Consumers are increasingly concerned about their privacy and apprehensive about their activities being tracked. They are also very worried about the ways in which their data is being used and about its security. According to Pew Research Center’s new study, Americans and Privacy: Concerned, Confused and Feeling Lack of Control Over Their Personal Information, 81% of U.S. consumers say the potential risks of data collection by companies outweigh the benefits, and 66% say the same about government data collection. In fact, most Americans do not think it’s possible to go through daily life without having data collected about them by companies or the government (62% and 63%, respectively).
Out of control
Consumer concerns about digital privacy includes those who
collect, store, and use their personal information. Nearly eight in 10
consumers are “not too” or “not at all” confident that companies will admit or
take responsibility if personal information is compromised or misused. Further,
69% also report this same lack of confidence in the way companies use their
Most consumers in the US do not feel in control of their own
personal data. Eight in 10 consumers report they have little or no control over
what data that companies (81%) and the government (84%) collect about them.
Consumers report seeing little benefit from all the data that companies (72%)
and the government (76%) collect about them.
Concerns about the right to privacy can be traced to the Constitution. In 1965, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy can be inferred from the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments. The concept of privacy has evolved for consumers and now includes access to their digital footprint and all of their personal information. Pew finds that consumers specifically identify privacy as “other people and organizations not being able to access their possessions or private life” (28%) and “control over information, possessions, self; deciding what’s accessible to others” (26%). Many also feel the term “personal data” is interchangeable with “digital data.”
Given the number of major data breaches in the last few years, (Marriott International, Yahoo!, Facebook, Equifax to name a few) it is no wonder that 70% of consumers report that their data is less secure today than it was five years ago.
Few consumers know what companies and the government are
doing with the data collected on them. Further, most consumers lack the
understanding of personal data tracking policies and restrictions.
Digital sites, especially premium sites with a direct
consumer relationship, must find a way to clearly communicate their data
tracking polices. Further, it’s important to clearly message data tracking
policies with complete transparency on what data is being collected, what data
is being used and how it’s being uses.
Facebook has been under fire ever since the revelation that it allowed the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to harvest user data and use that information as fodder for the Trump campaign. While outrage against the social media giant is warranted, we also ought to be concerned about the entire digital advertising ecosystem, where everyone — including publishers — is on the hunt for data.
Indeed, rather than just pointing at Facebook, feeling smug and a bit of schadenfreude, publishers and advertisers should take a deeper look at their own practices. And how about going even further: Take a leading role in ensuring user privacy. Think about what you can do to make sure data hunger doesn’t comprise user interest.
Walled Garden War
Anger toward Facebook isn’t anything new for media companies and publishers. If anything, the Cambridge Analytica scandal is just one point on a timeline documenting publishers’ tempestuous relationship with Facebook. At a recent Platforms + Publishers roundtable I produced at Facebook, there were plenty of angry small publishers who pointed to a loss of 50% or more of Facebook-referred traffic. Someone even mentioned that going to Facebook was like going back to an abusive partner. You think things are getting better and then, smack! you are hit with an algorithm change and a poisonous political data scandal.
As Axios’ Scott Rosenberg put it, the current fury against Facebook is personal for journalists because they, along with their institutions, blame Facebook (as well as other tech behemoths like Google) “for seducing their readers, impoverishing their employees, and killing off their jobs.” Given the stronghold Facebook and Google have over the digital advertising industry — which has also rendered publishers and advertisers dependent on the duopoly — any backlash that can knock down these tech companies, even a little, stands to make things better for their competitors and the ecosystem at large.
But there are a couple fallacies with that kind of thinking. First, Facebook has played a crucial role in helping news outlets reach their audiences where their audiences are. And it’s no secret that the micro-targeting of a news item to user — based on the data gathered — worked to help the publisher, even if publishers always felt they were on the losing end of the relationship. And Facebook has certainly made a much bigger effort at helping to drive memberships, donations and subscriptions to publishers; in fact, that was the overarching theme of the roundtable I produced at Facebook.
