See how agencies are putting data-driven marketing to work

Companies looking to remain competitive must now find ways to address consumers as unique individuals with highly specific, personal preferences.

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By gathering rich, relevant data on consumer behavior and demographics, businesses can target their leads and customers on a far more personal level, optimizing their engagement rates while ensuring a positive brand experience.

But delivering on this data-driven expectation can present a number of challenges – particularly for digital agencies, whose clients are throwing unprecedented amounts of data in their direction.

In an effort to find out how agencies are overcoming some of these obstacles, SharpSpring partnered with Ascend2 to field the Data-Driven Marketing Trends Survey. This paper draws on those results to offer an in-depth view of the challenges involved in successful data-driven marketing as well as the many ways in which agencies are helping their clients stay ahead of the curve.

Visit Digital Marketing Depot to download Data-Driven Marketing: Let Your Data Take the Wheel.”

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Beyond the cookie: What’s next for attribution?

Identity resolution and more holistic approaches to measurement are the way forward, according to 11 experts.

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Now that third party cookies are on death watch, there are many questions arising about post-cookiepocalpyse marketing. Among them, what happens to attribution and what current or future methodologies will take their place?

To better understand the challenge of attribution going forward, we asked a range of marketing and martech executives to comment on replacement solutions and alternatives. Their reactions and responses cluster around three big themes: the importance of first-party data and customer engagement, identity resolution as a successor to cookies and developing a more sophisticated, holistic approach to measurement.

Nancy Smith, President and CEO, Analytic Partners

Considering the impending changes from Google, we believe it’s crucial for all brands to choose an approach to measurement that will allow them to gain the most accurate results when dealing with data loss. It’s vital to continuously experiment with, test and validate measurement strategies while incorporating an adaptive methodology. This is at the core of Mix Modeling and, when combined with continuous assessment of data quality, is key to ensuring robust results.

First-party data is going to continue to grow in importance and what is currently known as multi-touch attribution will morph into blended or more siloed solutions, used in a more limited way to better understand touchpoints. Analytic Partners has already been adapting and leveraging touchpoint analytics to glean tactical user-level insights.

Kristina Podnar, Digital Policy Consultant & Author

In the short term, we will see marketers grasping at the basic and mostly ineffective practice of last-click attribution, and an uptick in federated login systems (already in play in the EU). Longer term, marketers will have to look to mapping audience segments on the open marketplace (an industry standard and buy-in will be prerequisites), contextual targeting and federated learning. In the absence of conversion tracking, marketers can and should look to a unified ID solution, which opens up new opportunities beyond digital and addresses user touchpoints across all channels.

Jane Ostler, Global Head of Media, Insights Division, Kantar

Although cookies have started to crumble, they will not disappear completely for some time. In this new “mixed economy,” marketers will need to find new and creative ways to assess the impact of digital campaigns in a privacy-compliant way. As 2020 progresses, we may see some publishers using alternative measurement solutions based around deterministic IDs and panels, and we predict more direct integrations between publishers and measurement partners to enable the transfer of anonymized data. Other advertisers, publishers and agencies will turn to lab-based approaches to understand the effectiveness of digital media.

What is certain is that campaign measurement will become ever more complex. Marketers will need to future-proof their measurement frameworks and reduce their reliance on cookies for tracking. And many will turn to third-party data and analytics, which is the most trusted in the industry, to maintain accurate campaign measurement in the evolving media landscape.

Scott McDonald, CEO, Advertising Research Foundation

Even before cookies were slated for extinction, attribution always had its limitations. For the most part, it was mostly about digital – so it left out many important parts of the marketing mix. Over time, this encouraged marketers to over-value (easy to measure) short-term activation at the expense of (harder to measure) long-term brand building. A lot of evidence shows this was short-sighted and led many brands to lose market share, differentiation and pricing power. And even within the realm of activation, it proved hard to assign credit properly in complex environments without at least some experimental design component.

