Podcast

Using front-end analytics in media planning

Who cares about a cheap CPM if no one went in to buy your product? 

It isn’t enough to simply deliver on what you purchased from a media buying standpoint. Clients should expect agencies to demonstrate the value to their bottom line. The data has always been there, but we’re now able to leverage it and design more sophisticated media strategies targeting store location, demographics and the weather.

Using that data our media planning allows us to shape media plans based on the insight around what does and doesn’t drive business because we are focused on selling the widgets rather than the efficiency of buying media.

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Welcome to Callahan’s Uncovering Aha! podcast. We talk about a range of topics for marketing decision-makers, with a special focus on how to uncover insights in data to drive brand strategy and inspire creativity. Featuring  Jan-Eric Anderson and Zack Pike.

Zack:
Hi. I’m Zack Pike. I run data and analytics at Callahan.

Jan-Eric:
And I’m Jan-Eric Anderson, head of strategy at Callahan.

Zack:
And today, we’re talking about how we use front-end analytics in the vain of media planning and decision-making. And Jan-Eric, I know you’ve got some long experience in the media world, so why don’t we start by giving our listeners just a bit of background on kind of your role at Callahan, and maybe some of your history in the media space in general.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah, yeah. Sure. So, my role as Chief Strategy Officer at Callahan, I refer to my group as the “Land of Misfits.”. My group spans media planning, social media, strategy, consumer strategy, and analytics, and so we’ve got our fingers in a little bit of everything there. I cut my teeth in advertising several years ago, many moons ago, I hate to admit how long it’s been, as a media buyer-planner at Leo Burnett. Not long after I started there, about a year after I started, the media department spun into its own company called Starcom, which of course then became a global power as a media agency. I cut my teeth in this industry as a media planner and buyer, and so I’ve got a lot of passion for that. While my role today is much broader than just media planning, I have a soft spot in my heart for media planning and buying.

Zack:
Yeah. Yeah. So, you’ve been around through this whole surge of data kind of inching its way into the media world, which I’m sure is pretty cool. So, well, with that background, just tell us what it’s like. I mean, what is this whole thing of using front-end data for media planning? What’s it like today versus where it was five, 10 years ago? What’s that whole story?

Jan-Eric:
Yeah. It’s a great question and it’s super exciting. Anybody from media planning has to have an appreciation for data, and I certainly have my entire career, but the amount of data we’re working with and the sophistication of the data is so much different today than it was 20 years ago. Data has always been around, but the way it’s being used and applied, the accessibility, how quickly it’s available, how universally it’s available, all the different ways you can cut it and slice it and look at it is so profound. It’s really, really exciting. I love being in conversations around media planning as we think about this.

Jan-Eric:
Now, Callahan, and we really have developed this idea of front-end analytics, that has been liberating from a media planning standpoint. I feel like finally, as a media planner, we are able to do what we always have wanted to do, and that is have a bigger and bigger impact on the business. So, we had to take a really quick step back and just frame a little bit what we mean by front-end data analytics from a marketing standpoint.

Jan-Eric:
Simply put, it’s really about taking business metrics, and understanding the relationship between these business metrics and the story that it paints that starts to develop and shed light on opportunities for growth, what’s driving business, what’s not driving business and really understanding what the biggest drivers of business are. That insight is so valuable from a media standpoint because we are able to as planner, as media planner, we are able to design plans specifically based on the insight of what drives business and what doesn’t drive business. It’s liberating from a media planning standpoint.

Zack:
Yeah. Yeah. So, how about tactically, how is this stuff being used today? I’m doing this analysis stuff, and we’re looking at, I think, really cool things and building some cool plans as a result, but what are clients getting out of it? What are some of the nuances that we’re dealing with from an efficiency or effectiveness perspective? What’s that look like?

Jan-Eric:
So, what clients are getting out of it is they’re getting a greater level of emphasis and focus on business results. What’s interesting is that you rarely find a client who will articulate it this way. You also never find a client who will disagree with it. I’ve never had a client hire me to buy them more efficient impressions, if that’s what they really wanted.

Zack:
Right. Right.