And secondly: While it’s easy to nurture a grudge against Facebook, it’s harder to understand the complex relationships between publishers and platforms – where there can be collaboration and animosity. National outlets may be more vocal about their criticism around Facebook’s ability to adequately compensate publishers. However, local publishers in particular see Facebook, Google and other major tech platforms as potential allies that can help elevate their standing, and help them compete with national outlets.
Not only that, but consider BuzzFeed’s Mark Di Stefano’s scoop that both The Economist and the Financial Times hired Cambridge Analytica to help them grow their subscriber base in the United States. It’s unclear whether the data benefited the two British companies, but clearly, that’s what they were looking for. As media and tech thinker Doc Searls accurately notes, news publishers are also guilty of using third-party tracking apps that return internet advertising to their users. But, as everyone is now realizing, there’s no guarantee what actually happens to that data. “What will happen when the [New York] Times, the New Yorkerand other pubs own up to the simple fact that they are just as guilty as Facebook of leaking its readers’ data to other parties, for—in many if not most cases—God knows what purposes besides ‘interest-based’ advertising?” Searls wrote on his Harvard blog.
But the best reckoning publishers could have right now is not about Facebook, but themselves — and the steps they can take to make sure they have their own data houses in order. As the Association of National Advertisers put it in a statement, “In truth, the Cambridge Analytica controversy is greater than Facebook alone…It’s a brand reputation and data security risk for every ANA member that advertises and monetizes brands on online and mobile outlets.”
One huge step, already started by the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF), is to call for new industry guidelines and standards around data collection that also focuses on prioritizing user protection. The ARF has invited other industry bodies to contribute to the endeavor; now it’s up to the rest of the players in the digital advertising ecosystem, publishers and advertisers included, to do their share to ensure a safer internet. Data is the ultimate feast for everyone, but if the hunger for it leads to toxic consequences, it poisons the entire body.
In an age where exclusive content is pure gold and data is the new black gold, smart news organizations are looking for ways to unlock their frontline information and insights for maximum exposure across a multitude of platforms.
The Associated Press — a 170-year old news organization with teams in over 100 countries and one of the world’s most important archives of audio-visual archives of news, social history, sports, and entertainment — is going one better. It’s exploring new and rather unconventional opportunities, in areas ranging from data-mining to data journalism, to identify new markets and revenue opportunities for its wholesale and non-profit businesses.
Peggy Anne Salz, mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove, speaks with Ted Mendelsohn, AP Vice President, Commercial and Digital Markets. They discuss the company’s mission to expand distribution of its archival content, extract value from its data, and enhance news-gathering capabilities.
PAS: On any given day, more than half the world’s population sees AP content. But that’s just one side of your business. Tell me more about your wholesale business and the opportunities you pursue.
TM: When I was brought into AP some 25 years ago, the commercial business focused on selling AP content into the federal government, corporate markets, and large clients, including Prodigy, LexisNexis, Dialog. Expanding this by identifying new markets and opportunities is very much what my job is about today.
Another part of the business is our retail business, where AP mobile comes into play. The focus is on making our own content available on AP-owned and operated sites and monetizing through advertising.
Finally, there are content services, where AP — because of its huge footprint worldwide and access to photographers and videographers — can work together with clients. It’s a service and a business opportunity that we see expanding. are exploring opportunities where brands might sponsor content like the AP Top 25 college basketball or college football rankings. There are also opportunities for companies to sponsor unique content. This might be along the lines of the top 5 things you need to know about ways you can improve health and fitness. We are open to doing more of that and that’s also where having our own platform opens a whole line of revenue and opportunities.
PAS: AP is perhaps best known for frontline, breaking news content…
TM: Yes, it’s our bread and butter. We’ve noticed that our audience is heavily engaged with our content — stories, photos and video — and that the sessions are long. In fact, in August 2017, a survey from NewsWhip showed that AP drove higher total engagement on Facebook than any of the Top 10 individual publishers in June and July. This achievement is also linked to our ongoing efforts to update our content and add value. We provide alerts, but we also add to the news content from every angle, enhancing the story with text, photos, and video.
PAS:You’re using technology to expand and enhance distribution of your content. What is the role of technology in the production of content?
TM: AI is a technology that has an impact at several levels. We’re using it, but we’re also educating the media by showing the example of how we use AI within our newsroom. A lot of our efforts around understanding and using AI in the newsroom is focused on producing the routine news, like sports scores, and have them generated through AI technology.