The loss of cookies is likely to make it harder still to sustain credible systems for linking ad exposures to ad outcomes across the media landscape – at least outside of the walled gardens. In the immediate future, I would expect marketers to pursue attribution analytics increasingly within walled gardens rather than across them. I would expect increasing numbers of media companies to attempt to build their own walled gardens by encouraging or requiring unified sign-in (policies that are very congenial to subscription services and to dual revenue-stream business models). And though I also expect that a number of players will attempt to resurrect cookies through other types of IDs linking websites, devices, and platforms, these will continue to run against the headwinds of public and policy pressures for data privacy.

Ian Trider, Director RTB Platform Operations, Centro

Despite removing third-party cookies, none of the major web browsers are trying to take away a website’s ability to track its own users. Marketers can expect continued click-through conversion to some extent indefinitely. However, they may have to rely more on their own website analytics for data instead of third parties.

Beyond that, marketers can apply the same measurement techniques used in the offline world to the measurement of their online campaigns. Marketers can use geo-based or time-based testing to determine the broader impacts of their campaigns beyond what can be measured directly. These approaches to measurement can also help estimate causal impact, as opposed to measuring only correlation, which is typical for online advertising measurement today.

Mike Herrick, SVP of Technology, Airship

The impact of data privacy regulations have consolidated power into the hands of platforms, who, to attain compliance, have nixed third-party data and measurement, instituting end-to-end reliance for marketers. Now cookies are crumbling, but the milk has already been spilled. To move forward, advertisers and marketers must shed a campaign-centric mentality and find ways to invite consumers into direct relationships, where resulting data is their own. Expect to see more ads prompting consumers to install and share mobile wallet coupons, opt in to SMS shortcodes, or engage in meaningful ways on brand-owned properties. Necessity may herald a renaissance, where brand marketers shift focus from interruptive tactics ported to the mobile era, to more authentic, contextual interactions that allow them to be there in consumers’ moments in helpful and handy ways.

Brian Czarny, CMO, Factual

Over time, we expect to see more brands look to mobile device IDs as a means to craft a more complete picture of their customers and measure the results of digital campaigns. Brands are already using location data-driven products to better understand their audiences, personalize the messages delivered to them based on their interests, and measure in-store visitation results, and we expect to see more marketers turn to location as part of a holistic strategy.

Kyle Henderick, Senior Director of Client Services, Yes Marketing 

Major browsers are building, or have already built, anonymized ways for digital ad attribution to be captured via APIs. Building out a robust architecture to interact with each browser’s unique requirements will be a significant undertaking for marketers. Ultimately, all of this still points to a greater need [for] investment [in] identity resolution and building a better direct relationship with the customer to take advantage of first-party data and reporting.

The best way forward for marketers is to stop relying on the easy wins in digital. Marketers must create their own future by building relationships with customers so they are more willing to share their data and by investing in identifying customers across devices. 

Todd Parsons, Chief Product Officer, OpenX

With user privacy now top of mind and the clock winding down on the third-party cookies, attribution is going to become both more complicated and more expensive for marketers to measure. To reach the same levels of accuracy in attribution that we see today, without relying on third-party cookies, marketers will need the ability to stitch identity together across addressable channels using first-party data. On top of that, any new solutions will need to comply with standards for collecting and resolving first-part data in our emerging opt-in (not opt-out) consumer marketing economy.

This problem isn’t new, however. Our ability to assign precise value to marketing channels that address the same person or household — everything from direct mail to cookie-targeted display — has always been difficult. And, it’s been harder in places where addressability is nearly nonexistent, like CPG products being sold to customers of Walgreens, for instance. Now that cookies can no longer serve as a reliable identifier for marketers, our industry is finally being forced to create new, privacy-first ways of leveraging first-party data to plan, track and measure the performance of campaigns across channels.

