the “awareness” level of the funnel not only helps drive potential new customers deeper into the sales funnel, but also can help engage existing customers. This amplification effect is extremely powerful. Old-school marketers such as David Sarnoff understood that folks make buying decisions through their friends and neighbors. He also understood that, when you’re trying to sell the next big thing (like radio), you have to leverage existing media (print). Applied to digital marketing, this simply means leveraging awareness media — TV, video and “native” advertising — to stimulate word-of-mouth advertising, which is still the most powerful type. By using Facebook and other social sharing tools, the effect of any campaign can grow exponentially in a very short period of time. This virtuous circle of awareness media influencing brand advocates, who then create more awareness among their own social circles, is something that many marketers miss when they lead their campaigns with data rather than with emotion.

Everything In Between

I’m not saying that marketers can simply feed the top of the funnel with great branding and ignore the rest. That’s not true at all; the middle of the funnel is important too. I think it’s relatively easy, nowadays, to build a stack that also helps support all the hard work that brands are doing to create awareness. Most large marketers reinforce brand efforts with “always on” programmatic RTB that targets based on behavior, and all brands employ as much retargeting that they can buy. Once customers are in the CRM, it’s not hard to maintain a rewards/loyalty program, and messaging to an existing social fan base also is relatively simple.

But marketers are making a mistake if they think that this kind of programmatic marketing can replace great branding. With so many different things competing for customers’ attention, capturing it for more than a second is extremely difficult, and the challenge is only going to get harder.

The Datalogix Effect

So what does all this mean for for ad technology? The best way to think about this is to look at the Datalogix-Facebook partnership. Datalogix’s trove of customer offline purchase data essentially enables brands to measure whether or not  all their social-ad spending resulted in more online sales. A few studies have pretty much proven that media selling soap suds on Facebook created more suds sales at the local Piggly Wiggly. In fact, ROI turns out to be easy to calculate, as well as positive.

This type of attribution seems simple, but I don’t think you can overstate its impact. It’s the way we finally move from clicks and views to profit-optimization metrics such as those offered by MakeBuzz. And this method of tying online activity with offline sales is already having a vast impact on the ecosystem. It shows, beyond doubt, that branding sells product.

Getting the attribution right, though, means that brands are going to have to care about creative and content more than ever. It means big wins for video, “native” ad approaches, and big tentpole marketing campaigns. If quality premium sites can be bought programmatically at scale, then it may also mean big wins for large, traditional publishers.

It also likely means that many retargeters, programmatic RTB technologies and exchanges could end up losing in the long run. Don’t get me wrong: These technologies are needed to drive the “always on” machine that powers the middle of the funnel. But just how many DSPs and exchanges does the industry need to manage its commoditized display channel?

As marketers realize that they are spending money to capture customers that were going to convert anyway, they’re likely to focus less on audience targeting and more on initiatives to create new customers — and turn existing customers into advocates.

[This post originally appeared in AdExchanger on 7/31/13]

Does Driving Efficiency Drive Profit (A Contrarian View of RTB)

unicorn

Online display would be like this, if branding metrics took profit into account.

I’ve always loved the notion of programmatic RTB. As a data hound and an early adopter of Appnexus , the notion that advertisers can achieve highly granular levels of targeting and utilize algorithms to impact performance is right in my wheelhouse. Today’s ad tech, replete with 300 companies that enable data-driven audience segmentation, targeting, and analytics is testament to the efficiency of buying ads one impression at a time.

But what if driving efficiency in display actually does more harm than good?

Today’s RTB practitioners have become extremely relentless in pursuit of the perfect audience. It starts with retargeting, which uses first party data to serve ads only to people who are already deeply within the customer funnel. No waste there. The next tactic is to target behavioral “intenders” who, according to their cookies, have done everything BUT purchase something. Guess what? If I have searched 4 times in the last three hours for a flight from JFK to SFO, eventually you will get last view attribution for my ticket purchase if you serve me enough ads. Next? Finding “lookalike” audiences that closely resemble past purchasers. Data companies, each of whom sell a variety of segments that can be mixed to create a 35 year-old suburban woman, do a great job of delivering audiences with a predilection to purchase.

But what if we are serving ads to people that are already going to buy? Is efficiency really driving new sales, or are we just helping marketers save money on marketing?

It seems like online display wants to be more and more like television. Television is simple to buy, it works, and it drives tons of top funnel awareness that leads to bottom funnel results. We know branding works, and even those who didn’t necessarily believe in online branding need look no further than Facebook for proof. With their Datalogix offline data partnership, Facebook conclusively proved that people exposed to lots of Facebook ads tended to grab more items off of store shelves. It just makes sense. So why are we frequency capping audiences at 3—or even 10? I can’t remember the last time I watched network television and didn’t see the same car ad about 20 times.

The other thing that RTB misses out on is profit. RTB drives advertising towards lowering the overall cost of media needed to drive a sale. Even if today’s attribution models were capable of taking into account all of the top-funnel activity that eventually creates an online shopping cart purchase (a ludicrous notion), we are still just measuring those things that are measureable. TV ads, billboard ads, and word of mouth never get online credit—yet I believe they drive most of the online sales. Sorry, but I believe the RTB industry creates attribution models that favor RTB buying. Shocking, I know.

