As marketers seek a greater understanding of their customers and campaigns, their task has become increasingly complex, due in no small part to the sheer volume of data created by online marketing technologies. The highly fluid nature of consumer markets, coupled with aggressive corporate goals to grow market share and revenue, have created the need for increased frequency of analysis and ongoing custom analysis on a brand and campaign basis. Digital marketers need a holistic approach to analysis that is supported by a team of skilled strategists and tacticians which leverages a flexible media analysis platform.
The Growth of Online Marketing
Though not currently a large portion of ad spending for the top US brands (about $10B out of a total $150B), Internet advertising is growing at the fastest rate (up 17.3%) while ad spending in other forms of media is shrinking . The July 25, 2007 issue of Advertising Age™ reported that, regarding ad spending, “…for the 100 LNA [Leading National Advertiser] companies, according to Ad Age DataCenter analysis of TNS Media Intelligence data…the internet [in 2006] drew 5.5% of measured spending…up from just 0.8% in 2000.” On the other hand, TV, “…the top medium for leading advertisers [in 2006] accounted for 59% of U.S. measured spending in consumer media…down from about 64% in 2000.” Internet advertising is ahead of outdoor advertising (2.6%) and is closing in on radio advertising (7.4%).
Beyond what might be termed, “traditional Internet advertising” (email advertising, banner and flash advertising, search engine marketing, etc), as the Internet grows in complexity, familiarity and intimacy for consumers, businesses are experimenting with promoting their brand, their products and their services by leveraging other facets of the medium. Examples include posting (or inviting the public to post “user generated”) video clips on general access sites like YouTube™ or creating virtual storefronts, products or services in cyber-worlds like Second Life .
The Online Data
Each service provider in the online marketing ecosystem collects and shares performance data with the advertising agencies and the advertisers at a level of detail and frequency that, in the past, was simply not available. Examples include ad server data, search engine data, email marketing data and rich media data. Other online data available to the marketer includes enterprise or destination web site data.
Marketing data in the online domain can be divided into two major categories: Summarized Data and Raw Data.
• Summarized Data tends to be smaller in size and captures key elements of campaigns, not every detail. This data is relatively small in size and is easier to work with than raw data.
• Raw Data captures many details about campaigns and is much larger in size than summarized data.
Growing in importance, rich media (interactive multimedia) data provides information regarding people’s activity when viewing a rich media advertisement. Rich media can include audio, video and animation, in addition to traditional text and graphics. Also, because rich media is so much more interactive than traditional media, it offers greater data-gathering and data measurement opportunities. This data can include such information as how long the user was interacting with the advertisement, whether the advertisement was expanded or not, how much of the advertisement they saw, and video view time, for example.
As mentioned previously, companies that are utilizing social online marketing technologies to enhance their brands and grow revenues also receive data from these service providers.
Getting data all under one roof and using it to improve ROI (return on investment) is a growing challenge in online media. It should also be noted that, in general, each of the data file formats from the myriad of online marketing and advertising platforms is unique. For instance, data can be tabulated by commas, tabs or pipes. Bringing this data into a single database or analytics tool where it can be managed is a topic that will be addressed later in this article.
A Holistic View: The Other Data
With the advent of the Internet, consumer buying behaviors have radically changed and will continue to change in a dynamic fashion for the foreseeable future. For instance, a television ad may drive a consumer to conduct an online search for specific or generic product information, visit one or more brand or affiliate web sites, purchase online directly from the retailer or from a reseller, or print a coupon and purchase from a company-owned store or an authorized dealer. Internet behaviors and “real world” behaviors require analysis in a “multi-channel” or holistic way.