Michael Schoen, SVP of Marketing Solutions, Neustar

Identity resolution – and, specifically, a provider’s approach to it – will determine the relative impact marketers will face in a world beyond the cookie. Leveraging offline identity (PII), which is rooted in more stable identifiers like name, address, and phone number — as well as direct integrations with platforms and publishers, inclusive of walled gardens — gives marketers a clear path forward to doing attribution in a post-cookie world. Effective and reliable attribution measurement has always required looking beyond the cookie to capture the whole customer journey. This is the only way to accurately quantify marketing’s incremental impact to power both tactical and strategic planning, and investment decisions.

Erik Archer Smith, VP of Marketing, Scale Venture Partners  

Third-party cookies are an “easy button” for retargeting across popular networks like Facebook, but they don’t provide insight across platforms (Facebook vs. Amazon, for example) or granular data on behavior (who, what, when, where, and why). Without that important context, a third-party cookie can only really tell you that a “visitor” came back, and, even then, usually can’t tell you who came back unless that person converts by filling out a form, making a purchase, etc. So the cookie changes might affect some marketing vanity metrics (e.g., retargeting CTR) and make certain multi-touch attribution models less accurate, but I don’t see it having an impact on the most important metric: sales conversions.

At a high level, focus on creating great experiences and people will still trade their data. People will still opt in for valuable tools or resources. Which is great news for everyone since the quality of marketing goes up across the board. From a technical standpoint, consider taking control of your own data and embrace first-party cookies; there are several data platforms today that let you do this. This allows you to do your own retargeting through DSPs and provide personalized audiences into platforms like Facebook that are based on your own actual product or website activity. Even better, these technologies can let you resolve identity across different media “walled gardens” so you can better understand the “who, what, when, where” and maybe even “why: of user behavior, which is where real attribution comes in.

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Building a business case for a customer data platform

Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, and Uber, for example, have always put the single view of the customer at the center of everything they do – and it’s paid off.

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While a data strategy will help you align goals and use cases across an organization, technology is what enables you to execute. But legacy technologies have proven to be insufficient as they’ve led to disparate data scattered across a complex technology stack that inhibits real-time access to a single customer view for marketing. That’s why a customer data platform (CDP) is designed to finally liberate your first-party data so you can activate your most valuable marketing asset.

Marketers realize the potential of a CDP, but they don’t know how to get buy-in from senior business leaders who are skeptical of adopting “yet another three-letter acronym.” So BlueConic talked to leading industry analysts and marketers who successfully got buy-in to write this ebook on how to build a business case for a CDP.

Visit Digital Marketing Depot to download “Building a Business Case for a Customer Data Platform,” from BlueConic.

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Bridge the Gap between Marketing and CX (without buying more technology)

From first touch to loyal customer, today’s consumers want to seamlessly engage with your brand across both in-person and digital channels.

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How do you create omnichannel experiences that align best with your audience to meet them where they actually are, not where you intend for them to be? And how do you, as a marketer, keep pace with your organization’s growing volume of consumer data touchpoints and increasingly complex martech stack?

Join our journey orchestration and CX experts as they explain how to get your data systems talking to each other, so you can provide the type of seamless experiences that customers expect. You’ll hear how real-time decisioning engines are key to helping your organization interconnect data and communicate more effectively with customers.

Don’t miss this webinar! Register today for “Bridge the Gap between Marketing and CX (Without Buying More Technology),” presented by Kitewheel.

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Soapbox: Are ad blockers breaking the foundations of digital marketing?

Now is the time to start rethinking what’s next for website analytics.

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I work for a B2B SaaS product and one of my tasks is to produce a monthly analytics report that breaks down our lead conversion rates. I track the conversion rate of website lands > demo requests > trials > closed deals.

Last month I was asked to create a Zapier integration that sent an alert to a Slack channel every time someone requested a demo through the website.

