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Using engagement, instead of Big Data, to increase accuracy

Big Data is regularly presented as a panacea to many of the challenges faced by the advertising industry such as campaign measurement, tracking and effectiveness. This article is the second in our series on audience engagement and the need for marketers to better optimise their campaigns toward this important metric.In our first article, we established that audience engagement should be the go-to metric for campaign success; a focus on engagement will help align all players in the market and satisfy both marketer goals and consumer needs.

In this piece, we highlight why marketers should focus on using engagement as a metric to increase the accuracy of their campaigns, instead of simply relying on data.

Audience and network intelligence can serve to encourage and extend engagement– but it is important to recognise that no matter where it is used, big data should be a means to an end, and not the end in itself.

We find that many marketers have become so focussed on data that they are neglecting other strategic decisions. More often than not, they are so involved in their data and putting so much faith in it, that they fail to recognise its limitations.

Big Data is just too big & overvalued
Big data, though undeniably useful, has simply become too convoluted, and possibly too big. In markets such as the United States, over-saturation of data has affected our ability to accurately assess our consumers.

To a large extent, data quality is like image and music quality in a way; beyond a certain point, additional resolution doesn’t noticeably improve things. With data online behaviours are predictive enough, and adding other types of data (especially demographics), especially more than what is necessary, does not provide any additional benefits. Bar a minimal improvement in efficiency, the story stays pretty-much the same.

Too much noise
Furthermore, all consumer data comes with a significant amount of ‘noise’, and the more data collected, the more noise one has to deal with. These errors come up during measurement, categorisation, and most often with identification. After all, we’re still in a world where cookies, not people, are a unique identifier.

An example of these errors is the way many targeting and measurement models assume that if you do click on an ad and subsequently purchase, that conversion must have been due to that ad. This assumption is however quite suspect.

Search advertising is a prime example of this measurement error. In search-based campaigns, ads are deliberately targeted at those consumers most likely to purchase the advertised product and timed to arrive when a consumer is performing a task related to the product.Data on conversions from such search campaigns that assume conversions were due to the ad is at worst incorrect, and at best inconclusive.

Even good use of data can backfire
Data allows us to hyper target consumers. Research on advertising effectiveness has validated what most of us already know – targeted ads work and do a better job of grabbing attention.But other, trickier insights have reaffirmed another truth we know – that too much of anything is not good, i.e. too much targeting can have a negative impact.

It is said that consumers react adversely to ads that are too specific and narrowly targeted. Ads that trespass on their increasingly fluid expectations of privacy are viewed with suspicion rather than interest.

Data and privacy is a complex issue and the average online web user is struggling to come to grips with how their data is collected, stored and used. So while you may think that you are being savvy in your targeting, you might actually be eliciting suspicion.

What’s important is achieving that delicate balance of engaging the right audience, without overly interrupting the user experience and raising eyebrows.

While data can be extremely useful,its role should be to identify consumer receptivity, or willingness to receive a message from a brand. Beyond this, we need to understand what consumers are interested in reading about, learning, or experiencing and make every effort to bring them content that hits the right notes based on their interests.

Concentrating on delivering the right content is important because only involved (or engaged) consumers will dedicate heightened attention and effort that’s required to understanding relevant advertising. Because consumers increasingly (and almost completely) control where they allocate attention, we should continually be working towards making sure that campaigns capture and sustain audience attention. By all means, we should be using data to help us on our way, but we shouldn’t miss the forest for the trees.

After all, brand affinity can only be built when the audience has spent sufficient time engaging with a brand, and no amount of data can change the fact that a human connection is required to build content that inspires change in the hearts and minds of consumers. It will only help you take the first step towards understanding them better. You need to seal the deal thereafter.

Gerard Lechau

Gerard Lechau oversees the Southeast Asia and North Asia region for Exponential Interactive, and is responsible for acquiring new strategic partnership opportunities in new markets and building on existing partnership deals with brands, trading desks and agencies.