The ads don’t work: how three brands are going customer-centric to improve ad effectiveness

Starwood's content platform Momentum

With smaller budgets and teams, brands are seeking smarter, more data-driven routes to selling their products online. But in an era in which everyone has access to data and technology, more is needed to differentiate or brands risk over targeting the same customers over and over again.

Speaking at the Forrester CX conference in Singapore today, Mastercard, Starwood and Standard Chartered agreed that despite all the tools at their disposal, they weren’t getting the results needed to meet business KPIs.

Dominic Koh, head of digital and social media marketing at Mastercard, said; “We were using ad tech and we could target well, get good reach and get better results and then it tailed off. We used programmatic and it got us better results but then it tapered off and it will dive again. Why? You need to reach their hearts, not their heads. If you are making ads on discounts and deals, people get blind.”

Janice Chan, senior director of digital marketing at Starwood Asia Pacific, had a similar story to tell; “We don’t think our ads work anymore. A lot of dollars were going into display but people were not engaging in ads and were not clicking. We can’t be communicating through banner ads, but what’s the best strategy?”

For all three brands the answer was putting themselves in the shoes of the customer as the first step. Instead of using data to reach their target audiences, they said they started again to work out what the need of the customer was, still using data to help them.

Starting with the customer journey was the advice from Standard Chartered’s head of digital engagement and content Norliza Kassim.

“We have budgets shrinking each year as well as resources. What can we do? How do we change? What does it mean? Power has shifted to the age of the customer. The role of the marketer is changing and we need to be able to adapt to that. Always start with customer decision journey,” she said.

Mastercard discussed how it changed its tactic to put emotion back to the forefront of its advertising, something that had driven its ‘Priceless’ platform for almost 20 years but had gotten lost in the programmatic era.

The business has now completely shifted the way it manages its real-time communications, using data and people to make fast decisions about what’s important to customers first before turning it into a commercial opportunity for partners and vendors.

This takes form as a digital and ecommerce engine and it now powers digital marketing activity at the brand. Having ecommerce close to the digital decisions was important because each additional click led to a 15 per cent drop off, according to Koh.

For Starwood and Standard Chartered, the answer was to still use data to target and inform strategy but select content as the means of telling the brand story.

Chan discussed the Starwood content platform Momentum, which is barely branded and serves to give customers information on what they really want - destinations. According to Chan, the content is created carefully and then the brand uses data and technology to target those who read the content at a later date with deals in hotels in the city that they are interested in, based on the way they interacted with the content.

For Standard Chartered, the use of data helped the business know where to grow or decrease investment in content and paid distribution with the end goal of cutting costs and growing acquisitions. Kassim, said the brand started off smaller by working out “low hanging fruits”. It worked with partners to create a “heat map” of opportunity, using behavioural online data to work out when people would be most likely to convert.

After discussing the threats to ad effectiveness, such as ad blocking and bots, she concluded, “All of this is making the job harder but it’s a great opportunity. We’ve never before been presented with so much data and insights. It is the first time ever that we have been in this position as marketers to say we can do the ‘right place, right time, with the right message’. It’s available but we need to organise ourselves, align our resources and it is mobile, more and more for us.”

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