The future of digital media is clear: digital will become a full media- and marketingmix that accompanies consumers everywhere they go, in their pocket, which means online and offline worlds will seamlessly blend together. The online mix will be fuelled in automated ways with real-time data, not just around the moment of purchase, but across the full consumer journey. Many people therefore agree data is becoming more important. But what does that say about creativity, ‘gut feeling’ and having a clear strategic vision? Are those becoming less important? And what does it mean for privacy?

Universal limitations of data
Real-time data will indeed become even more important than it is today. Despite that, the biggest trap of the digital marketing age is the expectation that data will answer all our marketing questions.

Every form of data has universal limitations you can never go around, so that is also true for real-time data.

Failure to acknowledge these limitations is the root cause for many common problems in marketing and advertising. Two examples:

  • Short-term impact is easier to measure than long-term impact:
    Price discount has an enormous impact on short term sales in most product categories, however if you run too many price promotions your brand gradually devaluates; people are no longer willing to pay the premium price. That long term damage is however harder to quantify than the short term gain, so many companies are ‘addicted’ to price promotions. Within E-commerce we are so addicted to focusing on direct sales that we often forget to be meaningful in the early stages of the consumer journey. However, too much focus on buying signals without being meaningful earlier in the consumer journey eventually leads to price fighting which very few companies can afford sustainably. Impact of early funnel touch points is unfortunately harder to measure than short term sales, so changing strategy is not easy.
  • Impact within a channel is easier to measure than impact between channels:
    E-commerce departments mostly have online sales targets while offline part of the business works based on offline sales targets. Consumers however mix the two channels in their journey towards purchase and expect a seamless experience. In almost all companies I meet, there is a lack of cooperation between online and offline departments because of the separate targets and because it is hard to measure what one contributes to the other. The result is a good user experience as long as a consumer stays within one channel and a bad experience if consumers mix channels.
    These types of problems can only be prevented if organizations are conscious about the limitations of their measurement systems and if they dare to make decisions based on vision and common sense, even if data can only backup part of the decisions made. Companies that focus too much on what the data tells them always end up doing short-term stuff and they fail to provide a seamless experience for consumers across channels.

Digital specialists too often get stuck in the illusion that they can measure everything.

That is only true if you limit your focus to single channel, single device and short term purchase. As soon as you acknowledge consumer journeys are longer than a few clicks and that they cross channels and devices, you have to acknowledge not all decisions can be backed up by data; you have to add a layer of vision and common sense. Companies that focus too much on what the data tells them always end up doing short-term stuff and they fail to provide a seamless experience for consumers across channels.

Seeing the people behind the clicks
Even though we have lots of real-time data, it is hard to see the people and their journeys in the data because databases are often a mess of clicks coming from different devices. We can make data more human if we manage all content and campaigns in one system and if we store interactions with content and campaigns in one database together with CRM data.

Human Consumer Journey

Different types of people have different journeys and those journeys are longer than a few clicks just before purchase; our databases should reflect that.

If our data becomes more human, our marketing and communication efforts become more human. You can for instance differentiate between new and existing clients when running brand campaigns in a system fuelled by a rich consumer journey database. The technology needed to implement this integration is already available and develops rapidly: programmatic technology of Doubleclick can for instance integrate almost all digital media buying and can integrate CRM data and real-time data. Of course there will always be gaps in our databases for the sake of privacy and because of practical limitations, but our view on the consumer journey can become much richer than it is in the fragmented toolset we use today.

Privacy: transparency and control
Data is needed to be meaningful to people, to provide them with useful information or inspiration on the right moment. Without data you can’t do much more than pushing out mass communication the way we do it in traditional media. The emergence of ad blockers however illustrates that people do not accept aggressive advertising in an online environment. And to be fair, why would they? There is an abundance of choice out there for them. Increased usage of ad blockers illustrates that advertisers haven’t succeeded in using digital data and creative possibilities to serve messages to people that are so meaningful and compelling that they want to watch them rather than have to watch them, but this can and will change. Take the use of re-marketing as an example: many E-commerce have been using re-marketing too aggressively to push people to purchase goods.

Re-marketing is however a valuable technological capability that can be used at the benefit of the consumer. You can for instance filter people out of your campaigns if your ads are not relevant to them by using ‘negative re-marketing lists’. This eliminates waste from your campaigns and ensures you treat your consumers with the respect they deserve.


Re-marketing can be used to create a better consumer experience instead of chasing people for short term sales

Because advertisers have been focused too much on direct purchase and mass advertising, too few of them have implemented consumer friendly filters in their strategies. This is why it is important the industry creates tools that give transparency and control to consumers about the use of their data. Many important digital players have already started building privacy dashboards that help consumers see what data is tracked from them (transparency) and that allow them give or revoke permissions for data usage (control). There will be more of these systems over time and that will put pressure on companies to use data to provide value to people. Companies that do this well will get and keep permissions from consumers to use their data, while others don’t get these permissions. In that context companies that treat data in respectful and meaningful ways can build compelling competitive advantage.

Give consumers choice
A great development in this context is the emergence of choice based ads. Companies are increasingly creating ad formats that allow people to say whether they want to see an ad or not. An example of such a format is Trueview; these are the videos on YouTube that you can skip after five seconds. Google display network allows people the option to opt out of specific banners if they don’t want to see them anymore and Facebook gives users the following two choices:

  • I don’t want to see this
  • Hide all ads from this advertiser
Facebook ad preferences

Facebook allows consumers to decline specific ads or ads from specific advertisers.

Initiatives like these contribute to establishing a healthy media landscape in which data is always used to serve ads that don’t annoy people but that create value for them instead. In such a media landscape people can keep enjoying the ‘free’ content and products that are funded with advertising revenue and advertisers can keep using data to optimize the ROI of marketing and advertising efforts.

If consumers can choose, everybody wins.

This blog is based on the book “Online Brand Identity” by Joris Merks-Benjaminsen, “the ultimate guide to designing your (digital) branding strategy”. The book covers various topics related to this article, including:

  • Making most out of digital for branding
  • The new digital creative canvas
  • Integration of performance and brand strategy
  • Utilizing programmatic marketing capabilities
  • Cross screen and cross channel measurement
  • Defining new currencies to measure and optimize digital advertising in all stages of the consumer journey
  • Data driven attribution
  • Combining real-time data and traditional qual and quant research
  • Privacy

You can find a free sample of the book here.