When doing the month’s report, I saw our Google Analytics demo request events were 22% lower than the number of messages sent to the Slack channel. It turns out ~20% of our visitors were blocking Google Analytic’s tracking.

After some research, I found that an average of 24% of internet users use an ad blocker. As more users become frustrated by ads, and Safari is looking to win the war for user privacy with intelligent tracking prevention built directly into the browser, the prevalence of ad blockers for all users will keep rising.

Are ad blockers going to break all of our analytics some point soon? It’s looking like they will and we need to start rethinking what’s next in how we use our website analytics.

Soapbox is a special feature for marketers in our community to share their observations and opinions about our industry. You can submit your own here.

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The importance of building brand awareness through Amazon advertising

Marketers should be looking at the brand-building potential across both display and search ads because Amazon is not just about direct response anymore.

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In the early goings of Amazon’s advertising platform, most advertisers looked to it as another source of ad inventory that should be focused on direct response. This is in large part due to Sponsored Products typically being the first format brands wade into, and that format produced a whopping 13% conversion rate for the median advertiser under Tinuiti (my employer) management in Q4 2019. As such, it’s safe to say that Amazon ads are certainly a strong avenue for driving orders and sales.

However, it’s no longer the case that Amazon advertisers are focused entirely on direct response goals, and marketers should be looking at the brand-building potential across both display and search ads in order to get the most out of the platform.

Amazon DSP advertisers increasingly focused on awareness and consideration

The Amazon Demand-side Platform (DSP) allows marketers to target display inventory both on and off Amazon. Across a sample of dozens of Amazon DSP advertisers, we found that the share of spend allocated to campaigns focused on building awareness and consideration grew from 26% in Q1 2019 to 60% in Q4.

As you can see from the chart above, advertisers began 2019 allocating nearly three quarters of all DSP spend to purchase-focused campaigns, but that share slipped to 40% by the end of the year. This increased willingness to invest in campaigns focused on more upper-funnel goals has enabled marketers to rapidly expand investment in the platform, and in Q4 ad spend grew 44% relative to Q3, the largest quarter-over-quarter growth of the year.

Investing in brand awareness campaigns also has the trickle-down effect of producing more customers that have not purchased from the brand previously or who are infrequent purchasers. Looking at new-to-brand metrics, which identify those customers which have not purchased from a brand on Amazon in the last twelve months, the share of total DSP purchases attributed as new to the brand advertising went from 71% in Q3 to 78% in Q4.

While some of this increase may be tied to seasonal shifts, it certainly makes logical sense that investing in campaigns aimed at building brand awareness would in turn spur on more new customers to purchase from a brand.

Much like any DSP, advertisers have the ability to choose different ad formats and dimensions to create different experiences. While advertisers generally use Dynamic Ecommerce Ads for use in purchase-focused campaigns, static banners give marketers the ability to inject brand and lifestyle images into the creative used for those campaigns that are more focused on building the brand.

Looking outside of the Amazon DSP, advertisers are also finding success in building brand awareness through the Sponsored Brands format.

Sponsored Brands new-to-brand share rises in Q4

New-to-brand metrics are also available for the Amazon Sponsored Brands ad format, which appears at the top of Amazon search results as well as additional placements rolled out in late 2018. Tinuiti advertisers saw the share of total Sponsored Brands conversions attributed as new-to-brand grow from 58% in Q3 to 60% in Q4.

Even more interesting is how new-to-brand share moved during the core weeks of the winter holiday shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. During this roughly four-week period, daily new-to-brand conversion share averaged 64%, compared to the 60% figure observed for Q4 overall.

As such, it seems that customers are more willing to purchase from brands they haven’t bought from previously and/or those which they haven’t purchased from in at least a year during the holidays. This is an important consideration to keep in mind when allocating budget and placing bids throughout the crucial holiday shopping season.

