Advertising Firms + Big Data = Missed Opportunities

Back in the golden age of advertising, immortalized in “Mad Men”, creative shops had more data and customer research at their fingertips than did their clients. Those days are over.

Clients are now swimming in data about their customers but need help processing it. Creative agencies must become experts at leveraging client and third party data to quickly create more compelling, more effective campaigns.

However, a 2015 survey by the CMO Council found that “an overwhelming 83% of clients are looking for unique skill sets and specialized capabilities not found in most ad agencies or media buying firms.”

Specifically, CMOs gave negative ratings in three key areas of agencies’ abilities: managing the data explosion (only 30% said “well” or “very well”), overcoming financial restraint and demonstrating ROI (less than 40%), and analyzing data to create personalized experiences (just 29%).



To remain competitive, agencies need to structure their organizations around big data and big ideas and reexamine talent, leadership, culture, and infrastructure.

Here are some steps to show you how.

Design your organization around big ideas and big data. 

In the traditional agency structure, executives form an idea, circulate it through departments, and create deliverables, but the most successful companies convey a single clear, understandable story with every action. Create an integrated structure that includes members from all departments (including a data scientist) to help form a strategy that centers around your client’s needs. 

Creative firms should adjust staffing to reflect how dollars are now being spent and be open to focusing less on TV and paid media and more on earned and owned media. Instead of striving for expertise in all aspects of big data, engage with new partners and enhance collaboration. 

Advertising agencies need to move quickly. When an opportunity arises, they need a creative pitch with data to back it up in order to convince a client to take the leap. During the 2013 Super Bowl, digital advertising firm 360i scored big after a blackout halted the game. The firm took just 11 minutes to come up with a social media ad for Oreos that said “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” Working from a “command center” with other agencies representing the brand, the firm took advantage of a prior campaign promoting new ways to enjoy the cookies and vastly grew the product’s social media following. 

Build left and right brain capabilities in your teams; genius lies at the intersection of creativity and science. 

Many companies’ structures or skillsets do not match today’s needs. Marketers need agencies that can harness data and analytics to make big, creative ideas even better. 

Integrating quants and creatives is good, but the most successful organizations train people to have facility in both. Advanced analytics are simply a set of problem-solving tools and approaches that can be easily taught. 

Some staff may see embracing big data as an alien concept intruding on a comfortable employment model, but smart leadership must help employees understand that big data makes their work more effective and valuable. 

Use big data to give substance to Creative’s gut instincts.

Creative agencies can use big data and social listening to find the input for creative and drive strategic decisions. Before pursuing the option to buy “House of Cards,” Netflix looked at user metrics to assess the following: 

“Do users enjoy political thrillers?” (Yes). “Of political thriller enthusiasts, how many also watch David Fincher films?” (Many). “And is this crowd fond of Kevin Spacey?” (Absolutely). The healthy crossover in this Venn diagram gave Reed Hastings the confidence to outbid HBO and AMC for the now-acclaimed series.

 With a very granular sense of which customers watch what products, and the time they spend “binge watching” each series, Netflix can accurately calculate the value of a content acquisition and judge what they are willing to pay for it. 

Use testing and social listening to drive creative and iterate ideas in real time. 

Using digital and social media listening tools effectively can help organizations accelerate the feedback loop process. Online communities help advertisers generate bigger focus groups faster, which can reduce costs and improve content creation. 

Social listening can reveal product issues customers may not express directly to companies. It also allows agencies to see what customers are doing so advertisers can engage them at the right time. 

As advertisers gather more data from disparate sources, they can prioritize the mediums and creative that helps them optimize customer experience. For example, Kmart produced their classic “Ship my Pants” video on a small scale and monitored customer sentiment. The video went viral, so Kmart aired the commercial on TV. 

Leverage big data to further segment with the right message, for the right customer, at the right place, and the right time. 

Data analysis allows advertisers see when their efforts will be most effective. For example, analytics allowed Charles Schwab to see that an email is more likely to be opened after the market rises by 300 points than after it drops. An AOL platform provides analytics that shows how changes in weather influence customer behavior, helping companies that offer delivery services or support outdoor events to make informed decisions. 

With more data available, creative agencies can stay with the customer throughout the entire purchase journey. Advertisers can create ads to optimize the lifecycle experience through personalized creatives based on indecision of purchase, social media communications, and more. 

Agencies should also leverage new data sources.  State Farm Insurance plans to sell driver data to advertisers, who will then use it to better target ads to third-party policyholders. The patents filed involve collecting data on where drivers travel and how they drive, which would be used to localize ads and determine what viewers would be most responsive to. 

The Mad Men era was instrumental in showcasing the immense impact of understanding customer behavior. It’s now time for creative agencies to leverage data to create a more comprehensive customer profile to craft more tailored and effective campaigns.

1 comment about "Advertising Firms + Big Data = Missed Opportunities ".
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  1. JR Little from Carat Global, April 20, 2016 at 9:40 a.m.

    Thanks for your article. Could not agree with this more. Please have a look at this book I wrote on this very topic.

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