The Art & Practice of Data-Driven Storytelling: A Q&A with Andy Pocock

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Adotas gets insights and answers from Andy Pocock (pictured left), SVP Strategic Business Development, Flashtalking, about the art and science of storytelling in advertising.

arketing. How has storytelling changed and what role has data played in that change?

A: Storytelling — the kind of storytelling used in advertising to move people one way or another — was done for a long time with a pretty flat view of the consumer. Over time, data and data science have changed that. How sophisticated audience data science works hand in hand with creative and how we use our strategic thinking and systems to make the most of that combination is the new game for all of us in the business of marketing to consumers.

Data in and of itself is helpful, sure. So is moving and heavy-hitting creative (look no further than the so-called Big Idea). But when you unite them, and do so with solid audience intel and performance insight and skill, their combined benefits are amplified. It’s with that combination that you can deliver data-driven storytelling, stories that you can tune to your audiences, learn from and build upon time and time again.

Q: What if your brand or agency has never really worked with data in this way? Is this stuff hard or does it require a complete agency or department makeover?

A: It’s first a matter of stepping back and evaluating your team’s degree of strategic thinking when it comes to the audiences you are targeting and developing. Do they look deep enough? Then, you ask yourselves whether you and the team are truly taking advantage of the state of the science and tools — as well as tapping into potential partners — available to you. Take a real look at your workflow, how teams collaborate, work together with the data from the get go — with sales and marketing, media, creative, tech and ops all orienting around the key data to activate start to finish. This move may or may not involve investing in systems, new partners or solutions. It may be as simple as tuning the workflow and getting your teams to get together around the data sooner than later and commit to allowing data to help guide the story to tell to consumers.

So, I invest in the right solutions, data partnerships, training for my teams — how do we make sure we get the creative right, the personalization part right across devices, even? It’s worth noting first that targeting data has become somewhat commoditized, so it’s really important to work with partners and solutions that will know exactly how to optimize your data to creative messaging that resonates with consumers on a personable level.

It’s true that the use of data is nothing new and the industry as a whole has done a great job in defining, finding and targeting audiences – but it’s operationalizing that creative messaging piece at scale that is very much where we are going. Using data systems, advertisers can show various creatives to each viewer, in real time, on the fly. It includes so much today.

Data types now include demographics, context, browsing behavior, location, time of day and environment. With a system taking all these things into account and your team having done the strategic thinking on options to serve, the result is a customized ad experience for the consumer that can be seen on any device and in any format including display, video and mobile.

Here’s a bit on how it works. Targeted ads use audience intelligence to activate specific pre-built, static ads via ad serving.Taking the option a step further, dynamic creative uses a predetermined database of assets or live feeds activate within the ad. What you have is the system working with targeting data to automate the creation of a truly personalized, one-of-a-kind ad in real time.

Q: We talk about data like it’s all the same, but it’s not. How important is data quality?

A: Huge. It’s the difference between success and failure of data-driven operations like dynamic creative or attribution. Sometimes we get so fixated on what we can do with the data that we forget to really focus on the data itself.

Q: When will dynamic creative become relevant for video?

A: Soon. We see this is as a kind of tipping point for the industry, and for data-driven marketing in general. You can see it with the Upfronts and Newfronts in just the past few weeks — even though there’s lots of hype around digital and its capabilities, there’s still a tremendous amount of loyalty to the TV buy. As video audiences become more addressable, the ability to dynamically adjust video creative to personalize messaging will start to interest CMOs of all stripes — especially those looking to venture into mobile and native with it. The technology is there, in rudimentary form, and the mature stages are visible on the horizon. What will create the cascade of interest is the addressability of the TV audience. That, too, is only a matter of time.

Overall, when it comes to the data driven marketing shift, once you embrace the learning curve and realize it’s truly at your fingertips, it’s a sweeping change. A fairly typical example is what we’ve seen with major brands starting with as light as a 15% budget allocated to DCO and data-driven, moving to 100% focused on it. It’s all about assessing the situation as I described above, suiting up, and uniting the DMP and creative activation. In fact, we’ve partnered with Oracle to deliver best practices for the industry and have produced a playbook that has been very well received.

Andy Pocock, SVP Strategic Business Development

Co-founder of Flashtalking Inc.’s US business, Andy is responsible for initial launch through to successful and continued expansion from ‘three guys in a coffee shop’ to over 200 people in four offices across the US. A strategic business development executive with established high-value, revenue generating, partnerships across the industries leading advertising technology platforms. Consulting and executing a comprehensive range of digital media and technology solutions for blue chip advertisers, global agency teams and technology platform partners across US, Europe and APAC.

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