But it’s not just about automation; AI can open opportunities for our reporters to cover more important stories and produce the exclusive in-depth content that wins us — and our clients — audiences on mobile and other platforms. And that is what drives the higher engagement. A good example is one of our most successful stories, what we’ve been calling the “Seafood from Slaves.” Here our reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their investigation that exposed slavery in the Southeast Asian fishing industry.
PAS: What are the other technologies top of your radar?
TM: At one level, AP is a retail store, for lack of a better word. We focus on approaches that will allow us to appeal to our readers directly. We ‘sell’ them on our content on the platforms, such as mobile, where they want to consume it. But it’s also about understanding how other companies and platforms are going to impact how we engage audiences. A prime example here is voice and deciding how we engage with companies that are creating voice-activated content.
It means talking to the Amazons, the Apples, and the Samsungs — companies now looking for content that is driven by voice-activation. For us, it’s becoming a new way of engaging with the customer, if you will, by creating content and adjusting our content for this market and working with companies who are attracted by the content we have and the platforms we can serve.
In other words, it’s not just the technology that we use internally. It’s working with the companies who are really technology-driven and finding ways to use our content to improve their technology and, at the same time, to make our content available in new and different ways.
The number one question for AP is: how do we move our content and make our content play across the platforms? My first boss at AP used to say he wants to ride every horse in the race. And, in some ways, that’s what we’re trying to do. We are on the horse that allows us to display and distribute our content. And we are riding the horses that allow us to get our content to the companies out there that need our content to engage their customers.
PAS: AP is exploring AI, launching a VR and 360 video channel in collaboration with AMD, examining the opportunities around voice and Internet of Things. How do make choices about the companies or platforms to explore and the ones to ignore?
TM: It’s not about betting on the newest technology or the ‘Next Big Thing.’ You also have to be flexible enough to adjust to what is coming out on the market. As an industry, we couldn’t have anticipated a technology like Amazon Echo and its impact. We also couldn’t have known the content these platforms require. But once it’s gaining traction on the market, like it is now, the best advice I can give content companies is to be flexible. You cannot shut them out; you have to engage.
What do I mean by engaging? It starts with the way I organize my group. Specifically, I’ve brought people together who have a focus on vertical segments. Some are in continuous discussions with industry leaders — they are in talks with Amazon, Apple, Yahoo!, and so on. It’s not a discussion like “Oh, we have this content for you, why don’t you sign a deal with us?” It’s a dialog where we want to understand where they’re going and they’re coming back to us with insights on the tech and opportunities that have real potential.
PAS: Data is hailed as the new black gold, and you have stockpiles of it. How do you view the opportunities in unlocking that data for clients?
TM: On the data side — for example, election data — we are the primary source for our clients. We’re finding that election data, even older data, is highly valuable to hedge funds. We make that data available for them to study and make whatever algorithmic assessments they feel necessary based on the data.
Data is also at the core of our edge in investigative reporting, identifying trends and news ahead of the competition. For example, an AP analysis of charter school enrollment data allowed us to expose the growing level of racial segregation in schools. Recently we reported on crime in the cities, using the data to take a different perspective. Rather than look at crime growing in cities, we used the data to examine crime in particular neighborhoods. Data allows you to see this, and so we are finding ways to make this data available for our reporters and for other organization to use.
PAS: So, data has become a new commodity?
TM: Maybe commodity is not the right word. Let’s say it’s a valuable good that we can offer and sell because other companies — businesses, financial institutions, hedge funds — are evolving to use data in ways that we don’t.
There are two ways to look at the way marketplace for data is developing. One is the opportunity at the consumer level, where more and better data can improve marketing, advertising, and understanding your audience. The other is the opportunity at the commercial level. Companies need access to data — for example, election data — to identify and understand the trends, and make investment decisions based on the combination of data.
It’s early days, and frankly, no one is exactly sure where how data will play out. But we are seeing that a number of financial institutional are looking for data to enhance their own data. It’s why I have some people on the team who are working with financial institutions, trying to understand what they need so we can extract data to make these datasets available in the way our clients want them.