Along with the various online data sources that have been described so far, marketers may be required to compare and manipulate the following:
• Market research data from companies such as MillwardBrown, Nielsen/NetRatings and comScore
• Media buying data from Donvan Data Systems
• Telemarketer and call center data
• Audit services data
• Demographic data
• Credit score data from Experian and Acxiom Financial Group
• House lists and existing client lists
Managing the Online Data: “Apples and Oranges”
A new challenge to advertisers and agencies in the online domain is making the "apples and oranges" of online marketing data, as well as data from traditional media campaigns, more usable together. Agencies and advertisers have empowered their marketing analysis teams to seek deeper marketing and business insight and to recommend action based on data from across the online and traditional media outlets. However, platforms built for the analysis of traditional marketing data are not inherently suited for the volume and complexity of data generated in the online domain. Also, the data intake and cleansing process – including data aggregation, merging and QA from disparate data sources – is still difficult, time-consuming and costly. Generally, these tasks are neither fulfilling to, nor a cost effective use of, strategy-focused managers.
Characteristics of a Holistic Media Analysis Solution.
Thus far, we’ve seen that online advertising activity is growing rapidly, that online advertising platforms generate data at rates unprecedented in advertising circles only ten years ago, that traditional and online advertising data – taken together – can yield insights into new and evolving consumer buying behaviors, and that managing the “apples and oranges” of online and traditional data is a difficult, if not painful, task for the enterprise to execute on.
At the very least, a holistic media analysis platform is necessary to help make the challenge marketers face a more manageable task. Such a solution should be a repository for all online advertising data and support straight-forward incorporation of other types of client-provided or syndicated data.
Besides supporting strategic and tactical initiatives, a holistic media analysis platform should be easy to acquire, learn and use, cost-effective to “own and operate”, easy to upgrade, and straight-forward in its support of teams both internally and across corporate boundaries.
What follows is a “shopping list” of functional and business attributes that are ideally found in a holistic media analysis platform.
Intake of Data
• Robust infrastructure to consolidate raw data sources into a common data repository
• Database agnostic and compatible with popular databases such as Microsoft SQL, Oracle and mySQL
• Automatic data downloads through APIs
• Manual input of data when automation is not possible
• Flexible data architecture to incorporate new datasets, measures and dimensions
• For exception handling, provides access to/by data analyst teams and tools to streamline the data handling/staging/preparation
Storage of Data
• Robust archiving that supports flexibly storing data by different time periods
Manipulation of Data
• Automation for data preparation, data cleansing, de-duping and normalization
Output of Results
• Automatic and standardized reporting and analysis across client campaigns and geographies
• Multi-client, multimedia and multi-channel analysis using both online and direct-marketing campaign data
• Generation of frequently used metrics delivered “out-of-the-box” and broken down by:
o Creative Types
• Delivery of reports and analysis such as:
o High-level executive reporting (i.e. dashboards)
o User-defined, produced and delivered graphs and charts
o Automatically generated and distributed reports to pre-defined users and clients
o User-defined basic reports with the ability to drill up and drill down
o Ability to export all reports in common output/presentation formats such as MS Excel™, HTML and PDF
o Ability to export subsets of filtered data through robust integration with popular database formats including MS Excel™ and MS Access™
o Integration to industry-standard statistical analysis tools such as SAS™ and SPSS™
Ease of use
• Easy to-use, flexible, web based interface
Access that addresses the needs of the enterprise
• Cross-client and cross-campaign views of media
• Permission levels for different teams including different partners and team members
• Transparent access across multiple offices and geographies
Cost of ownership
• Reasonable total cost of ownership with minimal maintenance by the IT organization
• Offered as Software as a Service (SAAS), which provides a zero footprint, web access to data and reports
• Statistical analysis and algorithms that can easily be reused across campaigns, products, brands and so on
• Redundancy provided in the event of loss of primary access or facilities
A Moving Target
As we stated at the beginning of this article, change is the only constant in the disciplines of advertising and marketing. With the growth of Internet marketing, the drive to make better marketing and advertising decisions alongside the torrent of data available is creating both overwhelming pressures and unprecedented opportunities. A media analysis platform that is holistic in its view of marketing, non-invasive in terms of its operational requirements, cost-effective to acquire, and easy to use by individuals and teams, will form the foundation of an enterprise-grade tool. The organizations that create, sell and provide services for the users of these platforms must also embody the traits of the technology itself and serve as a beacon, anticipating and adapting their solutions to the needs, challenges and opportunities offered by the marketplace.