It's Not All About Data

"Displaying Search" is a column capturing the intersection of display advertising and search marketing.

Displaying SearchToday's column is written by Dax Hamman, VP, Display Media, at iCrossing, a digital marketing agency.

A Fortune 100 retailer client recently told me that he has never witnessed so much change in display media than he has seen in the last year. And for those marketers who have been paying attention, this is a very true statement.

With the rise of the exchanges, the economic decline and a subsequent push to ROI, an increasing number of 3rd party data providers and a raft of new technologies such as social targeting, dynamic creative, dynamic landing pages, DSPs (Demand Side Platforms) and more, it is no surprise this is happening.

And the common thread that weaves these together is an increasing reliance on data.

Search marketers clearly understand data-driven marketing and know that it is a critical component in achieving an ROI goal for a brand. Search and analytics data has helped define media programs for some time, and new techniques even use the data of social connectivity to identify new audiences for clients. Data is essential to this evolution in media.

But, as marketers we must also be careful and not allow ourselves to get too carried away and forget what made us great marketers in the first place. As an industry we must remember that we are talking to real people, not just pixels, and real people will always respond better to something that is visually exciting, has sizzling copy or simply makes them say 'wow'.

Look at the ads you are served today and you will see a movement to low budget, quick and dirty creative units, produced in bulk and optimized on the fly based on pre-defined metrics. Affiliate marketers are particularly good at it, and regularly will we all be targeted with their wares, ranging from teeth whitening gels to low interest credit card offers, and there is nothing visually appealing about what you are exposed to.

We cannot blame the affiliates though. They have developed a successful science from an old art to meet their particular needs of generating an immediate click and usually an immediate sale. The fact that it works for them says consumers are clicking on these units and so some at least must find them appealing.

But, when we consider a larger brand or a longer sales cycle, this is often not the right way forward. We also know from the recently updated Comscore study, 'Whither The Click', that only 8% of internet users are clicking; the rest who take action are merely influenced by the creative they saw and take action through their own path and on their own time scale. A richer, more creative experience (that is on brand) is going to drive those interactions up, hence a need to continue to invest in the creative approach.

So the winners are those that can balance a data-driven campaign with data-driven creative, whether that be dynamic creative units or better informed copy or visuals.

Dynamic creative is not a new idea. Since the start of flash banners, marketers have been pulling in flight prices, stock quotes and weather feeds into the unit to put a timely message in front of prospects, but usually these changes were textual and were specific data points. Companies like Tumri and Terracent, and the SmartAds offering from Yahoo, will actually build the unit on the fly, changing not only data points, but also photography, background color and tag lines to give an almost unique experience to prospects.

And let's also look beyond the display ad unit, and consider the role data plays in the entire creative process. A dynamic landing page company gave me a great example recently. They talked about how at 2 pm on a Wednesday they order the content on the landing page for a credit card company in a certain way, making a point of expressing the features and benefits of the card. But at 2 am the needs are different and they will be taken directly to an application form as they have learned that the need to find credit is more urgent.

So the next time you are planning a performance display campaign, remember that not only will the data you are using help you be laser focused on those individuals most likely to respond, but that your clever placement is only part of the story. Take that same data, sit down and educate your creative team about it and ensure it is fed into their processes. Those that do will see significant increases in performance across their campaigns.

Data will not, and should not, be considered a replacement for a compelling message.

Follow Dax Hamman (@daxhamman), iCrossing (@iCrossing) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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