Ahead of the Audience Analytics & Insight conference on the 11th October, Simon McDonald, Managing Director, UK, at DVJ Insights talks about the future of the industry

In your experience, how has the increasing dominance of programmatic buying changed the way that media owners, agencies and advertisers are investing in understanding and targeting their audiences?

I think now, more than ever, it is important to understand audiences. Advertisers are looking for ways to grow and they are expanding their domains. It is becoming increasingly clear that, in order to grow your business, you need to find more people buying your brands. Penetration comes before retention and understanding new audiences is important. We also see that traditional survey techniques no longer do the trick. They only uncover what we already knew. Therefore more and more of our clients want to listen to stories from their clients and potential clients.

What single piece of advice would you give to media owners, agencies and advertisers looking to invest in new tools to integrate 1st, 2nd and 3rd party data?

When integrating data sources we experience that a lot of our clients still work in silos. Integrating data also means that you are integrating disciplines within an organisation. Enabling this is important and the strict boundaries between the disciplines need to be removed.

Another thing that we experience is the lack of intelligence. Integrating data means more than just putting different data into one spreadsheet. What is the linking pin between data and the way in which you should interpret correlation and drivers? We see too much modelling of different data sources without real knowledge of what those sources mean and how they should be linked together.

When working with your clients who are integrating your survey data with other audience data, what are most common objectives / challenges?

It is understanding the drivers for growth and how to influence them. We always try to relate all sources into real sales and behavioural data. The first thing you need to know is to what extent your activities actually drive sales and how to best allocate marketing spend towards achieving that objective.

The other challenge is to find the optimum spend for marketing activities. Finding a relation between spend and results is one thing, but understanding how much of it you need is much more important. To achieve this we have developed a new KPI that represents all media-investments in a much smarter way and have also created a tool to optimise it. In this way we can ensure that you always spend enough, but never too much. We have created a tool to predict a future media plan and optimise it upfront as well.

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Are you seeing an increase in demand for a more flexible approach to surveying audiences?

Yes, we believe the current predominant style of survey design no longer works.  Qualitative techniques are difficult to relate to volume in the market, while traditional quant only validates what we already know. Clients are looking for new ways to deeply understand their audiences.  By adopting a mass qualitative approach we look at the full picture to understand the ‘why’ at the same time as the ‘what’.  We increasingly use free associations – tapping into a consumer’s mental network – and storytelling techniques within a survey setting to uncover insight which can be validated at the same time. 

What’s the biggest single advantage of achieving faster results to surveys?

This all comes down to making sure survey results fit within the process. We sometime hear clients say that there is no time for pre-testing ads. Yet, investing enormous amounts of money without running a decent check seems crazy. Indeed, the resulting waste of money is the single reason why CFO’s take over marketing investments. They would never allow investments in material items where they do not know if and to what extent it is going to work.

 Therefore, we believe that good process management is actually more important than speed of results. That said, we also believe that speed is a normal ingredient in everything we do. That is also why we do not outsource projects to cheaper markets. It costs too much time in making sure that you get the quality you need. There is no reason why you should not be able to run a quick disaster check within 48 hours.

Are there particular audience segments for which you can see that integrating survey data with audience behavioural data can yield the most insightful results?

We believe that this approach can be interesting for finding out more about every audience. However, there are audiences where there is simply not enough data available to make it viable.

Where you are working with client organisations who have effectively broken down the silos between data and insight teams, what lessons have you gleaned which could be shared with organisations still working to improve the integration of these skills?

In order to understand the relationship between data and insight you also need to understand the relationship between the two disciplines. That will help. The other important lesson is that all involved need to add knowledge and interpretation to what they do. Too often we hear stories about results of data studies that do not make sense. Analysis may show that there is a relationship between certain data and insight points, but intelligence is required to show whether or not the relationship actually means something.

Looking at the agenda for the Audience Analytics & Insight Forum, which sessions are you most looking forward to sitting in on?

I see lots of the key elements in the programme that will help both the industry and individual companies to deliver meaningful value to stakeholders.  Too many organisations in the research world are wedded to old ways of working, relying on survey data, qualitative OR quantitative data with little integration, a lack of scientific knowledge and a failure to understand what is possible and what data sets mean.  The key sessions for me are about integration, understanding, proving effectiveness and optimising.  So all of them really!