Marketers: Take back control of your data but please, do it properly

You have to feel for marketers right now. When did advertising get so bloody messy? All they wanted was someone to help them grow their business with a decent ad campaign. Which was simple, once.

Then came the internet and the growth of digital publishers who told you how brilliantly your ads were performing on their site because they had the tech that (they claimed) proved it.

Before long (relatively speaking) it was considered pertinent to invent a way for a third party to measure the performance of online advertising, so agencies began using adservers to more accurately assess how different elements of a campaign were performing.

But then came GDPR. And that changed the game not just in the attitude towards the use of customer data, but in the ways marketers started considering their brand’s data.

Since GDPR became a focus at the start of 2018 campaign measurement has been in danger of imploding. In some cases methodologies have reverted back to those used several years ago and in extreme circumstances the outputs are so misleading significant incorrect investment decisions are being made.

And why? Because marketers have rightly started requesting to be in control and manage their own data systems.

GDPR has given businesses a glimpse into the complex world of data rights and the people around the table in the boardroom have initiated a land grab without understanding the full implications. Additionally, the fact that some media agencies refuse to give clients access to their own data is just adding fuel to the fire.

Suddenly clients are starting to use glorified CRM systems to monitor the performance of an ad campaign that are not designed for this purpose and therefore not fit for purpose. Although they offer a single customer view it is completely flawed. The full credit for every sale is going to the touchpoint the customer engaged with immediately before buying the product. No attribution modelling, no cross-device reporting and certainly no full funnel KPI frameworks.

All the activity driving awareness, consideration and engagement is in danger of not getting the credit it deserves for the impact it has on the bottom line. All because senior management in some cases want to keep things simple with a single internal reporting system. And the painful part is, marketing managers in such cases know it’s not the best method to use but their hands are tied.

The solution?

Media agencies should not own their clients’ data.

I know this will be controversial opinion but hear me out.

The most important thing for an agency is that they are looking at the strongest, most effective and most detailed statistics possible when assessing the strength of a campaign. Does it matter who owns that data? No. The most important thing is they have access to it.

I believe by encouraging clients to have a direct relationship with technology partners and staff fully trained to maximise its functionality, we will all be better off.

They will feel in control, we will be able to access, mine and analyse the information to optimise their current and future campaigns, and they ultimately win because their campaigns will be stronger and more effective for it. And they are happy knowing they can take that data with them should they change their media agency. And as fear of losing data they don’t own has never been something to keep a client from sacking an agency, it’s not a factor that needs consideration in this argument.

Clients and agencies have to be singing from the same hymn sheet so as long as the agency is being forced to use inferior data they will be making sub-optimal decisions on what is and isn’t working. Once upon a time we operated in a world where it was simply a race to the bottom of the funnel and we worked hard to get away from that. Now it seems the process has gone backwards.

This needn’t change the status quo significantly. I suspect eventually the various specialist technology platforms will integrate with each other and even go through mergers and acquisitions.

But let’s not sit about and wait for that to happen, all for the sake of winning a perceived power struggle. None of us needs the headache of responding to a knee jerk reaction over what one data source is saying when we know – but can’t prove – it’s a mistake. Let’s avoid reverting back to living in a last-touch-wins world.

By Ben Foster, Director of Digital

This article was first published in Campaign.