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The one-to-one future – enabling the holy grail of marketing

By Michael Nutley, Writer for The Drum

May 22, 2023 | 8 min read

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One-to-one marketing is a powerful tool to improve ad effectiveness, but economics and data privacy concerns make it hard to use correctly.

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Privacy concerns and data regulations are creating new barriers to online marketing / Adobe Stock

Relevant marketing on the payment and confirmation pages of e-commerce sites can improve ad performance, at scale, in a brand-safe environment when customers are in the mood to shop. And it can all be done in a way that means both retailer and brand data are safe, secure and never shared with third parties.

Marketing on a one-to-one level has long been regarded as the ultimate goal of the discipline. Delivering the right message to the right person at the right time should be the magic formula for marketing effectiveness.

It’s also more necessary than ever. The noise in the market continues to increase. There are more channels, more platforms, more messages and no sign of the volume coming down any time soon.

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“Consumers are being bombarded with choices,” explains James Cull, strategic solutions architect at e-commerce technology company Rokt. “And from a marketer’s perspective, there are many tools and channels you can use to reach your audiences, making it a very complex and crowded space.”

New barriers emerge

But like the subjects of many other great quests, no matter how close we get to it, the holy grail of one-to-one always seems just out of reach.

As Cull points out, economic pressures are forcing all businesses to do more with less. Massive improvements in marketing effectiveness might look great, but not if achieving them means similar increases in cost.

“The way to elevate yourself is to be super-relevant,” Cull says. “As much as we like to think we know everything about our potential customers, the truth is, the data knows best. So by utilizing sophisticated machine learning, we can rely on the algorithm to find new incremental users.”

Meanwhile, privacy concerns and data regulation have created new barriers to online marketing. Any marketing messages must respect a customer’s right to privacy and meet their expectations.

Reaching an audience in the buying mindset

One area of marketing that has seen massive growth in recent years has been retail media. At its simplest, this means advertising on e-commerce sites using the retailer’s data to influence what shoppers put in their cart. And it has many attractions. It is a highly-controlled, brand-safe environment and the audience is in the mood to shop. The disadvantage is that the advertising is only endemic and appears before the point of transaction.

Rokt operates in a similar space to the retail media companies, but with important differences. Firstly, it engages shoppers with non-endemic ads via the retailer’s cart, payment, and confirmation pages; what the company likes to call the ‘transaction moment’.

“When a customer is about to buy online, they are focused and endorphins from the imminent purchase are running high, they’re much more likely to engage when a relevant offer is presented to them” explains Cull. “In our case, these are third-party offers from our network of premium advertisers.”

This is the other important distinction between Rokt and a retail media network. Rokt is a walled garden. Acting as an intermediary between its brand clients and a network of e-commerce companies, Rokt handles all the placement selection and serving as well as full campaign reporting. Crucially, it allows the retailer to integrate their data in order to make sure only the most relevant ads are shown, if any, to each customer. This ensures outcomes are optimized against economic and engagement metrics.

“Advertisers bid against each other to get their offers onto a particular website using a generalised second bid auction,” Cull explains. “Rokt uses this auction mechanic and the predicted engagement rate – which we call the quality score – to determine which offer to show which shopper. This score predicts the likelihood of a customer engaging positively with a particular offer, based on previous offer interactions and responses, and a number of other attributes such as gender, device type, payment method used, overall transaction amount, or even the time of day the customer is transacting. And all these data points feed into our machine learning models, which we then use to further optimize and increase the relevancy of placements shown.”

Keeping data safe, secure and protected

The other benefits Rokt sees in its walled garden approach are data, security and respect for customer privacy. Cull describes Rokt as the trusted intermediary between partners and advertisers, bringing them together yet ensuring that no data is ever shared between the two sides, nor with anyone else.

“Our partner retailers are hosting the Rokt placements, and it’s down to them how much data they feel comfortable integrating with us. The advertiser can but doesn’t have to bring any of their own data,” he explains. “Our machine learning and optimization methods will identify users most likely to engage- whether they are your typical target audience or new incremental people that maybe you weren’t targeting. The decision is made by the algorithm based on previous interactions. That’s what trains the machine, and it means we can work with brands that are data-rich or data-poor.”

Cull sums up Rokt’s offer as solving problems for both sides of the advertising equation. For retailers and publishers, Rokt eliminates the hassle of having to sign up individual advertisers. For advertisers, it’s a channel for finding incremental, relevant, verified new customers at a time when they’re already buying online.

“Ultimately,” he says, “we help people cut through the noise and provide a simpler e-commerce journey for all parties involved.“

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