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Exclusive : Never mind the data……………it’s all about the people

by on November 23, 2017 in Digital Marketing, Events, Events & Awards, Latest News, Lead Article, News you can use, Nuggets, Research

Exclusive : Never mind the data……………it’s all about the people

EXCLUSIVE: Susan Perolls, Director at Loudmouth PR, reports back for TheMarketingblog on the first Audience Analytics & Insights Forum

The world of data and research is, in many ways, unrecognisable from how it looked 20-30 years ago. The sheer volume of data is, in itself, one of the biggest changes we’ve seen. While advertisers talk about data lakes, it might be more appropriate to talk about data oceans!

The fact that 100 terabytes of data is uploaded to Facebook every day provides an idea of the scale we are talking about – and this can be daunting. Then there’s the revolution in advertising technology, the rise of mobile and other devices, the plethora of new channels and changing consumer behaviour, all adding to the seismic shifts we’re seeing in types of data available and how we can use it. Not to mention the implications of GDPR……..

The inaugural Audience Analytics & Insights Forum (AAI 2017) set out to help data practitioners understand the opportunities and challenges that these changes represent for them, ultimately showing them how to turn a haystack into knowledge. 

The impressive line-up of speakers from across the world of research and data provided fantastic advice, technique tips and insight that left the audience buzzing with excitement as they pledged to view and do things different the next day.

However, for me the key take was that it’s not just the data that’s important – it’s the people. Both the people behind the data, and the people who are using the data.

People First

When we discuss research or data, the fact we are talking about ‘real people’ can often be forgotten. As a result, we can lose the respect we should have for individuals and the data they have allowed us to use. Also, by thinking about data points and research stats rather than people it’s possible to miss the interesting and defining human stories behind the information that can light up a campaign.

Marie Stafford, European Director, The Innovation Group at J Walter Thompson London, explained. “We tend to think about data as an abstract, but for individuals it’s the sensitive details of their lives. Having and using their data should be a privilege.”

Simon Andrews, Mobile & Digital Expert, Consulting, AdTech & StartUp Mentor at Addictive had a similar view, saying, “We all talk about consumers, using demographic labels that have remained the same since 1965, but people are not consumers. We are not all sitting watching TV and waiting to buy.”

GDPR Respects People

So, not surprisingly, GDPR was one of the biggest topics of the day as it will fundamentally change the way that companies who process personal data work.  However, interestingly, it was mainly seen as a positive thing, with speakers suggesting that it’s about time that people, and appropriate regard for their data, are put at the forefront of data strategies.  By cleaning up privacy laws and enforcing their implementation, brands have the opportunity to create more open, mutually beneficial relationships that will ultimately benefit the industry as a whole.

Stafford had many interesting facts and stats about use of consumer data, gleaned from work done at JWT. She explained, “The trails we leave now are nothing compared to what will be left in the future. In the past marketers could help themselves to data without compunction. GDPR is going to change all that.

Marie Stafford, European Director, The Innovation Group at J Walter Thompson London

She also mentioned how we are all continually leaking information today. Smartphones are embedded with 20 sensors, and apps can use these without our permission. Smart vacuum cleaners create digital maps of our homes. Amazon’s Alexa keeps a list of what questions you’ve asked. A Canadian sex toy firm also collected intimate data without consent!  Unsurprisingly, therefore, Stafford’s research showed that 9 out of 10 people want more control over who can access their data and what they do with it.

However, Professor Peter Grindrod CBE of Oxford University, noted, “GDPR shouldn’t be seen by marketers as restrictive. It’s about building trust by being accountable and transparent. You can’t explain algorithms to customers but you can explain the benefits – that they’ll get more of what they want when they want it.”

People Are Not Islands

Grindrod also had another interesting point to make about people, discussing the importance of brands not only understanding the individual, but also the other people that the individual has relationships with. He observed, “No man is an island. It’s important to know about the other people around them so look at social structures – which vary country by country.”

