Commentary

Why Settle For CPMs When Data Drives Long-Term Relationships?

Our human behaviors and rituals motivate and define us. Understanding them forms the basis of a media agency's function in marketing. One of my most faithful rituals had me thinking about which road media professionals should travel in the effort to engage and connect with consumers. It's mapped by an unexpected source of inspiration: online dating sites.

Every Sunday morning, almost without fail, I attempt to read the Sunday New York Times virtually cover-to-cover. (Well, truth be told, rituals can evolve as there is not a traditional “cover” to be found on my iPad).  

The morning of Feb 12, two separate yet related pieces in the Sunday Review section indirectly spoke to how our industry might adapt to a transformative change in the way human rituals and behaviors will impact how we do business.

The first article that struck me was about "The Age of Big Data" and the opportunities that mining and applying data present across our world, including, but not limited to, marketing applications.  Yes, the future belongs to the quants, the author predicts, as those who can harness the data will rule the roost.

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Those trying to map media's future role in marketing share a mix of awe, excitement and fear about the tsunami of big data at our fingertips, but not fully within our grasp. Ironically, many of us started on the media side of advertising because we were “good with numbers," but we naively thought that was limited to converting CPM’s into CPP’s or memorizing the basic “media math” formulas. (Or posting cheat sheets by your desk -- you know who you are). 

We had no clue what “media math” would become in the age of analytics and algorithms.  Instead, we now long to unleash the power of terabytes of data from set top boxes and digital pathways -- "anonymized" to protect privacy, if not the grammar police -- to finally break free of the lowest common denominator of age and gender as the key currency in the marketplace.   

However, just as I was ready to reach for my son’s AP Calculus textbook and up my data game, my eyes came across another article in the same section: “The Dubious Science of Online Dating.” Perhaps the most visible application of the potential to connect humans through data, online dating companies like eHarmony and Chemistry are at the forefront of using analytics to reliably predict human compatibility.

In a data-driven world where brands seek long-term relationships, tapping these sites for inspiration as marketers is a romantic idea with lots of potential. If quants are the new matchmakers for couples, then a human experience company (like Starcom) sees the obvious place for data and analytics to support our role as matchmakers, setting up “dates” for hopefully meaningful long-term relationships between brands and consumers.

But wait. Put back that calc textbook; that article quotes a scientific study that casts doubt upon the ability of a mathematical formula to predict something as unpredictable and “illogical” as why two individuals fall in love.  One classic hole when it comes to applying data to decision-making is whether you collected the right, accurate and precise data needed for the conclusions sought. It’s the age-old “garbage in/garbage out” conundrum.

While that is an issue that might be improved over time, perhaps the larger hurdle is there are some very mysterious and purely human dynamics to human relationships that cannot be entirely understood or measured. They can only be fully discovered when two people meet and interact. So, if you believe the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, you have as good a chance of predicting a love match by reading your horoscope as through the algorithms of the major dating sites.

If we are the marketing versions of Dolly Levi (“Hello Dolly”… look it up if you are too young), how do we make the sparks fly?  Is it art or science?  Left or right brain?  Head or heart?  

I am pleased to report, yes to all. In fact, while improving media technologies enable us to measure human behaviors and rituals better than ever before, the same advances are turning media consumption into a more personal, interactive and innately human expression. 

Our consumers are not “targets” any more.  We are not hunting them.  Instead we are doing our best to understand, through the wonder of analytics and research, not only what we do, but why, and then turn that knowledge into insights and actions on behalf of the companies and brands we represent.   

Until the day that Siri can tell me why we fall in love (with each other, or with one product over another), I look forward to using all that Big Data, along with some very human intuition and creativity, to solve a most human quest for marketers Desperately Seeking Solutions.

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