As mentioned previously, these ads show at the top of search results as well as some other placements along the right rail, at the bottom of desktop results, and intermittently throughout mobile results. Taking a look at the share of conversions that placements at the top of search results account for, these slots produced 75% of all conversions in Q4 2019. Even more impressive, however, is that they produced 87% of all new-to-brand conversions.

Knowing this, brands looking to reach new customers should pay extra close attention to where their ads are showing on the page and adjust bids to ensure ads are reaching the competitive top of page placements.


What was once an opportunity that most advertisers used primarily for direct response, purchase-focused goals has quickly evolved over the last year. Marketers that are able to take advantage of the brand-building potential of both Amazon search and display formats and bake the expected value of these tactics into budget and bid planning will be able to maximize their output from Amazon advertising. Those that don’t will have a harder time competing moving forward.

Join us for two days packed with expert insights and tactics on all things digital commerce marketing — from Amazon to Google to Instagram and more — at SMX West in San Jose this month. Check out the agenda >>

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Improve customer loyalty with AI

How loyalty program data, combined with AI and machine learning, can influence dynamic segmentation, predictive content and offer personalization.

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First designed to compensate customers for being ‘loyal’ to brands with points, miles, or cashback, loyalty programs have become integral to large retail, CPG, FMCG, and travel brands. While this continues to hold true, loyalty and engagement have taken on a new meaning, driven by the data revolution and how ‘we’ in the loyalty and marketing industry define our customers through common marketing metrics such as CLV, RFM, and ROI.

As data has played a significant role in how reward programs are defined, the groundwork has been laid for emerging data-driven technologies, such as AI and Machine Learning, to be at the forefront of how loyalty programs are perceiving, classifying, and directly engaging with their members.

This white paper from Comarch explores how loyalty program data, combined with AI and machine learning, can influence dynamic segmentation, predictive content and offer personalization.

Visit Digital Marketing Depot to download“Navigating a Modern Marketing and Loyalty Program With AI and Machine Learning,” from Comarch.

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Is your marketing department the ‘useful idiot’ of your business?

In politics, the useful idiot is someone who can be misled into supporting a dubious cause that goes against his own best interest. In marketing, the outside actor here is ignorance and it’s time to change that.

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As an email strategist and fractional CMO, I’m always amazed – and not in a good way – when I start working with a company on its business and discover massive holes in the data.

It reminds me of that old quote, attributed to John Wanamaker of department store fame: “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.”

On an episode of Showtime’s “Homeland,” one character called another a “useful idiot” (seventh season, ninth episode if you’re interested) as a reference to an outside influence supporting a cause that ran counter to the character’s own interest. It reminded me of some companies I’ve seen.

Two kinds of data attitudes

When it comes to data, companies get split into two buckets.

The first is a company actively trying to get connections to all its data to understand where its money is going and where it’s coming from. This quest is a high priority within the organization, prioritized at the same level as production innovation or company growth.

In the second are companies where people want this information and keep talking about how great it would be to have it, but the project always gets deferred. Whenever they fill out questionnaires on budget priorities, they’re the ones who always answer, “We’re working on it.”

They are the “useful idiots” in the marketing world.

What happens when you don’t have the data?

Data is everywhere. We can buy it and track it at every level of digital interaction. We can find out at the email level who has opened our message and who made a purchase from it. Our analytics can tell us who visited our sites, how long they stayed on the website and where they came from for purchase attribution.

Companies that keep their corporate heads buried in the sand and de-prioritize data collection, analysis and action will find growth is based more on dumb luck than consistent, objective-oriented, strategic decision-making.

At one company meeting, someone told me, “We spent a lot on PPC.” When I asked which terms brought in the most money, this person shrugged and said, “We don’t know, but if we turn off PPC, our sales go down.”

I resisted the impulse to roll my eyes. Instead, I asked, “Why haven’t you taken the time to find out the answer?” The answer was a variation on all the excuses I’ve heard over the years: “Our systems don’t talk to each other.” “Our systems are broken.” “We’ll get around to it when we can.” Blah, blah, blah.

