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An evaluation of cross-channel media strategies

By February 1, 2018 No Comments


Today’s digitised world has created a proliferation of data as people create a record of their individual behaviours and look to share it with marketers in exchange for a more valuable experience.

  • However, this means that media planners are now expected to know a whole new breed of technology-driven possibilities and how to interact and engage with each individual.
  • This article identifies three key barriers that marketers must address to execute scaled, person-level cross-channel strategies and aims to provide a framework to help marketers decide when these types of strategies should be considered for brand marketing plans.

Media strategies for multiscreen viewing

Traditional cross-channel strategy, namely the use of each media channel for a given strategic brand purpose, is not a new concept in the industry. It wasn’t long ago when developing a brand engagement approach was straightforward and required simpler choices. At that time, the underpinning of strategic decision-making was built on data, just as it is today, but the main difference is the level of granularity that was available then and now. The depth of information available to planners was population averages, which gave significant insights into strategic development and created the foundational credibility necessary to facilitate the growth of the data-informed approaches of today.

Today’s digitised world has created a proliferation of channels all competing for the same 24 hours a day. For marketers, the silver lining to this frenetic speed of change comes from the data creation that goes hand in hand with it. People now create a record of their individual behaviours, and look to share it with marketers in exchange for a more valuable experience. At Starcom, harnessing the power of data signals is a core competency of media planners and is applied throughout the process to improve human experiences. Media planners are now expected to know a whole new breed of technology-driven possibilities and how to interact and engage with each individual. This is the advent of new cross-channel strategies.

These technology-driven and person-level approaches are where we believe it is important to pause and take stock: just because you can, does it mean you should? We aim to identify three key barriers that marketers must address to execute scaled, person-level cross-channel strategies, and provide a framework to help marketers decide when these types of strategies should be considered as a valuable, compelling approach for brand marketing plans.

1. Today’s cross-channel technology and limitations to scaled execution

In the halcyon days of the early 2010s, the concept of ‘companion viewing’, or integrated second-screen opportunities, caught on like wildfire in the imaginations of media planners. Our ability to marry TV with digital was finally achievable as ‘second screen’ apps flooded the marketplace. We tested apps such as Viggle, INTO, Now and Zeebox but each failed to live up to the promised scale.

At the same time, ‘second screen’ apps became hot technological advancements, enabling the marriage of TV and digital in a new way. TV exposure became a viable signal to use for targeting within a digital media environment. An example of this was automatic content recognition (ACR), which was originally pioneered by Shazam for audio file recognition. Audio and video fingerprinting, or digital watermarking, make it possible for connected TVs to capture information about what content a household is watching, including what TV ads a person actually has on screen. Again, we tested and continue to test ACR for our clients. The greatest barriers to attaining the sizeable business impact we would desire has been the fragmentation among tech providers and aggregators of ACR data; this makes effective execution and management at scale challenging.

However, implementation of tracking technology into connected TVs is only the first step towards a future where a cross-channel strategy is viable. Making data addressable, and therefore useful for targeting, is the necessary second step to make the data actionable. This component has always been a harder problem to solve in this space. The challenges of maintaining a substantial base when matching data across different partners, all of which may have limited means to match to the same unique key, coupled with the need to maintain the privacy of their users, create a waterfall of data loss which is yet to be fully solved in the marketplace.

2. Walled gardens remain barriers

Nearly two-thirds of households owned a connected TV by the end of 2017, according to eMarketer. The marketplace fragmentation from major TV and connected device manufacturers competing for market share naturally works against a marketer’s need for scale and breadth of different consumer footprints. Our hopes of eventual data consolidation across manufacturers to solve for this need faces its own challenges. Certain partners who are also manufacturers, like Google and Apple, compound the issue even further, given their historical precedence of keeping their data behind their own walled gardens. These walled gardens make cross-device targeting at scale even harder as they increase their sophistication around limiting the use of their data, such as Apple’s announcement of Intelligent Tracking Prevention demonstrates.

At best, there is a Safari-sized hole in any cross-channel strategy. At worst, marketers must contend with designing and executing multiple cross-channel strategies, one for each of the big walled gardens. In this market state, each connected TV solution will be required to have its own ID, which inevitably will also need to be matched to a digital ID for strategic planning and execution. Yes, match rates can differ dramatically (due to a number of inherent factors in the footprint and data collection methodologies), but great match rates still typically remain in the 50–60% range. This limitation in one-to-one data transferability immediately calls into question the scale potential of the current technology solution.

The result of these challenges really puts the onus on agencies and marketers to make this work. They would need to broker deals with connected TV companies and other data providers across this fragmented market to make it work. For marketers, they can potentially go directly to consumers to create a value exchange for use of their data and ultimately use their DMPs to truly deliver cross-channel experiences. The strain, then, will be on these types of technologies to have the industry foresight, connections, and processing power necessary. The job of properly aggregating, cleansing, and matching their data across solutions and ultimately to activation platforms will be the lynchpin for creating the necessary scale to truly drive business impact.

3. Limited scale of cross-channel sequential marketing

TV plus digital targeting was the doorway into the next exciting possibility, which many marketers are still eager to implement, namely sequential messaging across channels. The idea that a brand can tell a story, over time, to an individual regardless of what channel they are currently consuming is an enticing opportunity towards creating a relationship with consumers. Message sequencing is an oft-talked about approach and numerous dynamic creative optimisation companies exist to better automate this strategy across different digital channels. However, even in this microcosm of digital only, there are challenges which limit message sequencing activation and, therefore, its effectiveness.

