Genealogy services company Ancestry.com caters to more than 2.7 million worldwide subscribers keen on discovering their family histories.
Founded in 1983, the $586-million company has been digitizing and indexing historical records since 1996 and has a bevy of user-generated content created by its registered user base, including 60 million family trees and more than 6 billion profiles.
While Ancestry.com has partnered with a television media buying and planning agency for larger brand buys, in 2012 the company strategically moved more of its media and marketing efforts in-house. It’s a trend echoed by big brands Procter & Gamble and Mondelez, which have chosen to execute more buys within their own four walls.
“As you can imagine, we’re largely a direct-response organization and invest in media with the goal of driving new subscribers and better retaining our existing subscribers,” said Mark Fiske, senior director of global digital marketing for Ancestry.com, who joined the company in 2012 from his former role as director of digital marketing for Gap Direct.
“While [we worked with a] great agency, we wanted to move forward as an organization where marketing would become less spray and pray and much more targeted on a one-to-one level.”
Ancestry.com looked to meet that objective across digital channels, including paid and natural search, display media, paid social and email. Thus, going best of breed from a tech perspective has enabled the marketing organization to act more nimbly.
Ancestry.com invested on data infrastructure to make its customer data as consistent and accessible as possible. For instance, using Tealium’s audience discovery and digital distribution platform AudienceStream, Ancestry.com was able to unify data across its DSP, search and email tools. The company also needed to understand publisher overlap, the incremental value display partners drive and gain access and insight into its own data.
From a channel perspective, the company wanted to get more proactive with their performance marketing. In the past, Ancestry.com undervalued display.
“Before, we used to approach display as an acquisition vehicle, but with a deep integration of [first-party ad server] Trueffect to our DSP, we were able to start looking at display as more of a retention vehicle to serve timely reengagement messaging to someone in their Facebook newsfeed, for instance, and then measure it,” Fiske said.
Using Trueffect, Ancestry.com’s targeting focused less on cookies and more on first-party consumer data – points “that make all the difference when you’re talking about a few percentage points in lift.”
The company coupled its first-party database with audience-level data to become more proactive in its prospecting and retargeting mix. A high frequency in prospecting buys wasn’t correlated to increases in conversion. As a result of optimizing its media mix (and increasing its lookback window from four to nine days), Ancestry.com was able to reduce eCPAs by 26%.
“We were able to revisit a lot of assumptions and in other cases, change the way we thought about and approached our media buying and the lift associated with certain publishers going forward” as a result of trafficking display and bringing marketing models in-house.
“I think we have our own way of looking at attribution across multiple media vehicles," Fiske said. "With display, it’s refreshing to use a smaller independent company that has their own performance-oriented way of looking at things.”