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The Ascendency Of Analytics




Two weeks ago I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in Quest MT, a conference at the University of Montana covering marketing analytics. It was basically a data science forum, which typically I would not attend. But as luck would have it, they needed a “media person” there to give concrete examples of the problems we face and the benefits we derive from our analytics teams.

I don’t know about you, but as TV, video and traditional digital media increasingly intersect, the measurement challenges have ballooned – throw device type (smartphone, tablet) and OTT platforms into the mix and you’ve got this perfect storm of bottomless data coupled with a complex and deep ad technology stack. Our needs on the analytics front have grown exponentially larger.

For those with traditional media backgrounds, or who perhaps learned digital in the early 2000s, measurement can be a daunting task. Surprisingly, many agencies have been addressing this in a piecemeal way.

So it was incredibly refreshing to find a pocket of academia that is actually proactively addressing this challenge by developing curricula and degree paths dedicated not just to data science, but marketing data science. Who does that? I don’t know how many universities have started to address this, but I hope it’s a lot.

Our Historic Bias
If you started your media career at any time prior to 2005, you can probably recall when the hiring process actually handicapped or even disqualified resumes or individuals with degrees in advertising or marketing. The general attitude of some on the hiring side was basically a semi-incredulous, “Why would you major in this stuff?”

Many graduated from colleges and universities that could barely offer enough coursework to cobble together a minor in marketing or advertising. Times have changed – and for the better: I’ve since hired many young people with degrees aligned with our professions with great success.

But a young person with a degree in marketing analytics? I want that person. Like, yesterday I needed them. Here’s why.

Telling Better Stories With Data
Ad agencies are at a narrative crossroads with clients. We’ve done a lot to inundate clients with data over the years, but very few of us have successfully translated the reams of data generated by campaigns into insightful, compelling stories tied to business success. I suppose we’ve done a decent job of organizing data – I bet many of us are really good at making dashboards – and a somewhat inconsistent job of giving it all meaning.

How many still report click-through rates as a metric or KPI for digital display campaigns? Ideally none, but I seriously doubt that’s the case. Those who do are dealing in the currency of expediency that’s finally being toppled by issues around bots and viewability.

Agencies owe clients tight, digestible expressions of performance. It doesn’t have to be all good news. I strongly believe we learn more from failures than our successes. But how we present and quantify performance has to make sense and be actionable. To me, the best storytellers and the best data analytics people are those who can quickly separate wheat from chaff and zero in on the performance signals that track best to our objectives.

They get involved early in the process and ask questions frequently. Ultimately, they start to develop a strong sense of the story that needs to be told and are constantly probing the data for the threads that will form the base fabric of that narrative.

It’s my hope that that narrative will help inform us about any number of things, such as how is the frequency we build against certain audiences via video on demand complementary to the exposures we achieved on an appointment basis? What can we learn about message contextualization or spot length based on device type, exposure cadence and order?

I’ve tended to view the ability to tease out these stories as more of a talent than a learnable, teachable skill set, but two weeks ago, I was inspired to believe otherwise.

Surround Yourself With Curiosity
I’ve been out of school for a long time, but we work in a youthful industry which always invigorates me. It was nice last week to see so many young people exploring and developing professional passion around the issues that will drive our industry forward.

It would be an easy cliché to write off a marketing analytics aspirant as a data geek or as a bookish introvert. What I was pleased to find was a group of young people eager to understand and unravel the mysteries around the connections, both practical and emotional, that we all develop with products and brands in a disciplined, scientific way that’s still infused with human warmth, intuitive understanding and genuine curiosity.

Many in the agency world are always pressed for time, making “curiosity” feel like a luxury in many respects. I would argue that it would not be a luxury if it were infused in our collective problem-solving DNA. My sense is that’s how tomorrow’s analytics teams will be bred.

I’m super critical of many aspects around how media is bought, sold and measured. The lack of digital accountability in podcasting makes me crazy, for example. And while I love video on demand and other OTT technologies as ad platforms, I pretty much hate our fundamental inability to accurately measure and quantify them.

I got the feeling last week that there are a generation of really smart people who are going to ask the right questions and find us some really elegant solutions. It can’t happen fast enough.

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