PAS:Content and data — the opportunity is in being flexible in your choice of platforms and models…
TM: Correct. And the third part is being flexible in how you do business. You can’t be limited in how you do business or the kind of business terms you negotiate. All of us in the media industry have models, pricing lists and stuff like that. I threw those models right out because I realized they don’t work. The next technology comes around, and whatever pricing model you have doesn’t work. Instead, you have to adapt to change. You have to adjust your content, and your business model has to be flexible as well.
Peggy Anne Salz is the Content Marketing Strategist and Chief Analyst of Mobile Groove, a top 50 influential technology site providing custom research to the global mobile industry and consulting to tech startups. She is a frequent contributor to Forbes on the topic of mobile marketing, engagement and apps. Her work also regularly appears in a range of publications from Venture Beat to Harvard Business Review. Peggy is a top 30 Mobile Marketing influencer and a nine-time author based in Europe. Follow her @peggyanne.
More content is being produced and consumed than ever before. However, one of the biggest obstacles to success for publishers today is the inability to fully understand the value of their content. Yes, publishers are getting more and more data. But with so many different types of ads, targeting, and decision-engines running on a publisher’s site, the revenue generated from a piece of content has become impossible to retrieve beyond general averages.
In fact, as we have previously noted, most publishers merely settle for what’s available (averages) rather than what’s needed (real-time values). However, as we all know, a data-driven business cannot run on averages. That would be like trading stocks based on the average over the past week while someone else is trading based on precise real-time values.
Add to this the silos between the editorial and ad ops and you have an ad stack and content stack that don’t talk to one another.
So, how can publishers harness bridge these gaps and work smarter? There are three significant opportunities for publishers in this challenging landscape. Those that tap into these will be empowered to do more than simply survive. They’ll have a competitive advantage.
1. Use Data to Fuel Audience Insights
Data should be the glue that connects publishers to their audience. It should enable them to serve more personalized content and enhanced user experiences, so they can better compete with social media platforms. Data should flow between publisher Data Management Platforms, network insights, and 3rd party data providers via APIs. This enables publishers to connect their content with their user and deliver customized experiences based on content type, device and location.
2. Connect Content and Revenue
Publishers need to connect content and revenue so that content can be personalized and optimized for yield. There is currently a lack of understanding about the true value of content. This doesn’t mean the total value of content. Instead, it means knowing the exact value of any article or video at a single point in time and the ability to take meaningful action based upon that insight. When content is a publisher’s currency, and each click is the trigger for revenue, a publisher must connect what they are selling (advertising) with the content that accompanies it
3. See a Holistic Picture of All Revenue
Lastly, publishers need to understand revenue from all sources in a single dashboard, not as individual boxes on the page. Once publishers have access to these insights, they can further optimize to the correct partner, referral source, or set of specific pieces of content to maximize additional revenue. Simply adding more paid links as a way to generate more revenue is sure-fire way to disappoint users, while being counter-intuitive to the principles of yield optimization.
The Power of the Complete Picture
Partners with expansive network insights as well as multiple paid relationships and networks can help publishers meet revenue goals. This model has played out over the last decade, beginning with display and evolving over time to include native, sponsorship, ecommerce and even off-platform distribution. However, the majority of publishers have not yet brought those revenue sources together into a single, manageable view to that they can take direct actions that are maximized for each piece of content.
Connecting content with revenue allows publishers to understand how much RPM value their Facebook referral traffic is delivering compared to all of their other sources. Yield teams can understand which partner delivers the most value. Audience development teams can launch campaigns based on feedback from ad operations about under-delivering sponsorship campaigns. Executives can see how revenue goals in real-time, all based on the connection between revenue and content.
Publishers must break down the walls that are typically built up between revenue and editorial teams. Real-time insights allow them to personalize the content experience, while also considering the value of each piece content. It is clear that publishers need to leverage the appropriate tools and strategies to achieve this level of insight and opportunity.
Dennis Yuscavitch has spent the last several years creating and launching new product, most recently with Outbrain as director of product marketing. When he’s not making publishers and advertisers happy he’s often coaching his local youth soccer team. The consummate early adopter, you can find him online @dennisy or via LinkedIn.
