Interview: Are we losing the main objective of marketing using data?


Data, data, data. It is everywhere we look. We analyse, then analyse the analysis, and then analyse that analysis. But, as Eugene Lee, regional director of marketing (Asia) McDonald’s, points out at PubMatic's Envision conference, perhaps today’s marketers are missing out on the main point of marketing using data.

“Often today, because we’re so nose deep in analysis paralysis, we lose sight of the magic behind marketing which is the true, genuine, emotional connection with our customers,” Lee said.

The digital world has no doubt changed the way marketers work and their idea of creativity. While in the past, a creative idea would centre around one big idea, and the ad going alongside that idea would pretty much be the same whether on TV, radio, press or OOH, the digital world has changed all that.

No longer can you run the same campaign ad nauseam for two months. With people’s attentions spans often not lasting more than eight seconds, you have to make an impact quickly and memorably.

But Lee believes this might be a positive as it will force marketers to lift their creativity to grab their audience’s attention. “We still have one big idea for the campaign, but it’s now fractured into many different micro ideas applicable for different platforms. With the rise of omni-channel marketing and how quickly ad fatigue kicks in, in the digital age, marketers and the agency have to ideate much more,” he said.

“You need to tease. You need to have impact in week one. And you need to quickly evolve the message over the following weeks.”

According to Lee, while data and tech power today’s best marketing campaigns, they can often become a distraction to marketers – and there is a need to get back to the idea more than the platform.

“I do think that even today, the best creatives still come from a great insight,” he said.

“For example, if your brief starts with the technology first - for example AR is super cool, or TikTok is now trending- and you think let’s do something around it, then you’re basically reverse parking your solution," he explained.

The right way, in Lee’s books should come from insight. For example, if your insight indicates young people today aren’t afraid to be in front of a camera versus previous generations, and because of that you choose TikTok to engage with them, the technology becomes a solution - that's data insight leading to usage of technology.

Lee added that advertising has always been about creativity and content. But then along came multiple mediums which were considered just as important as the message, which led to more targeted media planning and investment. Today, every new platform seems to be the next big thing.

“It’s always important to start from the consumer and not the shiny new object” Lee said, adding:

I get very upset when the agency comes in and makes comments like, ‘There’s this new platform, everyone’s on it!’ or ‘There’s this new way of buying media, let’s try it!

He added that ideas should always start from consumer insights; and the best creative ideas are then developed based on the insights, and then tailored to fit the medium. Not the other way around.

Dealing with the demise of the cookie

Third party cookies have long been an important part of digital campaigns. While they can still be used, companies such as Google have plans to block them; although at this stage that has been delayed until 2023. What will this mean for marketers?

Lee said: “Third party cookies are great. They help unify the view of a customer, and help us understand what ads a customer has been exposed to." He added:

My issue is with the strong focus on performance marketing, which is basically the nudging part of the equation. If we use third party cookies properly, identify a customer, and serve both priming and nudging ads, then it becomes extremely powerful.

“Without third party cookies, we will still need to nudge, but hopefully it will help marketers realise that priming is also extremely crucial in the media mix. Not everything is instant ROI.”

With the world of COVID on us, and businesses and industries facing tough times, money has become tight. Everyone is trying to save every dollar they can; or if they can be convinced to spend, they want even more bang for their buck – which can lead to performance-driven marketing. 

Lee admits it is tough when the first question marketing departments often face regarding a campaign is about money and ROI from marketing spend. But with technology, he explains that McDonald’s can now monitor sales on a completely different level. In the past, you might have needed to wait a week before you knew how your campaign/promo was performing. In some industries, it might even be a month. But with technology, businesses can now monitor things live.

“At McDonald’s, we sometimes fall into this trap as well where we get hourly sales reports, and if things aren’t trending right, the management might turn around and asks: ‘What are we doing about it?’”

It is then as a marketer or CMO you have to go with your instincts, he explains. Lee added that while clever tactical campaigns helps sales, there is more to marketing such as overall branding and brand building. A balance of both is necessary for the perfect recipe.

This is what McDonald’s calls as priming and nudging or brand versus sales activation. Branding helps you build for the long term, sales gives you the short-term lift.

If you over-index on either, you lose a big part of your business growth. Lee explains that McDonald’s is still a work in progress in Asia – at around (30% brand, 70% sales), but it is actively aiming for a 50-50 split.

“It’s really a balance, and sticking to the plan. Align the plan up front with the your management, and agree to stay the course.”

He added that at McDonald’s, it is trying to change this behaviour by putting strict KPIs behind both immediate sales impact plus longer term brand score impact (monthly); that is trying to balance sales and building your brand.

Breaking away from the cookie cutter ads

While data has many uses in tracking customers, it’s also important to remember customers are people with needs, emotions and often a belief in the way a product should positively impact society. The art of great advertising is to make people sit up and listen, and then hopefully, buy. But as companies tend towards more cookie cutter-type ads, it is potentially having the opposite effect.

This is where what you do with data counts, says Lee. “Data should be used to understand the consumer more. The question should always be ‘What does the data tell us?’ not ‘What is the data?’ Data is amazing, and we can understand our customers a lot better because of it,” he said, adding: Data is a tool that enables marketing, and it shouldn’t be the tool that defines marketing.”

He added that marketers today are asked to create much more content today then 10 years ago and ad fatigue is a real issue, but the creative fatigue is an even bigger issue.

 “Unfortunately, because of this, the easiest way to create more, is by standardising and using templates. Yes, it’s a lazy way to create ads, but it’s also the easiest for some time and resource starved teams,” said Lee.

How Lee counters this is by crafting a storyline that the team wants to tell over four to six weeks. “Plan each week, write a narrative for it, and from there, you’ll tell a complete story to your customers,” he said. As we move away from the intricacies provided by third-party cookies, marketers will need new ways to ensure marketing, especially digital marketing remains relevant to consumers.

The restrictions on data usage may just provide marketers with a new opportunity to take creativity to a new and exciting level, says Lee.

“I think it will help us be less distracted about the micro details, and get us to focus more on the big picture and the big idea. You won’t sell more products by shouting at your customer. You will sell more products if you connect with your customer.”