Data Visualization Can Unlock Digital’s Advertising Confusion


Which would you rather read: USA Today or the phone book?I’m going to bet nearly 100 percent of people would take the first choice and flip through the newspaper with colorful charts and graphs over a brick of monotonous listings. The paper is just easier to read and process. It’s alarming then that online campaign analysis is closer to handing a client the phone book than it is to providing easily digestible information.

In this age of data and measurement, we can target consumers online and slice the results to give a very clear understanding of what happened in a campaign and why it happened. But the current state of analysis – stacks of Excel spreadsheets – is holding agencies and brands back. Too much time goes into drawing out insights, rather than putting those insights into action. If the buy-side wants to make an impact online, data reporting, much like data management, should be automated and dynamic.

One of the main issues is that campaign management and performance data are probably 15 years behind ad serving technologies, stuck in a web 1.0 world that sometimes requires printouts and faxes. This limits how anyone on the buy-side even approaches the practice of analytics. Because the information comes so long after a campaign ends, it serves only as a report, not a forecasting and optimization tool. Ads are bought, sold and served in real-time. Therefore, client understanding shouldn’t take days or weeks.

Things get more complicated when you add in the number of devices where ads now appear. Mobile, tablets and connected TV are now an undeniable part of the media landscape, adding another dimension of reporting and a greater expectation of the marketers to drive performance. When purchasing media across multiple formats, the marketer needs a simple process to understand their investment and performance, and then move forward with everything they’ve learned.

Visualizing the results lets anyone understand the success in an instant, rather than the hours or days needed to sort through a paper report. But is there a Web 2.0 solution to campaign management, with this kind of visualization? Much of the work done today has focused on clunky UIs that are more of an attempt to fix spreadsheets than they are to shift the paradigm. Nearly every campaign management system on the market is line item based and tabular – while there may be a clear way to understand data, the planners still need to go step by step to take any action. It’s a major issue if the main job function of a smart campaign manager is to cobble together a cohesive report. Those man-hours should be spent understanding the results, not assembling them.

Getting to that 2.0 era of management and analytics requires both practices to be combined, with clear visualization serving as the key component. Imagine a campaign manager looking at a geographic heat map of where consumers are responding to ads and, at a glance, seeing which pockets have potential for increased conversions. We could all benefit from a dynamic visual that informs optimization and budget allocation strategies.

This isn’t an endorsement for full automation. Agencies and brands always need to understand the numbers in front of them, no matter what. Combining analytics and planning cuts out several steps – too many to count – that are still slowing down the process. Someone will always have to bring quarterly reports to a meeting with the client. This is about spending less time assembling those reports and more time to improve the results contained in the report.

A clean interface that agencies and marketers use to understand online advertising is bound to drive a major uptick in digital spending. Campaign management is about acting on information, and information is easiest to understand when it’s visualized. For proof, pick up a copy of USA Today.


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