Shifting from the tactics of next-generation data analytics to converting corporate cultures to being data-first is the emerging great challenge for media companies battling for consumer and advertiser relevance, according to a report released by the International News Media Association (INMA).“Big Data For Media 2.0: Going Data-First” synthesizes case studies shared with INMA through a co-hosted Big Data For Media conference and study tour, along with best practices from association members. The report features eight video interviews INMA conducted with Big Data innovators at five media companies.
Companies featured in the INMA report include Axel Springer, Dow Jones, Financial Times, Forbes Media, Hearst, The New York Times, Schibsted, The Washington Post, and The Weather Channel. Based upon the best practices at these media companies, author Martha L. Stone of the World Newsmedia Network (WNMN) makes the case that data-first strategies are yielding better outcomes and better results.
That said, she finds that even major media companies are facing cultural challenges in implementing these company-wide data-first strategies. However, the central role of data in the modern media company is highlighted by Rick McFarland, chief data scientist at Hearst Corp., who is quoted as saying: “Hearst is not in the publishing business or even in the media business. It is really in the data distribution business. Data is the gasoline” that fuels the business.
Overall, the report categorizes data-centric practices as being synonymous with customer-first strategies. Based upon her synthesis of the case studies and best practices, Stone says that her overall impression is one of “companies leading a cultural revolution” — with some succeeding faster than others.
The report examines:
Why Big Data is important at media companies and how different types of analytics are being applied
Who innovative media companies are in Big Data — and why
The process of developing the media company’s data operation
How companies implement a culture of experimentation using data
How leading media companies are structuring and staffing their data departments
The pending onslaught of data regulations
Results from the latest Big Data For Media Survey — including what media companies are doing with analytics and how that is changing
How best to generate revenue using data analytics
“Media companies are in the data distribution business and data is the gasoline,” said Earl J. Wilkinson, executive director and CEO of INMA, paraphrasing one of the executives interviewed in the report. “What we see among the industry leaders is Big Data not as a tactic to grow subscriptions but as a catalyst for fundamental culture change. This report is a snapshot in that revolution.”
Albert Einstein, noted physicist and author of the only advanced physics equation most people have committed to memory, spent the latter part of his life trying to find a general theory of relativity with electromagnetism. Trying to find a harmony with his earlier success in relativity and the nature of…nearly everything else, he was ultimately unsuccessful despite being ahead of his time.
Of course, everything is increasingly connecting through a combination of technology and demand. We have yet to finish Einstein’s work, but we are making leaps in connectivity; connecting the outdoor temperature, humidity, chance of precipitation and the needs of our lawns with smart sprinkler systems. We are combining optimal activity conditions and our running goals to create optimal programs for healthy activity on our smart fitness trackers. We are integrating live video feeds with local alerts in home monitoring systems to make our homes safer and more convenient. This combination of data sets with a focus on form and practical function has become what is known as the Internet of Things (IoT).
Going Beyond Big Data To anyone living in the connected world, data overload is a daily reality. Like a Dr. Seuss narrative, data keeps “biggering and biggering,” with questionable results. Why? Because consumers don’t necessarily want more data: Rather, they need solutions that help them make their lives easier. IoT makes the connection where “Big Data” can’t, bridging from big data sets to a form factor that fits into people’s lives.
So how can your company’s content successfully play a role in the expanding world of IoT? The answers will ultimately be provided by the consumer, but there are a few basic principles to follow:
The whole can be more than the sum of its parts. In other words, if you have the best data available for traffic, that’s the basis for a valuable app – but not a revolutionary app. If you can combine traffic with flight delay information, or movie times, or live event start times, you have created an invaluable tool for people who need a simple answer to a paramount question at a specific moment in their lives.
Make it easy. Studies have shown that while smart device users download many apps, just a few get used every day. If you want to be an essential part of a user’s life, you have to make answers not just relevant, but reliable, quick, and easy to access.
Form is as important as function. Smart devices in general, starting with smart phones and then moving onto tablets, wearables, and a whole universe of IoT devices, have already caused disruptive change in users’ lives. Look for places where you can change your approach to meet the existing habits of your user. Watches for example have significant restrictions in screen size, but the form factor appeals to users because they fit rather neatly into an existing space in users’ lives (or rather on their wrists) and so have taken off as the most commonly adopted form of wearable.