Jan-Eric:
But, that’s what you get asked for all the time as a media planner. What they really want is for you to help them sell more widgets. At the end of the day, that’s what they’re hiring you to do; not buy impressions but to sell widgets. Front-end analytics is connecting back to this idea of selling widgets and what drives that and what doesn’t drive it.

Jan-Eric:
So, tactically, as we move into media planning, the more we can shape media plans based on the insight around what does and doesn’t drive business, the more effective we can become because we are focused on the effectiveness of selling widgets rather than the efficiency of buying media. Who cares about a cheap CPM if nobody went in to buy your stuff?

Zack:
Right. Right.

Jan-Eric:
That’s not going to make anybody happy on the client side.

Zack:
Yeah. Yeah. It’s because we’re basing it in the business data to start with.

Jan-Eric:
Yes.

Zack:
Right? The CPM is after the fact. And to your point, an expensive CPM might be a good thing in some cases, right?

Jan-Eric:
Yeah. Yeah. And to be clear, this is not a podcast advocating for high CPM’s. That’s not the point of this, but the point is to understand a CPM in context of what it’s doing for business. The way we have traditionally reported on media is a bit lazy, and it’s a bit convenient for a media planner to say I delivered what I purchased from a media standpoint. I’ve made good on my post-buy, but to never really be able to demonstrate the value to the bottom line is lacking, frankly. In this day and age, I think as an industry, media planners ought to hold themselves to a higher accountability, and clients ought to expect more from their agencies.

Zack:
Yeah, I think that’s fair. Definitely. So, we do a fair bit of this work where we’re looking at data points that sometimes some may not say are related to the business. The weather, for example. I’m doing an analysis right now where I’m looking at humidity to try and bump that up against some sales information to drive a plan off of. Explain how we’re using that type of stuff today versus how the whole planning process, say 10 years ago, would you have considered stuff like this? Was it possible, and just give me a comparison between the two.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah, you definitely would have thought about it, and you would have known it existed, that variability existed to some degree, but you might not have known what it was, so it ends there. We’ve talked about this example in the past where if I own a car wash, the amount that it rains is going to impact my business. I know that it does, but I can’t tell you how much it does. You know that there’s a cause and effect there, but you don’t really know what it is.

Jan-Eric:
National brands still have to think about the local sale. I worked with a restaurant chain that sold hamburgers. The never once sold a national hamburger. I worked with a restaurant chain, sold hamburgers. They never once sold a national hamburger. They never once sold a drink nationally. You sell it one transaction at a time to one customer at a time, which is in one distinct time, in one distinct location. Getting down to that level of detail, when you dive into the numbers, ultimately what you discover is variability of performance across a system; variability across the country and different factors having varying degrees of influence on business. That variability paints a mosaic, a picture of what’s happening broadly across the country.

Jan-Eric:
Where we are today with digital media and technology that has emerged from a media standpoint, we finally have the ability to act on this variability. Eight to 10 years ago, we could start to get an idea of this variability from a data analysis standpoint, but the media landscape was not ready to allow you to act on it. Advancements in digital technology: search, programmatic display, programmatic and addressable TV, social media, these are all different types of tactics that we can use with great levels of sophistication to take advantage of this variability.

Jan-Eric:
We can look at a national account or a national business, let’s stick with the restaurant category, we can look at a concept that has thousands of locations across the United States and start to understand how the different stores, store locations, perform, and even then start to develop a segmentation of these stores and these different locations based on their opportunity or based on their high vulnerability to weather, high vulnerability to the demographic skews in their particular area.

Jan-Eric:
From here, you can start to activate the media strategies to leverage those. Spend more in this area, in this part of the country. Spend less in this part of the country. Do more Spanish language radio in this part of the country. Do less Spanish language in these parts of the country. Follow rain storms in these markets. Don’t follow rain storms in these markets. All of this level of variability can be acted on, and that super exciting. Again, these are decisions being made based on the promise of impact to the business based on the analytics.

