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Align your digital marketing partnerships to achieve growth objectives

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 14 Nov, 2019
Essential Essential topic

When it's time for execution, brand marketers and agencies need to be on the same page about what defines success. Here are three ways they can ensure precision control and usage of the right data to accomplish brand goals. 

Brands and their agencies often have healthy disagreements about strategy. As a brand marketer, you might not always enjoy debates, but hopefully, you’ve seen that they can make your marketing so much more focused and compelling. That has certainly been my experience.

But when you shift from planning to execution, everyone needs to get on the same page about what success looks like. It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s much harder than you think because there are more people making decisions on your behalf than ever before. 

If you mapped your team’s organizational structure, how would it line up next to your digital supply chain? On the agency level, it’s probably parallel. Brand CMOs have their counterparts in agency leadership, brand VPs connect to agency EVPs, brand managers work with senior account executives, and so on. This alignment allows for frequent communication and relationship development.

Now think below the agency level. How many additional parties do you work with? There are trade desks, demand-side platforms, and too many publishers to count. All of these partners have their own organizational structures. 


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A side-by-side organizational chart of this cascade would show that you have six or seven levels in your organization, and your digital supply chain likely has 15 to 20 from agency leadership down to the 20-something employee who's picking third-party audiences based on price and optimizing your campaigns based on click-through rate. Sorry to be blunt, but this really happens. So with all of these parties involved, how do you ensure everyone is executing against the same strategy? In a review, it’s hard to parse overall results from individual decisions. 

Don't let your data go to waste 

In August, Digital Element released the results of a survey of 100 digital marketers. More than half of the marketers questioned said they were concerned with "digital exhaust" — the data trail users leave while browsing the internet. While 30% said they did not know the percentage of data they discarded, 15% said they throw away half of the data. 

If they were able to use 25% of that discarded data, 60% of the marketers said it would lead directly to increased sales. 

You could argue that it is your digital media agency’s job to manage all of these companies and people to ensure flawless execution. I’d agree. But I’d also say that the agency really needs the brand team's help in one crucial area: data insights that tell everyone what’s working and what’s not. Armed with these insights, anyone in the org chart can make decisions that benefit your brand. 

A lack of high-quality, actionable data prevents agencies and publishers from making the best possible decisions for their clients. Customer data is often kept confidential, so these organizations rely on proxy data to determine what drives intended consumer behaviors. But misleading or incomplete metrics often inform this data and using it to make in-flight optimization decisions can be the difference between driving incremental sales and spinning your wheels. 

3 steps to achieve brand goals

There’s no need for your digital supply chain partners to depend on vanity metrics or proxies for your performance. Instead, here are three suggestions to ensure precision control and usage of the right data to accomplish brand goals.

1. Recognize that bringing programmatic in-house is not a cure-all

Although only 20% of brands have pulled programmatic in-house — Nordstrom and Dick's Sporting Goods among them — it certainly is a popular point of discussion in the marketing trade press. The opportunity to save money is one of the attractions. Gartner suggests that brands can eliminate 15% to 30% of fees paid out to agencies and key players. 

But bringing buying in-house does not solve the misalignment challenges. You will still likely need to use six to 10 demand-side platforms to achieve a broad reach of your campaigns among your target customers. With each DSP comes its own methodology for measurement and optimization. Big publishers will have their own as well. 

2. Make sure the optimization metrics used by your digital partners align with your own objectives

An increasing amount of data is now available in near-real time, so publishers, DSPs and agencies no longer need to settle for click-through rates. If you optimize for clicks, you will get more of them, but they won’t necessarily translate into sales. As just one of many reasons, recall that ad fraud was estimated to cost advertisers $19 billion in 2018. 

Start instead with your ultimate objective — sales — and work backward. Can you quickly aggregate and share the sales impact of your advertising so it can be used in optimization? Does your agency have a method or partner that can enable that? Not all agencies and partners are created equal here. If you are a small to mid-sized business, you might be forced to rely on a proxy for sales, such as clicks or location data, but keep in mind that every sales proxy has drawbacks. 

3. Look at the real data that’s been used in optimization

Many agencies and publishers do not have access to their clients’ sales data for security, privacy, and competitive reasons, so they are forced to use a proxy to determine what media are driving the intended consumer response. They use probabilistic data points such as impressions, views, clicks, likes, and foot traffic, but those indicators can be misleading. 

The devil is in the details. Are the sample sizes big enough to measure statistical differences? Is the data sourced from first, second, or third parties? Do the results capture the omnichannel nature of your business? This is just a starter list when reviewing data, so dive deep. 

Remember that you indirectly pay for all the people in your digital supply chain. If they are well-intentioned but misinformed, you could be paying for activity that has no impact or even a negative impact on your revenue.

Aligning organizational charts, auditing data usage, and overseeing statistics are probably not among the top reasons you got into marketing, but you can be sure that if you don’t manage them, no one else will. Don’t let executional details keep you from achieving your objectives.

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