What it takes to find meaning in your marketing data

Exponential's global sales strategy director says demographic marketing is dead, and identifies why marketers are still struggling with better utilising big data

Tyler Greer
Tyler Greer


Demographic marketing is dead, and it’s only by combining people smarts and imagination with multiple, contextual data sets that brands will truly win over the ever-changing consumer.

That’s the view of Exponential global sales strategy director, Tyler Greer, who opened the adtech vendor’s annual Brand Summit with a presentation on how marketers effectively tap the data insights available to them through digital to improve communications and engagement.

“It’s never been harder to pigeonhole people into the demographic boxes we’ve been using to segment people,” Greer told attendees.

This unpredictability has been exacerbated by modern connectivity and accessibility to information, hyper-consumer spending thanks to bigger discretionary spend, and longer and healthier lifestyles, he said.

“We have killed demographic marketing - we live more interesting lives, have more choice, and the extent to which media channels influence our lives at different points is changing who we are,” he said. “We used demographic data perhaps as we had no other way of understanding people. But now we can.

“People through insight should be able to help us understand data and extract meaning, and that data, in turn, should help us understand people.”

To illustrate how marketers continue to operate with demographic category bias, Greer noted just 31 per cent of mobile sessions for video games are by men aged 18-34, and 40 per cent of all baby product purchased today are from households that don’t have children. In addition, more than two-thirds of skin and body care influencers in the past six months were men.

The problem is most brands don’t know how to tap new sets of data effectively. A Millward Brown study of marketers in 2016 found only 41 per cent have confidence in their ability to use big data in an integrated way. That’s just 2 per cent more than 2014.

In addition, an Experian survey found 76 per cent of marketers believe inaccurate data is undermining their ability to provide excellent customer service, and 94 per cent reported experiencing internal challenges involving data quality.

“What this says is we’re not getting much better at making data useful,” Greer said.  

One problem is brands are collecting data as an end game, instead of doing anything meaningful with it or using those insights to optimise advertising in a real-time way, he said. Transparency around where data comes from is another issue.

But for Greer, the challenge isn’t purely a technical one, it’s about people too.

“People tell us they have the best data analysts in the business – they sit over there with the best laptops, offices, coffee machine and they’re geniuses, but we never speak to them,” he said. “The bridge between marketing and data analysts is flimsy, or non-existent.

“There’s no doubt people are investing in data collection, but in order to bring that to life, you have to be able to draw insights that are usable for a brand to either inform who their audience is, build campaigns creativity around it, or take it to market through media companies. It’s a structural problem.”

Too often, brands aren’t investing in training their people to better use data for action, Greer continued. “If we want to understand the consumer journey, we have to do this,” he said. “We spend so much talking about the tech, we’re failing to invest in the people who can do something meaningful in it.”

Finding the meaning in data

Finding the ‘why’ and behavioural reasons behind a customer’s actions requires a combination of data sets as well as imagination, Greer said.

“It’s the clusters of behaviour that tell you a story of the things driving people to convert,” he said. “If the data you’re getting is telling your audience is a grocery buyer, throw it out. Everyone is a grocery buyer. We want to know why that person and that brand, or our competitor’s brand. It’s how data points connect together and in real time, that matters.”  

Greer said Exponential works with a national liquor retailer, which had held a brand assumption that all drinkers want cheap booze. A deep dive study, however over one calendar month and looking at what sites and visitors were viewing elsewhere, identified two distinct groups: Consumers who were all about food; and others who were about partying.

Those primarily interested in food were reading content about restaurants, kitchen appliances, Italian cuisine, Mediterranean travel and coffee machines, and interested in wine. The second group, meanwhile, were researching shopping, clothes, cheap airfares, make-up, phones and juicers and buying spirits and cocktails.  

“The things that motivate them to buy alcohol are quite different,” Greer commented. “Data allows brands to speak to them in different ways and plan campaigns differently too.”

It’s also important to remember not all site visitors are equal, yet many brands continue to perceive and treat them that way.

“We need to identify at which point that visit matters to people, then prioritise media accordingly,” Greer said.  “That means correlating against other data to understand where they belong in your strategy.”  

To help brands better grasp the quality of their data sets, Greer also suggested asking a number of key questions. The first is: Where does the data come from?

“Ask your DSP and data provider. If they don’t know be that, beware,” Greer advised. It’s also important to know how old data is.

“Like people, data gets old quickly. Campaigns and categories have different time decay points as well – shoes for two weeks, car for six months,” he said. “Also, how granular is it?”

Marketers also need to ask whether that data has a purpose in relation to business and customer outcomes.

“Data should be able to show improvements easily, either by helping us understand our audience better, or by making our campaigns more efficient. If it’s not happening, something is wrong,” Greer said.   

And don’t forget the importance of creativity. “This is a game of persuasion,” Greer said. “Creativity has been a victim of data in this game. That calls into question what point of advertising is.”

  • Nadia Cameron travelled to the Exponential Brand Summit as a guest of Exponential

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