People-based marketing: How Facebook is trying to compete for TV ad dollars


People-based marketing.

Prepare to hear that term a lot more as Facebook develops ad targeting and measurement platforms like Atlas, LiveRail and the Audience Network. Facebook has shifted its focus from providing advertising at scale to providing an an ad solution where companies can target the right consumers.

In a whiteboard session Wednesday, Facebook explained to reporters the history and future of their advertising platform. With Atlas, large-scale advertisers can measure deeper and weigh effectiveness of Facebook ads against other types of messaging. With the Audience Network, advertisers can target their customers on external sites, using the same information they have on Facebook. With LiveRail, publishers have been able to more effectively leverage video as an ad option.

It all leads to Facebook aiming for a bite of the television ad apple.

Brian Boland (pictured), Facebook’s Vice President of Ad Tech, discussed how Facebook moved from trying to deliver advertising that hit everyone into delivering ads to the people who are most relevant. He compared advertising on mobile to advertising on TV, where there’s a limited amount of real estate:

You’ve got this audience, but what really matters is how and where you reach them. It has to be in a placement that is visually engaging from an interactive standpoint. … It’s more about getting the right piece of creative in front of somebody. The interesting thing about mobile as it pertains to Facebook is that mobile consumption is much more like TV consumption. You don’t have all the real estate to put lots of stuff.

That illustrates the primary shift that Facebook has made, and why many people may still be confused about Facebook marketing. Instead of reaching everyone with ad messaging, Facebook wants to help companies reach the right people. Boland continually emphasized the people part of that people-based marketing phrase.

How is Facebook doing this? Through a hash system.

Everyday users and consumers are freely giving up data, both on Facebook (age, gender, current town) and through point of sale interactions (email, rewards card, phone number). Through Facebook’s ad technology, the data given out by consumers is anonymized and hashed (with each hash being different, to prevent large-scale hacking) and then matched with company data to create a better picture of who a consumer is without giving away their real identity. Facebook utilizes a similar approach for keeping users’ passwords safe.

Boland admitted that there was a severe disconnect in the early days of Facebook marketing, where advertisers weren’t sure if they were getting the proper results from Facebook ads. Facebook took that as a challenge, Boland said, and developed ways to properly measure return on investment.

But Facebook had to go further to attract serious clients.

It had to change its ad terminology and flow to position itself as a platform with as much muscle as television. By introducing reach and frequency-focused ad technologies, Facebook was able to show how their video product (powered by LiveRail) can be just as powerful as TV.

That’s where Atlas comes in. Advertisers used to buying television ads (or display ads) feel comfortable with what they know and were hesitant to make the jump to a younger platform like Facebook. Though Atlas, larger advertisers can fully harness the power of Facebook data and track how well advertising is doing, in terms of digital, mobile and offline sales. Atlas also helps companies figure out cross-device behavior, something that has been hard to grasp before. For instance, the same person could see an ad on their tablet, learn more about the product offered on mobile, then convert on desktop. As far as current reporting techniques are concerned, those are three different people. Atlas makes it easier to figure out the cross-device journey down the funnel.

Erik Johnson, the head of Atlas at Facebook, noted that while Atlas does utilize Facebook data, it’s a one-way street. Atlas data isn’t shared back to Facebook, to ensure proper privacy.

What’s next for Facebook? Trying to continue to pitch advertisers that Facebook can be a supplement or even alternative to television or display advertising, delivering richer content.

Boland talked about how the ultimate goal for Facebook’s ad team is to help companies deliver the best content to the right consumer:

I feel responsible for the time that people spend (on Facebook). … People spend more and more time in these environments. That time, they’re going to have a portion of that time taken up by marketing messages. I feel we should make that time really worth their while.

Readers: Have you noticed Facebook’s advertising growing more relevant?