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The rise of individual-centric digital marketing

The rise of individual-centric digital marketing David Williams

Over the past few months, there has been a surge of activity toward individual-centric digital marketing that has transformed the way marketers address their audiences. It wasn't long ago that digital marketing meant hitting "send" on a mass email to customers and prospects and simply monitoring click-through rates to determine ROI. Now, marketers have the ability to reliably reach known individuals with targeted and personalized marketing communications across devices. The industry owes a great deal of thanks to Facebook, Google, and Twitter for instigating this paradigm shift, and over the next 18 months, I predict we will continue to see massive shifts in the digital media and paid search landscape.

We've entered the age of true people-based marketing, and there's no turning back.

Let's say a major retailer, which has troves of offline and online data about its consumers, wants to improve the way it interacts with them on an individual day-to-day basis. By blending together the insights from its data pool, the retailer can recommend complementary or upsell products to specific individuals online -- in real-time -- to help drive additional sales.

Or take the case of an insurance company who has a pool of customers it knows is near the end of their policies. The company can actually bid more on an individual basis through paid search to place contextually relevant plans in front of the consumer.

Successful digital marketing in the near future won't just be about understanding what customers generally look like, because individual-centric digital marketing is all about driving provable ROI. From what we've seen in working with our clients, there is much to be excited about. Individual-based marketing solves for many of the shortcomings of traditional cookie-based marketing. Each one of these areas alone drives incremental performance, but when viewed all together it is a game changer.

Consistent user targeting across devices

Because individuals have multiple devices, and cookies get deleted, it was virtually impossible to deliver consistent and personalized experiences across devices. This is now enabled through the publisher's robust identity graphs.

Less waste to ad fraud

Programmatic made buying targeted ads much easier, but also made life easier for those who perpetuate ad fraud. It is estimated that upwards of 30 percent of web traffic could be fraudulent, which has profound ramifications for digital marketers purchasing online ads. Identifying and eliminating this fraud is incredibly difficult, but it is critical as ad fraud ultimately means wasted advertising spend. Because individual-based marketing includes marketing to individuals who have provided personal information, it is much more difficult to perpetuate ad fraud. This means marketers are actually reaching the audiences they originally intend to target.

Ability to bridge online and offline targeting

The convergence of online and offline data now ensures we can reach customers and prospects digitally after they purchase an item in a store, speak with a call center, or otherwise interact offline. Marketers can also leverage other rich offline behavioral, demographic, psychographic, and other data, and apply rigorous modeling techniques in the process, just as with direct mail and email. 

Better accountability and measurement

While the traditional world of cookies has served the industry well thus far, executing traditional controlled testing remains a challenge. Cookies for one individual can end up in multiple test and control cells, contaminating the test results. When targeting at an individual level, marketers have much more control of testing. This will drive better measurement of digital advertising spend and higher standards of accountability.

Privacy respectful

Facebook and Twitter have shown this type of targeting can be done in a privacy and consumer respectful way. Personal information is safeguarded and separated from digital marketing actions. We expect Google to follow the same path.

So, what changes should we expect to see over the next year and a half? First, the pace at which individual-centric digital marketing is adopted will continue to accelerate. Facebook and Twitter both offer services that help marketers drill down to the individual consumer level, and it appears that Google is on the horizon of allowing advertisers to reach existing customers in search results by targeting them using their email addresses. In February, LinkedIn announced its own lead accelerator, which allows for both anonymous and known lead targeting online.

Second, ecommerce companies and large publishers, through their supply-side platforms, are exploring how they can better monetize their ad inventories and data through this individual-based targeting. As the total percentage of online advertisements that can be targeted increases, expect to see more announcements from these companies on how they are shifting their inventories to accommodate the increasing focus on the individual.

Finally, while we have moved into the age of individual-centric digital marketing, expect digital agencies to acquire more of the traditional direct marketing skill sets that have allowed marketers to target other individual-based media, such as email and direct mail.

As the industry adjusts to the changing dynamics afoot, the movement to individual-centric digital marketing ultimately benefits the consumer with more relevant offerings and brands with higher measurement standard and overall accountability. So buckle up, because more change is on the horizon.

David Williams is CEO at Merkle.

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