People-based marketing data war: 7 ways to awaken the force

US$3.95 billion cash – perhaps not the price of a Deathstar, but still a lot of zeros for an acquirer admitting to having “an organic growth challenge at the moment.”

Despite being the second biggest deal in the history of advertising, behind only Dentsu’s acquisition of Aegis Group, Publicis defended it as a “deal,” given the markets were expecting Epsilon to go for as much as US$5m with Goldman Sachs and Advent International bidding as well.

Following an onslaught of analyst and peer critiques, the face of the deal, Publicis CEO Arthur Sadoun, fired back:

Accenture or Deloitte, honestly, doesn't understand marketing enough to go for this kind of big acquisition.

Never shy to join a fight and targeting IPG’s recent US$2.3 billion acquisition of Acxiom as well, S4 CEO Sir Martin Sorrel, dismissively countered: “I don’t regard either Epsilon or Acxiom as good examples of what we’re talking about when it comes to first-party data.”

While commending Dentsu Aegis Network’s acquisition of people-based marketing leader Merkle, he further critiqued WPP for its announced sale earlier this month of the majority stake in insights business Kantar to Bain Capital, which values the company at US$4 Billion.

It’s clear a major war of words and pocketbooks has commenced around marketing first-party data, but what does that mean to marketers in Asia looking to better connect with their customers?  In short, almost the same thing it means for the agency networks – quality, first-party data is even more expensive and harder to get than ever before.

However, while the implications and underlying market dynamics are very real for our region, much of the data fuelling the sky-high valuations is based in the US. The 250 million profiles using more than 7,000 traits trumpeted during the Epsilon acquisition are all on US consumers.

With Google, Facebook and others walling off their data gardens and GDPR driving countries throughout Asia to reconsider the strength of their own data privacy regulations, obtaining first-party data will only become more difficult.

To “awaken the force” of data successfully despite these industry challenges, I’d recommend APAC marketers consider the following seven tips:

  1. Start acquiring and making better use of first-party data, potentially becoming direct-to-consumer (DTC) yourself, if you aren’t already. Or, increase customer data partnerships with downstream channel partners and other customer facing companies like what Coca-Cola and Costa, Nestlé and Starbucks and Unilever and Dollar Shave Club have done. Store and use the data in a Customer Data Platform (CDP) with Demand Side Platform (DSP) activation capabilities like a Data Management Platform (DMP).
  1. Decide on one cross-company and cross-agency unique consumer ID graph aligned with your own first-party customer relationship management (CRM), marketing automation and website content management systems. That, along with utilising a standard data taxonomy, is the only way you’ll be able to bridge data silos to create an omnichannel view of your customers and prospects.
  1. Immediately, invest in a data privacy officer (DPO), which is already mandated in many APAC countries, and supporting governance teams, as well as external counsel to ensure you are effectively managing and protecting consumer data to the letter of the law in every country in which you hold or process it. Ensure your agencies are doing the same and have gathered all the necessary consent.  If your organisation doesn’t have a ‘legitimate interest’ in holding the data, get rid of it to the degree retention rules allow.
  1. Appoint an ethics officer to, among other responsibilities, continuously sense check the fine line your marketing may be straddling between customization and “stalking.” While many people welcome the convenience of personalised offers, the surrender of data must be an equal value exchange that doesn’t result in overly intrusive or manipulative micro-moment touchpoints. Working with the DPO, they should ensure transparency around data use policies and clearly document data privacy safeguards.
  1. In your effort to deliver personalised experiences at scale, make full use of your agencies’ tools designed to recognise consumers, remember their actions, classify their behaviours and influence them with tailored marketing. Ask for transparency around any adtech “black boxes” and business, cookie and device data that may not be deemed to be Personally Identifiable Information (PII) in some APAC markets despite being classified as such under GDPR.
  1. As digital ad spending is expected to soon surpass traditional ad spending for the first time, decide how you are going to deal with the established walled gardens like Google, Facebook and, in China, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. Do you want to build in-house teams and negotiate with each of them individually annually, or leverage your agencies’ collective power to do so?
  1. Explore and maintain existing relationships with independent data marketing companies like Oracle, Lotame, Eyeota, Amobee, Grab, etc. which may provide future strategic opportunities. Follow the lead of B2B marketers who have long understood the value of purchasing marketing qualified leads. In both B2B and B2C, spending tens-of-thousands of dollars on data to better target higher up the funnel can turbocharge the ROI of your data-driven marketing efforts. However, always start any data purchase discussion with an analysis of whether the data to be analysed is fit for purpose in the first place and will fundamentally address the right business questions.

While even these seven may sound like a galactic battle, you are definitely not alone. Dentsu Aegis Network’s CMO Survey found that using data to reach real people is CMO’s number one concern.

Furthermore, while almost half of the respondents to our most recent “Digital Society Index” survey have done things to reduce their online footprint, doubting businesses will protect their personal data, by following these seven tips, you and your organisation have the opportunity to prove them wrong while still delivering personalised experiences at scale.

All you have to do is harness the force!

The writer is Ben Wightman, head of data strategy APAC and media & performance partnership lead SG at Dentsu Aegis Network.

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