Imagination is key. Even if your content seems strictly B2B, don’t discount the potential consumer value when put into a form that is easy to use and shows the consumer how the information can be applied. An app that measures the pressure of contained fuel may not seem to have consumer appeal, but combined with other data sets it could help users predict the mileage for their commute or when they need to buy heating oil or gas for their homes.
I’ve been fortunate to work with content that is wanted and needed by nearly every kind of consumer and business all over the world. That has made my role leading emerging platforms particularly exciting, but since there are so many potential uses for data on something like weather, we’ve kept a particularly open mind about how the data could be of benefit to people.
For example, AccuWeather recently cross-referenced our data with Withings, leaders in the connected health revolution and makers of great activity tracking devices, to come up with some interesting findings on how weather impacts peoples’ desire to be active and provide insight into the optimal temperatures and conditions for activity according to location and demographic.
Of course, other practical examples already on the market include Garmin wearables, smart TVs, smart appliances, smart homes, smart cars, and every kind of implementation that shows promise where weather is a good fit for the users of the device.
In IoT, the consumer is showing technologists the way even as advances in technology make new things possible for consumers. As the global leader in weather data, we are ready to meet our audience on the “next big thing” no matter what that might be.
As the market continues to innovate and available data moves more rapidly than ever before, reliable, easy to use solutions only grow in relevancy. We at AccuWeather are excited to meet all the future challenges brought by whatever revolutionary platforms or form functions the market chooses with our forecasts with Superior Accuracy™, and so should your company.
This is truly an exciting time to be at the forefront of maximizing the value of human interactions with the confluence of smart technology and big data.
In David’s role as Vice President of Digital Media, Emerging Platforms, he is responsible for AccuWeather’s suite of universally-accessible mobile and connected products within the emerging platforms marketplace. He spearheads the integration of current and new weather data sets within emerging platforms – including smartphones, tablets, connected TVs and appliances, wearable devices, smart cars, and smart homes.
2nd Watch surveyed 500 IT and marketing professionals in large and midsize companies regarding the use of big data, Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud-based data warehouse technologies to support digital marketing plans and programs. The results indicate growing confidence in the use of these technologies and success deploying them. 2nd Watch has released an infographic that provides top line results from its research.
Among their key findings:
50% of respondents are likely to expand use of big data to support digital marketing.
24% use data to power campaigns and promotions
47% say that big data-base digital marketing campaigns have been effective for meeting customer engagement and demand generation goals
53% say it’s likely they’ll expand IoT-based digital marketing programs
Nearly 20% are being very aggressive this way, and another 27% plan to begin an IoT project for digital marketing soon
29% leverage the IoT to better understanding of customer preferences
“If you aren’t getting digital right, you’re getting marketing wrong.” It seems simple, but the reality is that digital has taken over the everyday lives of consumers, and marketers are still scrambling to understand and take advantage of the opportunities that an evolving digital landscape provides.
This statement opens the study Getting Digital Right 2015, Millward Brown Digital’s second annual look at the state of digital marketing. The study, based on input from more than 400 U.S. marketers spanning brands, media companies and agencies, uncovered the primary challenges and opportunities facing marketers today.
Three key findings emerged that marketers need to address in order to get digital right:
Only 14% of marketers stated confidence in their team’s use of big data. Consumers are generating multitudes of data, but marketers are struggling with how to use it. Marketers agree: “utilizing big data to create actionable insights” is the top opportunity facing marketers today. However, most aren’t confident in their organization’s usage – only 14% of marketers stated confidence in their team’s use of big data. Even further, that represents a significant drop in confidence from the Getting Digital Right 2014 study, where 39% of marketers expressed confidence.
The volume and complexity of data is clearly causing marketers heartache. In order to be successful, marketers need to determine the right mix of research tools for their business or clients, and work with partners who can assist in combining that data with internal and third-party data to create insights that can fuel growth.