The first challenge is the ability to cross-device correctly target to an individual, which is the prerequisite for message sequencing. Message sequencing testing across our clients confirmed what we intuitively knew to be true: finding the same IDs in a typical campaign, across devices, is challenging. In one example, very few IDs were served the third of three messages in a sequential story. Cross-device targeting has become mainstream only in the past three years as identity graphs have grown more robust and sophisticated. At the same time, marketers have become more adept at understanding how to better build their own graphs. Financial and retail categories started to understand that by offering easy access to information and streamlining processes, consumers would opt in to self-identify across devices. Brand-specific graphs continue to be the most robust and most valuable to marketers, with scale and coverage to new customers constantly being the challenge to applications outside of CRM and e-commerce.

Outside of first-party graphs, the ability to have true person-level resolution in targeting and measurement is a challenge that is fundamental to achieve an effective cross-channel strategy. And even when this level of identity across channels is available, a person’s behaviour does not always coincide with the sequencing of channels and messages that is preferred by the marketer. Consumer journey work that we have completed for many clients spanning multiple categories shows an oftentimes chaotic journey with repeated or skipped ‘steps’. Being able to correctly identify where a person is in the journey is difficult and is one aspect that many marketers forget and only fully grasp with forays into advanced analytics or attribution. We can’t control human behaviour, and the individual paths people take are always diverse, small in scale and inconsistent, and messaging sequencing strategies must overcome these limitations.

A framework for person-level cross-channel strategy

Person-level cross-channel strategy remains a conceptual idea without obvious, scalable execution mechanisms. In order to create an effective plan, singular technology solutions are not a primary channel strategy for brands. That does not mean there aren’t important tactical opportunities for planners to consider and execute. Planners can start with foundational strategic inputs to guide a channel strategy that works cohesively, and, in turn, lead them to the best tactical opportunities for cross-channel execution. Consider the framework shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Strategic inputs for cross-channel opportunity evaluation

An honest assessment of strategic inputs will help determine if person-level cross-channel approaches are a ‘nice to have’ or an important component of your plan. For example, the business goal for a plan or product may require substantial reach to properly achieve success, but the match rates between TV data and digital data are significantly lower, making the number of people that can be reached with a person-level cross-channel strategy too small. In this case, the maths won’t work in your favour if you devote a significant amount of your budget to this strategy in this scenario.

In a different circumstance, a restaurant with a widely loved menu item and a very broad target audience may benefit from person-level cross-channel tactics (such as dayparting based on an individual’s habits) as a mechanism to stay top of mind at a relevant time period, just before a purchase decision. Classic objectives such as buy rate vs. penetration, or acquisition vs. retention, must be considered since they impact if and how a person-level cross-channel strategy could be executed. For example, the tactics described thus far excel at creating frequency rather than reach. And often the footprint of a marketer’s data precludes reach growth since it is easier to find your own customers than identifying high-value prospects.

After analysing all the strategic inputs, a simple four-box plan can be plotted to visualise if and how planners should incorporate person-level cross-channel tactics (Figure 2). The vertical axis should rate how well a person-level cross-channel strategy is suited to accomplish a business need (e.g. retention of current customers or broad-based target audience would be highly rated). The horizontal axis should rate how well consumer behaviour matches the ability to execute person-level cross-channel tactics (e.g. significant device switching provides more opportunity for cross-channel execution, whereas a target audience that primarily consumes content via walled gardens is less ideal).

Figure 2: A simple four-box plan

In the brown quadrant, consumers’ multitasking and device switching behaviours are rampant, but the business need for person-level cross-channel tactics is minimal. In these situations, testing different tactics should be the primary focus in this quadrant. In the dark blue quadrant, there is a significant business upside to execute person-level cross-channel tactics but there is minimal multitasking or device switching behaviour within the target – for example, a group of young men who only use console games and Snapchat. The primary focus of this quadrant should be to develop data connections or new technology solutions. In the example of the young men, marketers should step into the void of no existing data to satisfy their need, and find a way to connect game console data with Snapchat data to better understand and target their consumers.

The evolution in what person-level, cross-channel strategy has meant in the marketing industry continues to morph based on ever-changing marketplace possibilities paired with the increasing fragmentation of individual consumer behaviour. Technological progress, coupled with human data, and with marketers’ earnest desire to create a personalised, more valuable experience, has given rise to these unique tools and applications to achieve these elusive goals. Many of these offerings create exciting new communications possibilities and allow for creative approaches in how we can better engage and interact with our consumers, which should not be dismissed. The willingness to test smart market innovation enabled the shift towards some of the biggest companies we now take for granted.

However, these solutions come with limitations that should be understood and evaluated as part of your strategic approach. Existing industry technological gaps, as well as continuing deep-seated consumer behaviours, create challenges that need to be considered by marketers before deciding which solutions are best to achieve their ultimate business and consumer goals. The application of strategic inputs as a guide will illuminate the best tactical opportunities and steer you away from fruitless shiny objects. Because ultimately, cross-channel person-level approaches are as valuable to driving your consumer experience as you effectively plan them to be.

About the authors

View the original article in WARC Admap’s February issue, here.