This is when marketers turn into useful idiots.

Useful idiots in marketing

In politics, the useful idiot is someone whom outside influencers can bamboozle into supporting a dubious cause, often one that goes against his own best interests. In a marketing sense, the outside actor here is ignorance.

This pure, unadulterated ignorance leads you to believe you and your marketing and revenue efforts are doing just fine without all those layers of data that just complicate everything. Who understands what all those numbers mean, anyway?

A useful marketing idiot is dangerous. It shocks me to see how pervasive this dismissal of knowledge can be among marketing professionals.

Many marketing thought leaders have said the greatest challenge in marketing is the integration of data between systems. Even though it’s a big challenge, we still need to address it and tackle it head-on. NOW!

If this scenario sounds uncomfortably familiar, then your company might fall into that “useful idiot” category. Here’s how you can change that.

1. Stop being offended 

You’re there because someone close to you on your team put you there. Write down all the things your organization prioritizes – as in, where it chooses to spend its money most freely.

The top priority should be: “We need to know where our money is going and where it’s coming from.” This can’t happen unless you integrate your systems. Make this your focus in 2020.

If your executives are obsessed with hitting its numbers, you need to know which levers to pull. If your company has 300 keywords in your PPC strategy, you need to know which words to beef up because they drive conversions, sales and profitability.

In email marketing, you need to know which segments of your customer database are the most lucrative, how to create them and how to predict customer behavior.

When you know your data, you know which levers to pull.

2. Know where to invest your time and money

As an example, one reason email doesn’t get invested at the same level as other channels is that executives don’t understand the profitability and future upside of the email marketing channel.

How can any organization allocate funds accurately based on an aggregate consolidation of reporting without understanding the proportions in which channels contribute to company revenue?

Marketing must come to the table armed with statistics and analysis that allow them to say, “If we spend more money here, we can make more money there.” That does not exist in an aggregate view.

3. It’s 2020, stop marketing like it’s 1999

Come on, already. The fact that any marketer or company doesn’t understand where its revenue is coming from is ludicrous, if not terrifying. If your company’s growth ranges from “no” to “slow,” if you don’t understand why channels are making money for you, you’re just an idiot. and not even a useful one.

Wrapping up

I don’t mean to be unduly harsh on companies that don’t have their data acts together yet. I realize the challenge it can be to collect the right data, make systems talk to each other and extract meaning from the data.

But you have to manage up to your executive team and help them understand why they need to get on board. If you’re an executive, you have to prioritize these projects even if it means slower growth for a while.

At the manager level, I see marketers yearning for that knowledge. I give full faith and credit to marketers who keep beating the drum to get more insights.

What can you do? Forward this post to your boss. Post it next to the water cooler. Tape it to the table in the executive lounge or corporate boardroom. Maybe put it in a plain envelope and slip it under your boss’ door like a ransom note.

If every department put “We need to make more educated decisions to make money” at the top of its priority list, that would send the message to your executives.

Take the lead. Be the smart marketer, not the useful idiot.

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Choosing a marketing automation platform

Who are the major vendors? What should I be looking for? What are the costs?

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The proliferation of digital channels and devices can make it difficult for B2B marketers to accurately target prospects with the right messages, on the right devices, at the right times. Faced with these challenging market dynamics and increasing ROI pressure, B2B marketers at companies of all sizes can gain benefits from a marketing automation platform.

MarTech Today’s “B2B Marketing Automation Platforms: A Marketer’s Guide” examines the market for B2B marketing automation software platforms and the considerations involved in implementing this software in your business. This 48-page report is your source for the latest trends, opportunities and challenges facing the market for B2B marketing automation software tools as seen by industry leaders, vendors and their customers.

If you are a marketer looking to adopt a marketing automation software platform, this report will help you through the decision-making process. Visit Digital Marketing Depot to download your copy.

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