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Every question you need to ask your advertising data provider

(Image credit: Image Credit: Flickr / janneke staaks)

No matter where you are in your advertising campaign, leveraging the right data will always be critical to its success. However, determining exactly what differentiates the most valuable data being offered by competing providers can be tricky. With everyone claiming their data has the ability to reach your audience at the right place and time, how can you authenticate who to trust? Unfortunately, you can’t. At least not until the campaign post-mortem is complete and your budget is gone. 

To help drown out the white noise, we’ve put together a checklist of questions that you should be asking any advertising data provider, prior to execution. This will ensure that you are, in fact, reaching target audiences in the most effective ways. 

Where does your data come from?

Any provider is going to be quick to pitch you on the key differentiators of their data compared to the competition. However, one thing they might be hesitant to dive deeper on is where that information is sourced. Is their data sourced internally (first-party (opens in new tab)), and, if so, how? Don’t let them rush through this question, as this can give you a clearer picture of what exactly it is you’re buying and how it will impact your campaign.  

What is your reach?

While access to first-party data is a strong jumping-off point, it is only as good as the number of users it is pulled from. A significant user base not only supports the validity of the data, but confirms exposure to the largest possible audience. Be sure to note that large numbers of data storage terabytes (TB) doesn’t necessarily translate to actual audience. Always find out how many real people they can reach with an advertisement.

What percentage of the data is created from a look-a-like model?

A red flag to be cognisant of is that in order to compensate for a lack of reach, some providers will artificially inflate their scale. This is done through what is known as a look-a-like model, data science which tinkers with the actual number of users, ultimately making their offering seem more appealing to potential customers. Always inquire how much of the segment they’re trying to sell you on is first-party, and what percentage is look-a-like. You don’t want the filler, you want the real deal.

What causes users to be placed into an audience segments?

For advertisers, it’s always important to not only maximise reach, but guarantee that the audience you’re targeting is interested in what you’re selling. That’s why some data providers sell specialised data based on interest. If that’s the case, find out what factors they consider when placing a user in that segment. How many behavioural signals indicate interest? Generally, a higher number of signals in a given time period indicates a stronger level of user intent, though you should ensure that those data signals are both fresh and relevant.

What is your audience segment maintenance strategy?

Consumers are fickle. Their interests can change on a dime based on mood, professional or personal changes, or something even as simple as time of day. If a certain set of behaviours place a user in a segment, that doesn’t necessarily mean those interests will have longevity – and require monitoring in case they need to be removed. The most effective providers have strategies on how to keep their audiences up to date with current engaged users, not with old information. Otherwise you run the risk of wasting your budget on consumers whose interests do not align with your product. 

Can you reach audiences across devices?

With consumers constantly bouncing between platforms and devices, an omnichannel strategy is paramount in today’s digital world. For web, mobile, apps and tablets, seamless platform navigation is the new norm – and consumers expect their digital experiences to be consistent between each. By maintaining that touchpoint with one user on all of their preferred devices, you keep them engaged throughout their path to purchase. To create a successful campaign today, you need to ensure your data provider has a device graph (or trusted cross-device provider) which links user devices together for a holistic targeting strategy.

For which metric does your data perform best, and why?

Every good salesperson will lead with their strengths, and data providers are no different. Look closely at what is being touted as the strongest performing metrics. While they may be objectively impressive, there is no guarantee that their strategy and recommended audience segments fully align with your business goals. What’s the end-game of your campaign? Are you solely trying to boost sales or is total market share of voice a factor as well? Look back at what is inspiring the larger effort and understand exactly how the data you’re about to purchase maps back to brand strategy, and how they will ultimately support your goals.

Can you accurately attribute the performance lift directly to your campaign? If so, how?

Was it worth it? You never want to find yourself in the position of not being able to decipher exactly what your ROI was after completing an advertising campaign. Never pull the trigger with a provider if they are unable to back up the value of their data with not only concrete examples of other campaigns they have supported, but also direct links to how their data was able to tie back to any lift in sales, share of voice, or whichever metric was deemed priority for the overall effort. 

The double-edged sword for brands today is that here has never been this many options to choose from when looking for the right partner in creating a comprehensive advertising campaign. The wealth of options, however, can often create uncertainty in which metrics you need to prioritise in order to set yourself, and your brand, up for success. The next time you walk into a sales pitch with an advertising data provider, make sure you cover off on each of these key questions – as it will not only protect your investment, but maximise its effect as well. 

Michael Jacobson, Manager of Advertising Data & Solutions, Bazaarvoice (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Flickr / janneke staaks

Michael Jacobson is the Manager of Advertising Data & Solutions at Bazaarvoice. In this role, he leads all efforts around building audience strategy for the company’s advertising division. Before joining Bazaarvoice, he has held digital roles at Foursquare, Vivaki and PubMatic.