Looking for Mr Right

Looking for Mr Right

We are all geeks now. That's the message that the media industry has to take on board, thanks to the kind of computing power, modelling skills and automated process that could only be dreamed of a few years ago.

The importance of media data has never been greater - as consumers become more complex and fail to fit into old-fashioned definitions of types and lifestages, real customer behaviour information has acquired a lustrous cachet.

The great media idea may still rely on inspiration, but putting it into practise requires extreme perspiration and an understanding of an increasingly complex consumer market.

"As media fragments and the old mass demographic definitions become less relevant, their usefulness is declining," says MindShare Direct head Graham Page. "Increasingly, use is being made of 'real data', data based on actual customers and their actual behaviour."

Data modelling also has an economic role to play in justifying the role of marketing activity. As companies prepare to tighten their belts in more frugal economic times, the role of marketing increasingly needs to be justified in terms of return on investment, rather than just increased awareness.

"More and more clients are financially accountable to the board. The days when someone could turn around and say: 'these are the ads and aren't they lovely' are gone," says Carat group client director Martin Cass. "Return on investment is king," he adds.

MediaCom Direct managing director David Kyffin adds that the process of data management has become much more sophisticated.

"Talk to a direct marketing agency 10 years ago and it would be working on a cost per response, these days there's no real excuse for not looking at the value of customers," he says.

The new philosophy of data

Zed data planning director Duncan Northey outlines the new philosophy. "We have to ask what's actually driving the client's business, is it better to get 1,000 low-value customers or 800 high-value people?" he asks. "To do that we have to understand their systems, we have to be able to talk to them about their database and how they are recording data."

At its most basic level, the ability to assess data beyond the standard TGI, Barb and NRS surveys allows more accurate targeting of above-the-line campaigns. "Using various merging techniques, real data can be used to enhance the effectiveness of the existing survey research to produce more focused and effective campaigns," says Page.

Kyffin points out that, while a campaign featuring a direct-response press ad used to be the same size and frequency across the week in every title, now activity in each title will be optimised according to response.

At it's most complex, the potential of data handling is that it can unravel and generate insights about the impact that each form of communication has on the other.

"If you're going to be a media player, you've got to understand the inter-relationship between what happens if you do Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? on TV and your up-sell mailings," says Carat group client director Martin Cass.

"Tony Blair called it joined-up government, well it's joined up media, that's what it's all about."

The key to understanding the importance of such modelling is acknowledging that "media" doesn't only mean TV, posters and press.

"The way that a client such as NTL will define media is any touchpoint where a customer will come into contact with the brand," he says.

This approach allows you to match the offer to the brand. For a savings brand, for example, incremental sales will be easier to get for well known brands, as opposed to less well known brands.

"If seven per cent is a good rate and it aligns to a strong brand that will generate a big response, but the same offer with a weak brand will not," he says.

And once you understand how each bit of media interacts, then it becomes possible to devise one of the customer relationship marketing strategies (CRM) that are increasingly viewed as the way ahead for consumer-focused businesses.

"CRM is a long-term view of people you talk to. The various different groups and how you talk to them in a certain way and over a long period of time will generate profitable business from them," says Zed's Northey.

Getting serious about response

With more and more advertising now carrying some kind of response mechanism, be it a phone number or a web address, there's a realisation that response needs to be taken more seriously than ever.

According to the Direct Marketing Association's latest census, 52% of all TV ads now have a phone number or web address and 80% of national press ads feature a phone number. Sixty per cent of national press ads now feature a web address - an increase of 300% since 1998.

There's an argument that some of the recent interest in data-planning has been driven by the arrival of new digital media, such as SMS and e-mail marketing. With SMS and e-mail increasingly becoming a standard element of campaigns for the youth market, media agencies have to understand how such campaigns can be managed and targeted.

"That change in the technology, more than ever, has made ad agencies and marketing agencies extremely aware of the necessity to be interactive and to create a dialogue," says DP&A brand planner Roy Gilbert-Kerr.

And there's certainly no doubt that these channels have proved effective.

Tony Manwaring, communications director at SMS response specialist The Mobile Channel, says a trial involving 36 brands earlier this year attracted response rates of between 10 and 36%.

The Mobile Channel, which makes a small payment to the people who receive advertisers' messages, emphasises the importance of targeting if such media is to be used effectively.

Manwaring cites the example of motor insurance, where 11 out of 12 potential customers won't be
interested in an offer at any single point in time. "If you construct the database in the right way, you can be very efficient in the way that you target people," he says.

DP&A's Gilbert-Kerr agrees. "It's trying to understand when and how people will want a deeper relationship," he observes.

And for media owners, SMS is a way of building up their links with their audience, as well as offering a potential revenue tool by selling or renting lists to advertisers. Marketing director at Emap Radio stations Viking FM and Magic 1161, Linda Larder, says the stations are now receiving more than 20,000 text messages a month. Texting is, she says, used to promote off-air events, such as a recent comedy night, as well as being an ideal way of allowing consumers to enter competitions and getting feedback from listeners.

"I definitely think it's one of those things that keeps us closer to people," she says.

And direct response can also be generated using SMS in conjunction with traditional media specialists.

SMS response specialist AdreAct UK business development director Gavin Miller cites a campaign combining posters and SMS for Dunkin' Donuts in Rome.

Large posters near outlets in the city invited passers by to text a number for a free coffee when they bought a doughnut. Once in the store, they were also given a voucher for the next time they visit.

So far, the campaign has attracted 2,000 callers and prompted 2,500 individual interactions with the brand.

Integrating value

The key to real success with SMS, says Miller, is enabling the technology so that it can work with other customer relationship media, such as call centres.

"The real value works in integrating SMS with other platforms," he says.

Modelling the response of consumers to such offers gives media agencies a real insight into the success of a business and whether the brand positioning actually matches the product.

MediaCom's Kyffin says where, for example, a sofa company is seeing a lot of response to its media activity from a particular demographic, but not getting a lot of sales from that group, "it suggests that they need to change the patterning".

The benefit of all new interactive media and the growing role of data planning is that agencies undoubtedly need to be closer to clients to make the relationship a success.

Whoever can offer this kind of thinking is likely to enjoy a stronger bond with the client. It will undoubtedly take more to persuade clients to move if their business planning is tied up in bespoke models created by an individual agency.

"One of the major trends is to make the role of direct marketing and its position at the table where marketing strategy is developed more important. "It's given us a more powerful voice," says DP&A's Gilbert-Kerr.

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