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Winning with data in 2015

In the last five years, companies in the US and Europe have made significant progress with data-driven ad strategies – most notably through the adoption of programmatic media platforms. And though the ad technology infrastructure here in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region is still nascent by comparison, 2015 may well be a pivotal year with regards to how data is used to shape, execute and optimise a variety of business strategies here.

At first glance, the ad spending forecasts bear this out. Digital ad spending in Japan is expected to top $9.6 billion this year, and marketers in China are expected to lead the region with more than USD 30 billion in spending. There’s also been growth on the platform end, with investments from publishers, agencies, and marketers intheir own ad tech stacks, as well as the growing presence of major international players in markets like Singapore and Australia.

These projections are encouraging, but there are two specific areas of development that need to be addressed if APAC advertisers and media companies want to fully leverage data to reduce waste, drive engagement and generate more revenue with digital marketing: Thinking ‘mobile-first’, and leveraging the power of their first-party data.

Mobile-first for maximum engagement
To say mobile is ‘big’ in APAC would be a bit of an understatement. There are 2.5 billion mobile users here, accounting for an expected 40 percent of all mobile traffic worldwide. Recent research has shown that many consumers own more than one mobile device, and that smartphones have begun to dominate content consumption across email, social and search. All of these conditions make thinking ‘mobile-first’ a must for brands, agencies and publishers in 2015.

In practice, that means marketers should be using mobile to drive awareness and conversions. A good start would be identifying and building as many defined user segments as possible, and then using that data to drive personalised mobile ad experiences.

For content creators, it means leveraging data to better understand how users are consuming their content across devices. Armed with that intelligence, publishers can make their mobile inventory more attractive to advertisers – leading to increased revenue for inventory that is currently being under-monetised.

Yet ‘mobile-first’ doesn’t mean ‘mobile-only’. An effective data-driven business strategy should include the ability to identify and connect with users across multiple devices. Both marketers and publishers should implement cross-device data strategies – particularly platforms that leverage device graphs – so that they can serve targeted content and ads across smartphones, tablets and desktops as appropriate.

Making the most of first-party data
But thinking ‘mobile-first’ when it comes to data requires a certain level of access to, and ultimately an appreciation of, the power of first-party data itself. Unfortunately, the way companies use data in this region is often still limited to contextual targeting – with brands buying and publishers selling based simply on content – or alternatively, the overuse of third-party data solutions.

In either case, there is a limited understanding of how a marketer or publisher’s own data – such as a visitor’s browser type, the content they share, and of course, the purchases they make – can be used. First-party data needs to be leveraged at every step in the customer purchase funnel, and it needs to influence a variety of business and marketing decisions.

So what does hard-working first-party data look like?
For publishers, it might mean using data to create custom audience segments that are more appealing to specific advertisers, resulting in higher CPMs. An example might be ESPN in Singapore identifying a woman that watches cricket, who’s in-market for buying a luxury car, versus categorising its entire audience as men, interested in sports, aged 18 – 34.

Meanwhile, an advertiser like Lexus might use that first-party data to deliver a video with a specific call-to-action to that same in-market car buyer, right after she watches a cricket video on ESPN. In this way, first-party data helps to cut through the glut of irrelevant ads that run on desktop and mobile, in addition to targeting users appropriately for their level of purchase intent.

The time for intelligent data management is now
The right platforms will give both publishers and advertisers the ability to take their own data – drawn from user demographics, behaviors and interests – and apply it to whichever use case suits the business’ needs.

From the macro view, it’s clear that many marketers and publishers have chosen not to engage with their data, simply because they’re overwhelmed by it. There are a few good examples and case studies, but companies in this region are just beginning to scratch the surface of how first-party data can be used to grow an audience (and a business). The companies that think ‘mobile-first’, and endeavour to really tap into their first-party data will be the ones that ultimately prosper with data-driven strategies in 2015.

Mat Ward

Mat Ward is the Managing Director of Lotame in Asia Pacific.