Data-Driven Marketing: Why Our Industry Needs Honesty To Navigate The Next Evolution

02 Nov 2023

Timelines may have shifted and goalposts have been moved, but a cookieless future is looming ever closer. Yet while much has been done within the industry to prepare for this paradigm shift - from a surge in brands becoming media owners in their own right, to a complex and evolving picture of media in-housing - key parts of the puzzle are still missing.

Whatever the eventual cookie cut-off date, marketers know that not being caught on the back foot (and at a competitive disadvantage) means acting as if we’re already there. But for all of us, this is a venture into the unknown - one that’s forcing a reappraisal of where we invest, how we work and who we work with, and holding a mirror up to our entire industry.

There is an industry-wide need to bridge the gap between first and third-party data, and to arrive at a more connected view. In reflection of this, AAR’s CX & CRM and Media Lead Consultants, Vonnie Alexander and Hannah Astill, have teamed up to discuss how clients and agencies can (and should) join together to navigate the complex landscape that is data-driven marketing in a cookie-depleted world.

We Need to Break Down Silos

Transitioning to the age of privacy is a joint responsibility between brands and agencies, and this starts with being honest about the extent to which both parties silo data, beginning at the silo between brand and customer and filtering through to everything brands and agencies work on together.

Some of the walls we face are where we may expect them to be - separating brand and performance marketing, and creating dividing lines across channels. But they exist even within specific disciplines, such as search, where silos between organic and paid can create wasteful inefficiencies. This then plays out in reporting, which is so often focused at the channel level, rather than laddering back up to wider business outcomes or unified KPIs.

We understand the reluctance to look too closely at the issue - it often reveals a need for operational change that neither brands nor agencies are always enthusiastic about engaging in - but without breaking down barriers and identifying where the gaps are, it will be impossible to meet the age of privacy head-on. This is bigger than cookie depletion, but encompasses the need to have a joined-up, connected view of the customer and marketing efforts in the round, working to achieve new levels of integration, and creating a strategy that puts customer-centricity at its heart.

As agencies continue to get a handle on data (how to organise it, use it, and create a through-the-line single customer viewpoint), brands are asking for “a data strategy” that simply cannot exist in isolation. When we’re unsure how to approach the problem, it can be easy to default to supplier change to find an answer - a change that ultimately won't land if, internally, brands aren't set up for success.

Placing Data Front and Centre

When we look at data-driven marketing, it's clear that the landscape is fragmented, both throughout the industry and within individual departments and agencies. On both client and agency sides, we’ve got used to putting our data and analytics experts in a corner, rather than pulling their expertise upstream to ensure that everyone is immersed in more of the right insight that data brings.

Data teams know how to provide answers, but without taking them out of their silos, we are never going to ask them the right questions. If we truly want to place data front and centre, and enable it to fuel, inform and deliver overarching strategies, it needs to be integrated - with data expertise drawn across whole marketing departments.

A Call for Collaboration

The age of privacy - and the growing pressure to navigate the ever-complex and fragmented customer landscape as a result of data proliferation - is not only an invitation to think differently; it's an opportunity to dive into the unknown and learn. This isn’t the time to hang back and stick to the comfort of our own lanes. It’s a time for honesty across our industry about what we don’t know, the rifts that exist between us and our goals, and how we can bridge those voids.

In this, clients and agencies can help each other. As marketers, we need to pioneer collaborative, open-source ways of navigating this landscape together, with all its confusing data sets and complexities. This is how we'll deliver the best work, and reach audiences in a way that delivers true incrementality.

One of the big implications of breaking down silos and working in a more integrated manner is the scope for agencies to work to more savvy commercial models. When all channels and platforms are integrated and driving towards one north star, agencies can create more value for brands through outcome-based remuneration models, delivering against business outcomes.

Zooming In: What Questions Should You Be Asking of Your Agency?

We understand that there is a nervousness among some clients over their agency partners’ capacity to steer them into this new future. It’s no surprise, given the scale of complexity they face, that clients may ask themselves whether their partner is the best in the market at helping them through - and, of course, the need to make cost efficiencies is always top of mind. However, supplier change shouldn’t be used as a sticking plaster, and we need to get the conversation started in a productive way.

A growing number of agencies offer full-suite capabilities, and as a result, these agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to demonstrate to clients that they possess the specific and in-depth knowledge required to address their urgent data connectivity concerns. Finding ways to communicate this expertise (and any gaps there may be) helps CMOs populate their ecosystem with the right range of partners who enhance and uplift each other.

From here, the conversation can evolve to ways of working, where the baton should be passed between different agencies, and what clients can consider taking in-house. While the trend of consolidation is ongoing, clients are increasingly turning to agencies for consultation and specialist expertise, complementing and enriching the work of their in-house teams.

Zooming Out: What Questions Should You Be Asking of Your Ecosystem

Having the right agency partners in place is only effective when the wider marketing ecosystem is viewed holistically, encompassing the “how?” and the “what?” of marketing across people, processes, partners and platforms. While the move away from third-party data isn’t the apocalypse, client-side marketers need to be across the problem and get their own house in order.

It is only once you are clear on your approach to first-party data - your north star brand strategy, and the operations that will shepherd you towards it - that you can truly understand where to bring in other partners, and which third-party solutions (such as the innovative Infosum, providing collaborative first-party data clean rooms) would work best.

The spectre of a cookie-depleted world has hung over marketers for years, and it’s time to look it in the face. By being honest about the challenges we all face - and pulling data from the corner it’s been relegated to - we can banish the boogieman, and embrace a new era of growth.

To open up a dialogue between clients and agencies on data privacy, we have created a freely available resource to help get the conversation going. If the issues raised in this article are relevant to your challenges, then please download “Addressing Silos in the Age of Privacy: Questions For Brands to Ask of Their Agencies and Ecosystemsby visiting this link.

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