So, what is true performance and what really drives it? For most businesses, performance is more profit. In other words, the notion that a sales territory that has 100 sales a day can generate 120 sales a day. That’s called profit optimization. If I can use advertising to create those additional 20 sales, and still make a profit after expenses, than that’s a winner. RTB makes it cheaper to get the 100 sales you already have, but doesn’t necessarily get the next twenty. Getting the next batch of customers requires spending more on media, and driving more top-funnel activity.

The other thing RTB tends to fumble is how real life sales actually happen. Sure, audience buying knows what type of audience tends to buy, and where to find them online, but misses with frequency capping and a lack of contextual relevance. Let me explain. In real life, people live in neighborhoods. The houses in those neighborhoods are roughly the same price, the kids go to the same school district, the people have similar jobs, and their kids do similar activities and play the same sports. The Smiths drive similar cars to the Joneses, they eat at the same restaurants, and shop at the same stores. If the Smiths get a new BMW, then it’s likely the Joneses will keep up with a new Audi or Lexus in the near future. When neighbors get together, they ask each other what they did on February Break, and they get their vacation ideas from each other. That’s how life works.

What media most closely supports this real-life model, where we are influenced most by our neighbors?  Is it serving the Jones family a few carefully selected banners on cheap exchange inventory, which is highly targeted and cost effective? Or is it jamming the Smiths and Joneses with top-funnel brand impressions across the web? The latter not only gets Smith, the BMW owner, to keep his car top-of-mind and be more likely to recommend it—but also predisposes Jones to regard his neighbor’s vehicle in a more desirable light. That takes a lot of impressions of various types of media. You can’t do that and remain efficient. The thing is—you can do that and create incremental profit.

Isn’t that what marketers really want?

[This post originally appeared in AdExchanger on 5/20/13]

Underneath the Funnel

How Social Data Flips and Extends the Purchase Funnel

The traditional purchase funnel hasn’t changed much since its invention in 1898. Although there are many different versions of it, the basic “AIDA” model (awareness>interest>desire>action) remains the same:

Top_Funnel

  • Awareness: The traditional digital customer funnel starts at creating product awareness through impression-based display advertising and sponsorships.
  • Interest: The consumer continues down the purchase path when consumers demonstrate intent through behavioral and contextual signals. Those consumers can be targeted using a large variety of pre-packaged 3rd party segments.
  • Desire: Digital marketers capture a user’s desire, when they demonstrate affinity by clicking on an ad or visiting a product’s website. These consumers can be reached digitally through retargeting.
  • Action: Finally, the consumer purchases the product, at which point he “drops out of the funnel.”

Until recently, once the consumer entered the company’s CRM, he was marketed to in a more traditional way, via e-mail, postal mail, and telemarketing. In the case of digital media tactics, the consumer could reasonably be expected to be bombarded with retargeting ads for the remainder of his life (or, until he cleared his cookies), but that was the extent of things. Fast forward a few years, and all of the sudden Salesforce and Oracle are snatching up social media and measurement companies like they were going out of style. As I was writing my recent report on data management, I wondered:

Did they see this?

Bottom_Funnel

The perfect storm of advanced, extensible CRM platform technology, near ubiquitous availability and scale of social signals, and ability to activate first party data has extended the purchase funnel. Once the consumer “drops through” the real action starts.

  • Joins: Once in the customer database (CRM), the post-purchase journey starts with a commitment beyond the sale, when a consumer joins an e-mail list or signs up for special offers on the company’s site.
  • Likes: The next step is an expression of social interest, when the consumer agrees to make public his “like” for a company or brand by “friending” a company’s Facebook page, following a company’s Twitter account.
  • Recommends: Beyond the like or follow is true social activation, wherein the consumer actively (not passively) recommends the product or service, through commenting, sharing, or other active social behaviors, thus showing his brand affinity.
  • Sells: The final step is having the consumer sell on your behalf (directly via affiliate programs or, in the softer sense, as a “brand ambassador”).

To navigate the consumer from brand awareness, all the way through to actually selling on behalf of a brand takes an understanding of data and its application to each step in the journey. The most successful companies leveraging this new inverted funnel paradigm are aligning their first party CRM data with social affinity data to get a 360-degree view of their typical consumer—and modeling against that view to produce repeatable marketing outcomes.

What does that mean? It is not enough to understand your brand’s core demographic (e.g., male, aged 25-36, single family home, income >$125,000). That data is important, and you can certainly make somewhat efficient digital media decisions with it. Once that person expresses “desire” by visiting your website, you can certainly retarget him. And, once he finally purchases, you can pretend you “own” him, and deploy the various traditional CRM marketing tactics to create return purchases. All well and good.

The challenge is getting that person to like you back, and mutually engage with your brand. Once he is in your CRM, are you prepared to deliver new content to him via social media channels? Can you find the linkages between him and his internet friends, and get downstream of his activity via social affinity signals? Ultimately, can you create enough incentive, through affiliate programs, social gaming, couponing, or other active programs, to enable him to actually sell on your behalf? That is today’s digital marketing challenge—and it resides inside an integrated social CRM.

That’s why Salesforce bought Radian6 and Buddy Media, and why Oracle bought Vitrue and Involver. It will take some time for these new social data tools to get properly embedded into the traditional CRM, and even longer for marketers to get adept at leveraging them at scale—but we are now living in an inverted funnel world. Be prepared to turn your thinking about digital marketing upside down.

[This post originally appeared in ClickZ on 12/21/12]