He cited a ground-breaking company, Cignifi, which is benefiting from this approach.  It enables people who would normally be denied credit (e.g. as they live in a shanty town they don’t have a recognisable address) to get a credit rating based on who they are associated with. Cignifi uses non-traditional data based on two weeks of mobile phone activity to put people in one of 200 segments, and people can move across segments as their mobile behaviour changes. This not only helps the individuals but can also be really useful for retail brands as it broadens their marketplace while reducing default rates at the same time.  Interesting stuff!

People, Not Devices

One of the factors that has led to the dehumanising of data is the growing number of devices that we use and which are tracked via IDs – not just smartphones and tablets but also Roku TV devices, gaming consoles etc. According to Igor Skokan, Marketing Science at Facebook, 64% of people use three or more devices, with 41% of individuals starting an activity on one device and finishing it on another.

He stressed the importance of stitching it all together by connecting people, devices and channels.  Only then can marketers really understand individuals and also achieve true, people based attribution.

He also added, “People are the common denominator across all channels. We need to move towards the integration of measurement to get a view on the real world, and to do this it’s all about the people. It can’t be done yet but the industry needs to move towards this.”

People + AI/Machine Learning = Winning Team

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the most exciting and potentially game-changing new technologies in the industry.  It’s going to play a huge role in making sense of what’s going on. For instance, Ian Liddicoat, Global Head of Data Technology and Analytics at Zenith Optimedia, described how he uses machine learning to understand what prompts an individual to buy. Results are then pushed back into the ad server in a highly automated way to show the changes needed in media selection and this can create uplifts of 20-30%.

He has also used AI to carry out feature extraction from content – for instance identifying what colours and other elements make up a static photo image, storing the data alongside the image. They then analyse an individual’s digital journey and the content they have seen and join it all up. This can then inform creatives how to construct content and serve it to an individual in the best way to convert them.

Simon Edward, Vice President, Market Development & Insights, Global Markets at IBM

This kind of AI-led automation was seen as massively exciting, but there were also a number of recommendations for retaining human interaction alongside AI.  In particular, insights from ‘black box AI’ with no human intervention were viewed as difficult to trust.

Simon Edward, Vice President, Market Development & Insights, Global Markets at IBM explained the need to invest real time in shaping how and what AI should be used for. Left to its own devices it can learn things that you don’t want it to learn. As he said, “You have to teach AI. It’s not about replacing people, but providing assistance to experts to get them what they want in a better, faster way.”

Data People and Research People Need to Speak the Same Language

The fact that people in data and research teams still often work in separate silos was a recurring theme as it’s seen to be a factor that restricts the potential that advertisers could get from a truly joined up view of their customer.  As Mark Greenstreet, Chief Research Officer at Dentsu Aegis Network, said, “Data analysts are from Mars and researchers are from Venus.  They don’t speak the same language.”

Interestingly, Amanda Wiggington, Group Customer Strategy Director at Time Inc, has been taking the firm through a huge transition to solve this issue, fusing together the data, analytics and insight teams to get the best from all of them. Time Inc now has a company-wide shared language based on customer data and this has put the customer at the heart of decision making and driving revenues.

It was a complex but successful process and she disclosed, “To make this work we needed buy-in from our CEO and had to drive real cultural change. We all had to understand and respect the different styles and personalities of the people in each team and connect with shared goals. Ultimately integration never stops so it’s important to keep sharing successes and proving the value that the combined team brings.”

People are Curious – and Need to Remain So

Finally, it became clear was that analysts and researchers are a ‘curious’ lot at heart, but sometimes in the midst of deadlines and software contracts, this curiosity can get a little lost. One of the simplest pieces of advice that was advocated by a number of speakers was to constantly question everything – what you do, how you do it, and what else you could be looking at instead!  Never stay still.

As Nick Jones (pictured), Head of Digital at HS2, concluded, “You should always look beyond the horizon. The ongoing, big picture stuff is important but think laterally about what other data you could provide that could create a disturbance in the discourse. Don’t have choice paralysis – experiment!”

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