Data-driven attribution delivers dividends for TransUnion CMO

Credit reporting firm explains how he's using data analytics to better understand and make decisions around digital advertising and attribution, and why internal politics are proving the big hurdle for other marketers

Ken Chaplin
Ken Chaplin

Data-driven attribution has not only helped TransUnion better target customers across channels, it’s also given the US-based credit reporting firm’s CMO a new-found respect for display ads.

Speaking to CMO ahead of the first ADMA Techmix event in Sydney, TransUnion’s marketing leader, Ken Chaplin, said one of the historical challenges marketers faced was understanding the effectiveness of the “what” in marketing campaigns and programs.

Chaplin will be speaking on the subject of gaining “unprecedented visibility” into the customer journey using data-driven attribution at the upcoming event on 15 May. He comes with more than 20 years’ experience in marketing, spending the majority of his career with The Walt Disney Company in roles across packaged goods, marketing and brand strategy both in the US and internationally. He also ran several of Disney’s businesses overseas, spending nearly 10 years in Tokyo, Melbourne and then Shanghai in the consumer products areas.

“When you ask a marketer what works, the ‘what’ component can be a variety of different things – website, creative, ad placement, right frequency,” Chaplin said. “Historically, we’ve always tried doing lots of these things, then doing one thing more than another. And if that didn’t work, you’d swap that component out because that’s what was considered the problem.

“Today, we can be much more sophisticated in attributing different activities to a conversion. That conversion could be defined as a number of different objectives such as a sale, a new member, and so on. The key thing is that each ‘what’ is something we now have the ability to measure and study. That data can then be used to drive decisions on where to spend our next dollar.”

To illustrate how TransUnion is using data to improve attribution, Chaplin said his team initially employed data insights to identify different levels of exposure to advertising across an addressable audience.

“Part two was providing the right levels of attribution to any given campaign element – whether that’s email, search copy, or a display ad on TV,” he explained. “We’re looking at the role of each in that conversion journey and whether that stimulus is an introducer, promoter or converter, then assigning the appropriate level [of attribution] to that.

“Part three, and most recently, we’ve looked to understand the right level of investment by channel and what will provide the highest return. It could be something as basic as frequency capping – based on the modelling, I can look at the effective number of times to expose an individual to a display ad, for example.”

According to Chaplin, results are already showing he can reduce a given exposure to a specific audience from 10 to 9 and retain 95 per cent of the conversions, while reducing spend by 12 per cent.

Another exciting area is TV attribution, which Chaplin admitted had been a black hole for marketers.

“Sophistication levels are high enough that I can, within a level of confidence, measure by network, market and by time when a TV ad runs, then juxtapose that against search traffic and billions of other digital activities within a window of time around that TV exposure to get to a point where I’m providing data around attributable clicks based on a TV exposure,” he said. “It’s super exciting, because I can now optimise TV creative against digital exposures and importantly, search exposure.”

One surprise for Chaplin has been display advertising’s role in the customer journey. He noted the historical – and outdated - way of viewing a display ad’s effectiveness has been by clickthroughs.

“Looking at it now, there is a greater value in exposure to a display ad then what was originally being given,” he claimed. “Going back to the addressable audience and the importance of that, it has become clear that while display ads might not be the last click, they do influence search. They add to the effectiveness of someone clicking on your search ad over another, because they have had that ad exposure.

“The evolution of display from being direct and last-click accountable, to becoming more of a promoter in the journey than I had first thought, has had me relook at what my display budgets are.

“I was quick to cancel display and put it on paid search and believed we were going to win, but that was perhaps a little hasty. I’m now relooking at display ad budgets both in terms of my own as well as partner display.”

Getting to data nirvana

While the technology capability may take some investment and training to master, Chaplin argued the biggest challenge CMOs face getting to data-driven decision making are internally driven.

“Not a lot of organisations are at that level of data maturity and have that connectivity across different data points to think about this at an enterprise level, and to drive data-driven attribution. All of this relies on connecting all the information we are gathering,” he said.

“Most marketers believe they have enough information, if not too much, but don’t have the sophistication to connect that data. That’s something that has to be looked at as an enterprise level. And for that to happen, it’s absolutely critical IT is a partner.”

At TransUnion, product and analytics teams sit in the CMO function. “Being a data company at our core, I’m a heavy user of IT and that’s a very important relationship for me,” Chaplin continued. Chaplin said his team at TransUnion is another reflection of the market dynamic shift towards data-driven marketing, and is full of “smart people who can adopt and change”.

“Yes, they need certain skillsets at any point in time, but a passion for learning, understanding what’s out there and always updating and improving our systems is vital,” Chaplin said. “I’ve also looked for people that are data focused at their core, then outsourced a little more of the creative and sought good creative syndication. Keeping it fresh and using amazing agencies can contribute to that.

“It’s more about having an analytical minded individual who can ask the right questions of the data and organise it in a way that will provide meaningful output.”

With so much talk of attribution modelling, tech and data connectivity, Chaplin agreed a vast majority of work he oversees today as a CMO didn’t exist three years ago.

“Data-driven marketing is the future. If you fail to embrace it, and continue to work from a gut instinct with a pure focus on creativity, you won’t get you all the way to the finish line,” he claimed.

“Creative is certainly important and I don’t want to minimise its contribution, but unless you evolve and reinvent yourself on an annual basis, you will get passed by. There are too many amazing things coming through the pipe, and everyone from startups to big companies trying to catch up.”

Ingredients for achieving data-driven attribution:

  • Find a good third-party service partner to help guide you through the process.

  • Build a high level of data maturity. A core ingredient is having data organised in a way that can support your data-driven attribution and marketing objectives, Chaplin said. “The appetite to go down this road needs to be there,” he said. “And it does need to be supported by c-level individuals - in particular the COO and CFO - to ensure it’s recognised as supporting better marketing decisions.”

  • Get the organisation aligned around the customer journey. Having a more addressable and identifiable audience will help your company take more considered acquisition approach, Chaplin said. “Instead of just getting whoever to come into that funnel, you’re being much more targeted, meeting people at their needs state, and from that you’re keeping them engaged much longer,” he said. “You’ll get repeat purchases because those folks stay engaged in your franchise.”

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