Advertisers, Do You Know Where Your Audiences Come From?

By Rene Hamill, VP, Client Engagement, Alliant

The looming end of the third-party cookie has pitched the marketing industry into crisis mode. Advertisers and agencies are well aware that the data they collect and the third-party audiences they rely on will change in the near future. But are enough marketers stopping to ask themselves what they know about the data partners and audiences they work with today?

Data transparency has long been a point of contention in advertising circles, but an increasingly complex marketplace has created new issues of audience fragmentation that buyers may not even be aware of. With brands exploring or committed to many data practices, and agencies often tasked with buying, brands may purchase data that is potentially redundant to other data investments and assets, therefore inflating spend, hurting performance and ROI.

Instead of worrying only about data that is leaving the ecosystem, let’s try to resolve the convoluted audience loop that may be costing brands today. Addressing these barriers will create improved data strategy and collaboration across brands, agencies and data providers, no matter what crazy announcement comes next.

The silo effect

The biggest culprit in the misunderstanding of data resources is also perhaps the oldest one: marketing teams within a company may be siloed off and not sharing information with each other.

With each team operating under their own directives, they may be employing different strategies or working with different partners. This can lead to a situation where one team has robust audience capabilities, either through better data infrastructure, tools or partnerships, while another team focused on another channel has no idea that these insights are even available.

Start adding in specialist agencies, and things get even worse. If a brand hires individual agencies for direct mail, digital and TV, there are three new branches to the marketing operation that are likely not collaborating at all. And if the internal direct mail team doesn’t know what the digital team is doing with regards to audience targeting, you can bet that their agencies have no idea either.

Then agencies start bringing in data vendors in order to improve performance. Sometimes they collaborate closely with the brand client, but sometimes there’s a strict firewall. So now we have audiences, which are incredibly important to every party in the chain, but very few in the chain are comparing notes or sharing their knowledge about the audiences in use. This leads to worse performance, inconsistent messaging and frequency, missed opportunities within the target audiences, and in all likelihood, a misspent budget.

Here’s what this might look like in detail: one branch of a marketing team may join a data co-op and start sharing insights and campaign performance back to the co-op. Those insights get normalized and anonymized by the entity managing the co-op, becoming ingredients in modeled audiences available to co-op partners across channels. In an ideal world, everyone that holds a stake in the marketing and advertising efforts of the brand would be aware of the co-op and make use of the audiences and insights available to them.

But what can happen in our siloed marketing world is that while the direct mail team builds the co-op relationship, the digital team’s specialist agency sees relevant audiences in market, and purchases them for an upcoming campaign. It is possible the digital agency has invested in audiences that are built with insights originally derived from the brand client themselves.

A bad problem getting worse

Before we can go about fixing this fragmentation, it helps to understand why it’s happening. Beyond the silos, marketers are overburdened right now, and smaller budgets and teams mean that individuals are tasked with more responsibility. In the marketing world, the responsibility often means outcome, and that creates pressure.

Another unfortunate reason stems from the lack of solid multi-touch attribution systems. If you’re a marketer in a siloed team that is funded and evaluated based on what your channel delivers, the tools driving your success may feel like something to hold close to the vest. Striving for the greater good requires sharing valuable audiences, but if they are part of what drives performance and makes you stand out, it’s understandable why some would be hesitant.

Breaking down the walls

So how do brands and the ad industry build a more collaborative and connected approach? It starts with sharing knowledge, which you can do, right now. Seriously: send a Slack message or an email to the marketing directors across your company and tell them the kinds of audience and data partners you’re working with. When they come back with questions, the ball is already rolling. Try it!

This is one step towards a larger internal audit. Everyone in the marketing department needs to know all of the strategic advantages they have access to, and that’s only possible when all of the different teams lay their cards on the table and regularly pool knowledge and resources. This will benefit everyone across the board.

The need for more data and insights is completely understandable in today’s marketing landscape, but there’s no reason to inflate spending on data you already have access to or are already using in another part of the business. In addition to strategizing adoption to change cookies and identifiers in 2021, marketers should also invest in better understanding and utilizing audience resources they may not realize they have access to. Instead of adopting a mantle of frustration at fragmentation and change, instead, work to create connectivity and transparency. Data can work wonders for marketing efforts especially as a collaborative foundation across channels and teams.