Independent Agency of the Year: USIM

They say necessity is the mother of invention, but on Madison Avenue, it frequently fathers innovation. That’s especially true for agencies servicing clients in the extremely competitive retail category where the battles are often won or lost within miles, if not blocks of store locations.

And that’s the main reason why MediaPost is recognizing USIM (U.S. International Media) as its Independent Media Agency of the Year for 2019.

It’s the second time MediaPost has awarded USIM, which received our first-ever Programmatic Agency of the Year Award in 2015 for similar innovation work — researching, testing and developing addressable TV and programmatic TV solutions in side-by-side tests — something it continues to do today (see below).

But the breakthrough in this year’s innovation was a series of uses it developed around location-based data enabling it to target active and/or prospective retail customers with a precision previously unknown in mass media.

The breakthrough came with USIM Executive Vice President-Insights & Analytics Rob Jayson stumbled upon a unique platform capable of providing an opt-in panel of mobile users allowing their devices to be tracked for media research purposes.

The platform, MFour, has nearly three million users, making its sample both big enough and stable enough to be used as a building block to do even more refined analyses.

USIM began the year by using the panel to create a proprietary geo-targeting methodology dubbed PureView that effectively enabled it to create custom trading areas based on the actual travel patterns of its retail clients’ customers.

Initially, USIM used the data to fine-tune the criteria used to buy programmatic TV and OTT (over-the-top) advertising by using geo tags to drive traffic to specific store locations.

“The end result is a much more efficient deployment of programmatic and OTT and other media we can buy with geo tags that is much more efficient in driving traffic to stores,” Jayson explained when MediaPost first wrote about the innovation early last year.

Initial results were impressive, generating sales lifts averaging 10% to 15% — and as much as 50% — over normal targeted local TV advertising buys.

By last fall, USIM began refining the method to include TV audience targeting data, incorporating ACR viewing data from a third-party provider — Inscape — but using the custom trading zones generated from MFour’s panel data to index TV shows, outlets and OTT device platforms based on customer location and how they move through the data — to and from retail locations.

“In contrast to the holding company approaches with their person-based mapping and associated privacy and cookie concerns, we see location mapping as much more relevant to our retail clients,” USIM’s Jayson explains, emphasizing the consumer privacy compliance of USIM’s solution. “The ACR data provides us with not just ranked shows and genres for each location but also device usage (i.e., Amazon Fire stick vs Roku vs Chromecast) to optimize OTT spending by platform.”

The method also enables USIM to target users based on TV channels or even specific programming genres, enabling the agency to buy the shows that index the highest among its retail clients’ actual prospects. And in the case of cable targeting, using it to buy only the zones that are most likely to reach those customers.

Lastly, the method enables USIM to also index users based on their OTT device technology, targeting them even more efficiently via platforms such as Roku, Amazon Fire, etc.

Jayson says the approach gives USIM “confidence we can much more efficiently target our retail customers clients with video and content across all video that they are actually watching within the exact trading zones of their stores.”

“With this data, we are able to very narrowly target the consumer set on where they are coming from, as well as what they are viewing, in order to maximize the dollars that we are spending in a given market,” explains Russell Zingale, President-East at USIM, adding that the solution has been especially important for TV-centric clients by making the medium more efficient and affordable for them.

“A lot of our clients in casual dining and retail-based businesses want to continue using television,” Zingale explains, adding, “They don’t want to trade off television as an awareness-building medium and only go with digital.

So we needed to find a way to deliver TV with the kind of targeting we can get from digital in order to maintain their TV spend. They don’t want to move out of television, so we needed to figure out a way of applying the digital analytics to broadcast.”

For a smaller independent agency USIM devotes significant resources toward innovative research and development to make media — especially television — work harder.

In addition to Jayson’s work described above, the agency continues to host Mitch Oscar’s so-called Secret Society collaborations (formerly known as the Collaborative Alliance) between data and technology suppliers and buyers and sellers of television.

One of the main focuses of the past year has been a series of meetings focusing on so-called “TV attribution” models — modeling platforms similar to digital media’s attribution systems, but focused on accounting for the return on TV advertising investments.

Initial sessions often seemed like siloed conversations between providers and TV sales organizations based on their proprietary ways of looking at the marketplace, and the end result frequently sounded like babel.

But the meetings also led to an effort to create the first industry-wide glossary to at least standardize the varying terms each player uses to describe their approaches and solutions.

“The first step is developing a commonality of terminology being used,” Zingale told MediaPost earlier this year, adding: “Everyone is talking about attribution and uses a lot of terms, but in a lot of cases they mean something completely different. Having a glossary of terms is really needed.”

If it sounds like this mid-size independent agency punches above its weight, that is exactly what founder Dennis Holt envisioned when he launched it.

“USIM has embodied a true independent spirit since our launch 15 years ago. We have embraced new, cutting-edge technologies that have transformed the media landscape across the broad spectrum of clients we work with on a daily basis. We certainly intend to be right there as these opportunities continue to emerge in the years ahead.”


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