The Challenges of Drawing on Digital Data for Customized Communication

Discussion at Adweek’s Executive Lab series centered on personalization

Matthew Scott Granger

Digital platforms open up new opportunities to reach people wherever they are on multiple devices and to pick up reams of data to feed into marketing campaigns. But with thousands of forgettable, repetitive ads coming at people every day, the challenge is not merely to blend into the background noise, but to offer relevant and personalized communication.

The second Adweek Executive Lab, which took place on Tuesday in New York and was sponsored by Tapad, included several discussions about using data to achieve personalization.

Christian Thrane, Telenor Sweden’s CMO, said “thinking digital first” means not just experimenting with digital alongside the main business, but “designing and developing products with digital in mind.” It also means a shift from trying to reach people only through linear TV and print ads and finding ways “to talk to customers where they spend their time—online.”

Taking this approach enables the company to target ads much more effectively, shifting from one-to-many and even persona marketing to one-to-one personalization.

Tapad CEO Sigvart Voss Eriksen pointed out that while telecom companies have a huge amount of data on their own customers, it’s still the equivalent of a view “through a keyhole.” To make the data truly actionable, he said, Tapad’s graph view brings in other data linked to devices, households and individuals. A more comprehensive picture is formed by “stitching together ecosystem data with first party data to, in effect, “open the door” to a view of “the whole room.”

But using data intelligently is a different, yet related, conversation. James Cooper, Adweek’s editorial director, asked Helene Cameron-Heslop, director of marketing analytics at Hotwire, what the company would most want purged.

“Bad data,” she said. Cameron-Heslop added that incomplete data is misleading, which is why it’s necessary to bring in third-party data to get a more accurate picture of your customers. She said data is also flawed by biases built into platforms like Google and Facebook.

Katheleen Comer, vp of client service at The Trade Desk, agreed that relying on those walled garden platforms does not give a comprehensive and objective picture.

“I don’t spend my entire day on Facebook,” she said. “I go through a lot of media properties,” as do most people. Accordingly, you have to identify which platforms your customers use and not just allocate all of your media budget to Google or Facebook, she said.

“Democratization of data is really creating a competitive advantage for brands,” said Preethy Vaidyanathan, chief product officer at Tapad. It’s not just about gaining a “holistic view of the customer.” The real value comes through “the application of the data.” The approach she recommends for Tapad’s partners is to “start with a definition of success,” but then be prepared to shift directions. “Machine learning and AI is going to challenge you to think differently.”

Mastering personalizations using meaningful connections is “all about knowing your audience and meeting them with the right message,” according to Varun Gudiseva, vp of commercialization at Tapad.

He said that while the digital ecosystem gives us a lot more opportunities for online interaction, the challenge is to “humanize” your audience, which means remembering to approach them “as people rather than devices.” Brands are better served capturing individual identity beyond and across the various devices they use, he said.

To achieve human connection with your customers, said Robert Spratlen, svp digital media and audience science at Viacom, “you need to go beyond the screen.” That’s why each of its flagship brands has live extensions. While these live events typically don’t generate revenue directly in the first or even second year, they offer valuable data insight into the audience that enables optimization, Spratlen said.

Personalized messages should be built on an understanding of “what people love, what moves them, what motivates them,” said Stacy Minero, head of brand strategy at Twitter’s Fuel. Putting that together, which can be a function of supplementing automated data with human creativity, results in “better content, better creatives and better connections,” she said.