Zack:
Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, obviously I’m on board with all that way of thinking. To me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a hundred locations or a hundred thousand. It’s just data. So, talk a little bit about why more companies aren’t doing this. It’s dumbfounding to me why, one, more agencies aren’t doing this, but even big brands we run into all the time that are struggling with this, maybe not even considering it at all, don’t have access to the data. Talk about your experience and why that might be.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah. That’s a good question. The reality is, there’s a couple of things that are impacting this. One, they may not have access to the level of analysis that will really shed light on this. I’ve worked with a client recently that anecdotally would talk about the impact of weather but didn’t know and because they didn’t know what the impact of weather was, they couldn’t really act on it. They didn’t know what to do with it. They knew it impacted it but they didn’t know how. Lack of information and the lack of the analysis sometimes is what can be a preventing factor.

Jan-Eric:
But that’s not always the case because some people do have access to it and still don’t do something with it. I really try to be empathetic to this. Change is hard. For a lot of organizations, there’s been a way of doing it and leadership that’s in place or personnel, all levels in the organization, can be used to a way of doing things and maybe at their core know that there’s a better opportunity and a better way to do it, but change is difficult. With change, comes vulnerability. As individuals within or organization, you kind of stick your neck out to say, we’re going to switch things up. We’re going to try something different. We’re looking at this through a different lens. You and I have put together analysis that’s really hard to poke a hole in, and still it’s met with resistance. I think a lot of that gets back to this human nature and this reluctance to make a change.

Zack:
Yeah. I think that’s fair.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah, and there’s a course, a way to get over that, which is the idea of testing. We’ve talked about the idea of creating a PTE. We refer to a PTE all the time, which is shorthand for perpetual testing environment where we’re always testing and always learning. That’s a good approach for a lot of clients that maybe have some reluctance to try something new or are reluctant to change because you can try it on without having to buy the whole outfit, right? And test and learn. Take a little bit of a test and learn, and build some internal credibility and some momentum internally. Frankly, I think that’s very reasonable to expect from within an organization, and I think it’s perfectly … that’s a responsible approach, but it certainly is testable, very testable with front-end analytics to getting into media planning such as what we’re talking about.

Zack:
Yeah, and it facilitates innovation that probably couldn’t have been done otherwise, right?

Jan-Eric:
Oh yeah.

Zack:
In some of these cases, you may be using industry studies to determine which direction an industry is heading and then making a big bet on that, where in a test, in a constant testing environment like we’re talking about, I can test stuff really quickly and learn. Two years of testing, I’m much smarter than I ever would have been.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah, and I guess one of the watch-outs in all of that with the perpetual testing is that once you try something, just because it works in Denver doesn’t mean that it’s going to work in Cincinnati.

Zack:
Absolutely.

Jan-Eric:
Just like there are varying factors in every market, there’s going to be variability of what works in what markets. You have to have your eyes wide open about that as you’re getting into it. Just because it worked in one place doesn’t mean that you just open it and go all out everywhere else and invest your entire budget in that amount. You continue expand and learn about that.

Zack:
Yeah. Well, that all makes sense. I mean, we’ve talked about effectiveness of using this data stuff to plan with. We talked a little bit about variability, and then we talked about this PTE thing. I think all of that stuff is super valuable. What would you say to someone who’s maybe thinking about this? If you had to leave them with one thing, a CMO sitting inside an organization thinking about, hey, I’d really like to use data to plan my media instead of just going with what I know anecdotally every year, I mean, what would you say to him?

Jan-Eric:
I would say go for it, and I would say get comfortable with the data analytics. If you’re comfortable with the data, the media plans start to become pretty easy. Don’t lose confidence in the media plan in isolation of the data analytics. Get comfortable with the analytics and what it’s telling you to do. You know it’s the right thing to do. Follow through with it and be willing to accept it. Some of the views that you’ve looked at things, the way you’ve determined success in the past may be a little bit different in a new world than how you looked at it in the past. Be willing to evaluate plans before they’ve happened. As you’re making a decision, should we do this or not, be willing to see these with new fresh perspective informed by data analytics rather than the old constraints and old ledgers and rulers that you’ve used in the past to predict whether or not they’re going to work. Trust it and test it and learn.

Zack:
Awesome. Awesome. Well said. Well, I’m Zack Pike. He’s Jan-Eric. Thanks for joining us.

 

Thanks for listening to our Uncovering Aha Podcast. Callahan provides data savvy strategy, and inspired creativity for national consumer brands. Visit us at Callahan.Agency to learn more.

 

Photo by ANDREW NEEL on UNSPLASH