Google and Facebook have come to dominate the advertising landscape, and as such brands have little choice but to use those platforms’ proprietary audience data to target users with advertising. At the Cannes Lions festival in June, The Wall Street Journal reported AOL’s CEO Tim Armstrong saying: “I think what you’re seeing is the emergence of walled gardens as a strategy from those top players. The larger companies have been getting more difficult with data overall.”
He expressed fears of a duopoly emerging, and it is clear that the biggest battle for advertisers is to get hold of quality data from as many relevant sources as possible and then use it to make their media buying efficient and effective.
Armstrong suggested that AOL will be more open to sharing data “in a protected way” with advertisers. This will be important, the WSJ suggests, because of its parent company Verizon’s ability to collect mobile data – something that is becoming increasingly important in a mobile-first world.
Facebook’s growing dominance
For UK and European advertisers, the access to this data may prove to be a moot point in the near future as the European Commission warns that Google and Facebook can expect to come under greater scrutiny from competition regulators. Bloomberg reported in April 2016 that there was a “need for legal certainty about access to and ownership of data in order to stimulate investment and allow a more balanced contractual relationship.”
Certainly Facebook has been increasingly dominant in the ad space since it overtook Google in 2013 in display ad revenues in the US, according to eMarketer.
Custom audiences and the Facebook Audience Network (FAN) have added to the power of its network with data-led and native advertising, particularly in mobile apps, although it has also now been extended to video ads and desktop websites off Facebook. Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer has confirmed the company is selling ads on its Tumblr site through FAN. It is also involved in third-party platforms such as Twitter’s MoPub, extending Facebook’s reach – and data influence – beyond its own platform’s borders and into private marketplaces (PMPs) on video sites such as Hulu.
There can be no doubt that gathering customer data from these platforms as well as advertising on them is critical to brands’ ability to accurately and appropriately target customers – current and future. Global CMO of fast food delivery service Just Eat, Barnaby Dawe, understands the value of integrating social data.
“The closer you can get to your customers to understand their behaviour, the more effective your marketing messages will be. We have been integrating our data with social platforms for a while now with excellent results. We can identify cohorts of customers and tailor messages accordingly. In some of our markets we can use ad networks to track customers across their devices which helps identify usage patterns and behaviours”.
However Dawe is cautious about revealing more of Just Eat’s thoughts on the subject, acknowledging just how highly competitive the use of this integrated social data can be.
Creating custom audiences
Mark Rhodes, marketing director of recruitment site Reed.co.uk, has identified some very specific purposes where social data can excel beyond the email and cookie. “We’ve been using lookalike data for Facebook and Instagram specifically for app downloads. We want to understand what kind of jobseekers are acquiring the app via social, what jobs they go on to apply for and we can use that data to better inform how we target them down the line with the best jobs.”.
It seems that an important first port of call before social data is matched up with the rest of a brand’s CRM and online behaviour information is not to forget about the social listening aspect. Aviva’s new brand communications and marketing director Pete Markey recalls how it was used in his previous role at the Post Office: “We did a game of ‘Pass the Parcel’ [a Vine campaign showing new parcel sizes being passed from one side of the screen to the other] – if you can find a way to engage and join in the conversation, provided it’s done in a credible way, it gives you really rich data and helps you understand with that UK is saying about the category we are in.”
Nic Travis, vice-president and head of digital marketing at credit card company MBNA, is using social data to help precision target the UK’s premium borrowing segments to expand the company’s 11% market share of 2.5m cardholders. He adds: “We want to be moving away from [anonymised cookie data]. We want marketing to be personal so it’s about targeting them with the right creative. We know the biggest driver of acquiring a credit card is going on holiday or parenthood for example. Social data shows that.”
Using social data to merge the sentiment with superior identification is also important in the recruitment game. Reed.co.uk put versions of its ‘Love Mondays’ campaign on YouTube, which not only were tailored to the tone of the channel (‘Stop looking at cats’) but also only continued to target audiences that had already indicated some engagement with the ad, building remarketing lists through iCrossing so that users who had been exposed to the pre-roll ads were prioritised.
Reaching consumers on the right platforms
“Often it’s not about direct response,” Rhodes says, “it’s about positioning, personality and showing empathy for job seekers. Our big ambition now is to use the data to play within walled gardens and target with the right jobs at the right time.” Rhodes does note that there is one small issue in that all social networks are not equal when it comes to job search and that “jobseeking is very personal and not something people will share across platforms. And the email address that people use for social media isn’t going to be the one they use for jobseeking. There are lots of challenges.”
Despite some frustrations with social media’s tendency to operate in walled gardens, such as how it undermines frequency capping of the ads shown to individual users across web platforms, the marketers interviewed agree that they are happy to work within social networks’ boundaries for the time being. Travis says: “It’s about using social data most effectively and that is using it in the walled gardens.”
Rhodes is taking a broader view: “We wouldn’t want to put all our eggs in one basket. If you look at the emergence of a platform like Snapchat, we wouldn’t have been talking about it three or four years ago. We want to be as agnostic as possible. Understanding the most effective way to reach candidates and find candidates that our clients are looking for – that’s what needs to drive all our activity.”
Viewpoint: Pete Markey, brand communications and marketing director, Aviva
What’s fascinating is that this topic is still quite new and we’re hearing groundbreaking things on a weekly basis. Anything that helps you more directly target your prospects with meaningful messages has got to be a good thing. It even harks back to the days of direct mail when those campaigns, too, were highly targeted.
We’re doing some merging of social data already at Aviva. We have used Facebook Custom Audiences and Twitter to find lookalikes. The lookalike aspect is a very interesting tool and I’m a fan. It’s a great way to connect and get the right message to the right people at the right time.
All of this though, is a battle for the customer’s time. Many are time-poor but there are more and more outlets demanding attention. For all brands, then, it has to be about raising the bar on content. Facebook has been really good at building assets around the customer experience – it’s an interesting, sociable environment.
Because of the quality of that environment, we haven’t felt the need to step outside its walled garden. You need to be smart and on the money about how you use that data and honour the permission customers have given you. It’s not the time to start dangerously pushing boundaries.
Our focus as a business has been about having really good people to interpret that data. You can have all the best databases in the world but it does nothing without good people – trying to find the analytical brainpower to understand what you should and shouldn’t be doing. That’s evolving as new data feeds come in.
I’m confident that we have enough to do what we want to do. An all-singing, all-dancing system isn’t the answer for us. But the right answer today won’t be the right answer in a year. This is why great brain power is vital. It’s a watching brief. Let’s see how the situation evolves and let’s make sure we keep listening and being where the customer wants us to be.
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