Approximately half of media and agency marketers, and only 25% of brand marketers are confident in their media mix. As digital evolves, so do consumer behaviors. Cross-device media consumption has complicated the way in which marketers reach consumers. Naturally, these changes impact media budget and resource allocation. Since the 2014 study, the biggest increases in channel usage have occurred in the digital space, with Mobile up 4%, Social up 2%, and Search up 1%. But still, marketers aren’t sure they have it right – only about half of media and agency marketers are confident they have an optimized media mix, while even fewer brand marketers do – only about 25%. Instead, they shared what their ideal mix of budget and resource allocations would look like:
To capitalize on the opportunities at hand, marketers need to understand where and how to reach the dynamic, changing consumer by examining the wide array of consumer journeys that exist and the impact of multiscreen consumer behaviors.
Over 70% of Marketers would increase resource allocation to Mobile, Digital, and Social channels if ROI measurement improved. Accountability is a requirement, and tactics that can’t prove their effectiveness will be pushed to the wayside in lieu of digital channels that can provide a wealth of data and ROI measurement capabilities. In fact, nearly 50% of marketers indicate “an ability to demonstrate ROI” as a top criterion for determining media budget allocations. For publishers, this can mean a big impact to their business – over 70% of marketers indicated they would increase their media spend with Mobile, Digital, and Social channels if ROI tracking for those tactics improved; conversely, only 47% stated they would increase spend in traditional advertising with improved ROI measurement. Given the need for marketers to provide proof of success, working with partners to measure the impact of marketing activities for individual channels, as well as the varying combinations of channels to maximize ROI measurement is essential.
In the end, it’s no longer a question of whether to include digital in your marketing strategy; instead, the questions have shifted to when, where, and how much? Unfortunately, there is no magic formula. Marketers need to begin by finding the right mix of KPIs within their available data, understanding the dynamic consumer and the touchpoints they engage with, and the resulting impact on their brand.
Today’s digital marketers must be adept at search strategy, social strategy and now it seems they’ll be needing a weather strategy as well. Increasingly, companies of all types are leveraging data to aid in planning and decision making; The Weather Company has been at the forefront of leveraging data and analytics not only to predict the weather, but to anticipate its impact on consumer behavior. This week, Weather launched a blog called Forecast Factor to help marketers better understand how to use the weather as a business advantage.
The Forecast Factor site will provide weather-based consumer forecasts, proprietary insights and real-world best practices to help marketers implement and execute weather-centric media strategies to best promote their products and services. Forecasts and weather impact analysis will be provided by The Weather Channel’s on-air business and weather professional Paul Walsh, a leading expert on the effect of weather–and weather forecasting–on consumer behavior. Walsh, who considers himself an evangelist for the topic, got his start as a meteorologist in the US Air Force where his role was to provide weather-based intelligence support to war fighters and mission planners. While in the Air Force he developed a keen eye for the strategic value of weather information.
It’s big news how much the weather is changing. For marketers, Walsh says this increased weather volatility represents a risk, but it also represents an opportunity. For example, the Polar Vortex in late 2013 and early 2014 initially caused a 2% contraction in the US economy however, as soon as the weather improved, the economy rebounded. The opportunity, says Walsh, is to leverage technological advancements such as big data to understand the impact weather has on consumers.
Not only has the weather changed, but the way in which people consume weather information has also radically shifted. Gone are the days when people watched the evening news for an iffy forecast. Walsh notes that today weather predictions are overwhelmingly reliable but even more significantly, people are connected to the weather more than ever before. According to Walsh most of us check it multiple times a day on our mobile devices and use the information to plan not only whether or not to wear a jacket, but a wide range of decisions such as where to make lunch plans and what to eat, whether or not it is time to buy a new car and whether or not it should be an SUV or a convertible. The effect of weather on retail and spending is greater than people realize, says Walsh who points out that research shows that the impact of weather on the economy every year totals in the billions.
Weather believes that by providing Forecast Factor content they can educate advertisers to proactively adjust their media plans to align with the expected impact of the weather and to execute strategies that are more relevant and effective. “The marketing community has looked at weather as a tactical tool,” says Walsh “We really look at it as a strategic tool and want to help them see it that way as well.” And, as a trusted provider of this useful information, Weather hopes that these same advertisers and marketers will turn to their WeatherFX team to produce campaigns that can leverage these insights with weather-triggered messages to consumers in real time across all screens.
