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Seeing the data for the trees: Overarching themes from Advertising Week

October 4, 2016 | By Eric Hadley, Head of Global Marketing—Outbrain
Pictured: (from left to right) Simon Whitcombe, Group Director, Global Marketing Solutions, Facebook | Jen McIsaac, VP, Retail Partnerships, Oracle Data Cloud | Paul Jankauskas, General Manager and Chief Revenue Officer, Verifone Media | Christopher Heine, Technology Editor, Adweek

I won’t lie: My positive experience at Advertising Week wasn’t that different from previous years. But, when you consider the magnitude and impact of an event such as this, that’s really no small feat.

Whether it’s brushing shoulders with some of the greatest minds in the industry, or gaining a pulse for significant topics—be they bubbling under the surface and overflowing within every category in the marketplace—there’s value to be lifted from the experience. Advertising Week is ultimately the place where crucial conversations take place in real-time about the real challenges we’re presented with at this particular moment in digital.

Nothing could be more advantageous.

The live performances weren’t anything to scoff at either, with musical acts from the likes of De La Soul, Common, The Roots, and Sting. Entertainment and networking aside, my focus was getting to the bottom of the massive data explosion in the industry and better understanding its grip on media companies, agencies, publishers, and marketers alike.

Getting on the Right Side of the Data Track
At Outbrain, a growing number of our internal marketing initiatives are being driven by data-supported research. And as a recommendation network that is powered by its own sophisticated algorithms, it has always been important for us to communicate the value of that data on both the brand side and media company side.

While more data is a huge opportunity, it is not without its complexities and challenges. This past week, our own struggles with data were echoed by leaders in the industry and solidified into some key themes:

1. Solving for Too Much Data Involves a Simplified Approach

With this new level of granularity, data is changing the conventions of how many brands have been built up until today. More importantly, it has raised a glaring issue, which was shared across panelists who have represented and worked alongside many legacy brands, including Jon Suarez-Davis, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer at Krux Digital:

“We’ve put together dumb pipes. And It’s not about putting in smarter dumb pipes, it’s about changing the system entirely.”

First, there needs to be a much deeper understanding of how the data has changed. Second, while data is now far more actionable than ever before, we can’t lose sight of how it drives business. This means applying clear objectives.

That’s because data can mean a lot of different things. From a user ID, to post campaign analysis, or, in our case, the consumption patterns of how audiences are interacting with our content across publisher sites.

The trick, according to Julie Fleischer, Managing Director of OMD, is simplicity and focus:

“The key is keeping an eye on what I’m trying to understand, what the best measurement approach available is, and what that mean in terms of whether it’s a complete or partial view. We need to stop looking at data as an answer, but more as an input to what we do. If we challenge where the flaws in measurement are, we can get to a better understanding of how to fill those gaps.”

When it comes to the data explosion, the challenge—and goal—is to find the metrics which are most indicative of wins and learn to measure what matters.

2. We Need to Put Data in the Hands of the Right People

A multitude of data types means a multitude of applications and outputs for data. And with that, a variety of potential business objectives that impact a variety of different stakeholders—whether it is informing product decisions, leading creative decisions, or driving better customer journey’s within the context of the content funnel.

Yet, currently, organizations struggle with interpreting and communicating all the data they now have at their disposal. Many are noticing a major talent gap when it comes to making their data actionable, due to poor cross-department translation and communication.

Charlie Chappell, Head of Media and Advertising at The Hershey Company, declared, “We need to get much more comfortable with much more data. We have to make that transition.”

Global Director of Business, Jeffrey Rossi shared similar sentiments about how data is used at Spotify, stating, “It’s not about just using data. It’s about living data. For us, the data goes into driving a product, we can market ourselves with data, and have conversations with data. It can’t be some jenky add on.”

So, while the digital advertising ecosystem is currently built to solve individual problems, we all need a much deeper understanding of the big picture to change the entire infrastructure of what we do. That means teaching up current talent and scouting the right new hires.

The only way to do it is to learn it.

3. Targeting for the Entire Dartboard and not Just the Bullseye

It’s easy to get swept up in the promise of reaching the right consumer on the right platform at the right time with the right message through data-enabled microtargeting but these insights don’t always live up to the hype. A real problem has been an over-reliance on these targeting capabilities as we try to lead with precision first. At the end of the day, though, context still matters.

In fact, that’s a large part of why Outbrain has been working with brands to better sequence the experience consumers have with their content. Overall, as an industry, we need to be thinking more holistically. Rather than just considering how we’re going to reach consumers, we need to invest in understanding all of the different touch points within the customer journey and create value for consumers at every point.

In the words of Tamara Alesi, Managing Partner and Integrated Planning Strategy at Mediacom, “You don’t always have to use the data on the front end, but to get smarter on the back end. That’s where you see your ROI.”

Looking Forward
As marketers and brands we sometimes get lost in our own worlds and forget about how our data impacts the customer experience. In order for us to not completely silo ourselves or our data; events like Advertising Week help center our work.

This week and fresh into Q4, we can all take these learnings and focus on innovation as well as better empowering the audiences we cater to online. In the quarter ahead, we will need to discipline ourselves when it comes to our data—focusing on how we want to use it and how it impacts our customers. Otherwise, all our data and tech is ultimately useless.

Eric_Hadley_Outbrain_GlobalMarketingHeadEric Hadley (@erichad) serves as Head of Global Marketing at Outbrain (@outbrain). He joined Outbrain in 2015, and is responsible for the company’s global go-to market strategy and for driving strategic value and large scale opportunities with its premium brand and agency partners. Hadley has over 20 years of experience in marketing leadership positions in consumer, media and technology companies. Previously, he served as Head of Partner Marketing at Pinterest leading the social network’s agency outreach organization. Prior to his work for Pinterest, he held roles at Yahoo, The Weather Channel, and Microsoft. While at Microsoft, he was involved in the launch of its search engine, Bing.

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