Fingerprints in marketing

Beth Donnelly Egan | Media Consultant

For years’ marketers have been chasing the answer to the famous Wannamaker question of which half of our advertising money is being wasted. We are likely closer to an answer to this question than ever before. Big data has brought the promise of greater precision to our marketing spend.

Technology now allows us to collect real time data on what consumers think, feel and do. We can know what devices you own, what browser you use, what websites you visit, where you are when you visit those sites, where you shop, both online and offline and in many cases, even what you are watching on television. However, the myth of big data is that because we have so much access to so much information we can now solve the Wannamaker dilemma and deliver our ads to only the people who will be interested in, and hopefully take action on, our message.

There are two challenges to the myth becoming reality. The first challenge reminds of a quote from a 1934 T.S. Eliot play, The Rock: “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” With all of this information (aka data) we have fooled ourselves into believing we have gained wisdom. We have not. There is so much data out there now that we aren’t even sure what to do with it. What we, as marketers, need to do is to stop collecting data and start asking questions. It is only from a well formed question that information can lead to wisdom. Figure out what you want to know about your customers and then go find the right information to learn it.

The second challenge is that in reality, we don’t have a full picture of who you are, we have pieces of who you are. While we can track your activity throughout your day across multiple devices, putting those pieces back together again is extremely difficult. Crystal King, VP of Global Channel Partnerships at Adbrain, an ad tech company that specializes in customer ID mapping, likens it to trying to identify someone based on discrete physical characteristics. We can know things like blood type, hair color, fingerprints and put them all together to get us to a closer picture of someone, but you will never have 100% certainty that they all belong to the same person. That is what is happening in big data today. We take discrete pieces of information and make assumptions about who they are, but we’re still just guessing. Don’t be fooled by the idea that big data will direct you to the right people at the right place at the right time.

Yes, big data is exponentially better than the self-reported sample data we have used in the past. But it is still just information. Wisdom comes from thinking, critical thinking. It is time for us to become as comfortable with numbers as we are with words. In the words of Sanjay Gupta, the CMO of Allstate Insurance, “If you got into marketing to avoid the numbers, the joke is on you.”

Beth Egan - Media Consultant

Beth Donnelly Egan  |  Media Consultant

Beth is Associate Professor of Advertising at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication. As a 25-year veteran of the advertising media industry she has worked for leading media agencies such as MEC Global, MediaVest and UM. She is the author of Media Planning Essentials, an online media planning textbook published by Stukent.