“People consume weather information everyday but they don’t think about the weather the way we do, Walsh says. “We’re pretty confident that we’ve got the audience, reach and technology to do what we’re talking about. There’s lots of people out there that don’t have the same knowledge or understanding.”
The only way any of us can “see” online audiences is through data. Companies like Nielsen and comScore have traditionally done this by tracking a sample over time. However, increasingly, what we know about audiences comes to us through servers. Servers collect vast amounts of information on what users are doing online every second of every day. To some, these “big data” speak for themselves and offer a crystal clear lens with which to see and manage audiences. But much of the buzz surrounding big data is “irrational exuberance.” To make effective use of these new resources, you should know their strengths and weaknesses. Here are four questions to keep in mind if you find yourself seeing the world through big data:
Census or Sample? Big data are often thought of as a census. If that were true, it would be great. You wouldn’t have to draw a sample and carefully “weight” individual responses to reflect the population. But frequently big data really means a big sample. For example, some claim that gathering data from digital set-top boxes (STBs) and create a census of the TV audience. But in practice, STB ratings are based on samples that are cobbled together and extensively weighted to resemble the total TV audience. Those samples are large enough to offer a lot more granularity than traditional methods, but they’re not close to a census.
In fact, most big databases are adjusted in some way. You might think that the things trending on Twitter reflect a simple headcount. But trending metrics are tweaked in ways that aren’t widely reported. Providers of “currency” measures are typically audited, so it’s easier to know the recipe behind the numbers. But it’s a mystery how many of the newer metrics are cooked up. If you use them, you should assume you’re not getting an unadulterated look at the audience, you’re probably wearing corrective lenses.
Preference or Behavior? Social media platforms can capture comments that reflect people’s likes and dislikes, but most big data measure behaviors (e.g., views, downloads, shares, purchases, etc.). It’s tempting to interpret behaviors as an expression of preferences. In fact, economists use choices as a measure of “revealed preferences.” But people do things for all kinds of reasons. Ask yourself: Do people view something because they like it or because they just stumbled into it? Do they share something because they approve, disapprove or want to build their personal “brand?”
Even the meaning of “likes” can be a puzzle. Is it really about liking, or social affirmation, or just plain fraud? Big data are often a by-product of using digital platforms to deliver media or provide services. Their great appeal is that they’re cheap and abundant and seem capable of providing valuable new insights. But there’s also a danger in trying to wring too much out of data that weren’t designed to measure motives or states of mind.
Local or Global? Any online publisher has a treasure trove of data. They can generally see how many visitors they have, how visitors move from page to page, and how much time they spend on each. But this is local on-site activity. It’s often harder to see what visitors are doing the rest of the time, and that could be important. For example, there’s interest in using “attention minutes” as a measure of engagement and perhaps a kind of currency. But are visitors who spend time on a site loyalists who are otherwise hard to reach or are they just people who spend a lot of time on the web? Without a more global source of data, it’s hard to know. If they’re heavy web users, they’ll be easy pickings for programmatic buyers who don’t care about editorial context.
Insight or Currency?
Even if you can’t necessarily see what your visitors are doing off site, there are plenty of insights to be gained by what a publisher can see. One powerful tool is A/B testing. Among other things, publishers have used it to assess the attention grabbing power of headlines. But using big data for insights and using it for currencies are two entirely different propositions.
Changing currencies – even a modest, commonsense change – is as much about politics as data. Reaching an industry-wide consensus takes time. For example, shifting to “viewable impressions” took IAB well over a year to orchestrate. These negotiated currencies may be less than optimal for any one player. So most online publishers will have to reconcile two sets of metrics, those that provide insights and those that provide money – and they’re not always the same.
Big data offer valuable new ways to see audiences, and we should use them for all they’re worth. But like all data-driven decision making tools, they have biases and blind spots. The best way to use those tools is to know what they can and can’t do for you.
Webster studies audience behavior and measurement. He’s on the editorial boards of the Journal of Communication and the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. He also works as a consultant to audience measurement and media companies. For more information and copies of selected work see his personal website.