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Technology Data & Privacy Data

AI tools are ‘only as powerful as the quality of the data that feeds them’


By Jenni Baker | Senior Editor

June 26, 2023 | 8 min read

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How can marketing leaders maximize the performance of their digital advertising and deliver value to the business while prioritizing privacy? We sat down with Google’s UK head of performance Scott Sinclair to explore three key steps every advertiser needs to do to drive profitable growth.

Explore three key steps every advertiser needs  to do to drive profitable growth

Explore three key steps every advertiser needs to do to drive profitable growth

With increased pressures on investment decisions, fast changing consumer behaviors and more privacy considerations to balance, getting the right ad, at the right moment to the right users is a moving target. This puts the onus on having the right data practices and measurement strategies in place, to ensure responsible marketing that’s private by design and ROI-driving by default.

This requires a step change in the approach that many digital marketers are used to. “Performance is evolving to be more about aligning the values you measure to your actual business objectives - how much revenue or profit did you make? How many sales did you get? How do your marketing channels compare?” says Scott Sinclair, UK head of performance at Google. “This challenges marketers to have a more holistic view of performance that aligns measurement to what the business needs to achieve.”

To drive profitable growth, it’s important that your data is as accurate and complete as possible. “AI-powered performance advertising is only as good as the inputs that feed it,” says Sinclair. “By focusing on getting your first-party data into a logical structure that helps you guide the AI within Google Ads is the best way to drive better value. And the easiest way to improve your data input is through a robust conversion strategy - which we call conversion excellence.”

To connect these objectives to growth, Sinclair suggests advertisers should focus on three key steps: capturing values in a privacy centric way, activating them using smart bidding and proving effectiveness against the business objectives.

1. The plumbing: feed the system with quality data

The first step starts with “value-centric measurement”; that is to ensure you are feeding the right values into the systems. The ‘values’ will vary by company and sector. It might be straightforward for a retailer to measure sales, but for others where goals are lead generation or classified customers, they’ve got to think a little bit harder about the right value for their investment. This often involves looking at multiple stages of the conversion journey and using calculations at the point of conversion to generate a value.

And of course, there’s the added layer of ensuring the right values are inputted in a privacy-centric way. Google Solutions like Enhanced Conversions - which sends hashed first-party conversion data from your website to improve accuracy and unlock more powerful bidding - and Consent Mode - which applies conversion modeling to recover lost conversions, only utilizing cookies for the specified purposes when consent is given - can help optimize and solve for the unknown.

An advertiser’s own first-party data is key, but with recent developments of tools like Google Analytics 4 that collect event-based data from websites and apps, advertisers can use behavioral and conversion modeling to get a fuller view of their audiences.

One of the biggest hurdles, Sinclair notes, is overcoming the challenges of siloed teams within large organizations, giving the example of a CRM team sat within the IT department, rather than within performance marketing. By the time marketing has raised a ticket and accessed the requested data - at the current pace of tech innovation - things have moved on and the opportunity has been missed.

“Achieving the right business result means bringing different teams together, allowing the marketing team to be operationally efficient and agile to adapt quickly to market changes,” says Sinclair.

2. The bidding: scale with AI-powered solutions

The middle part is “arguably the easiest bit,” says Sinclair, “because the tools have already been in the market and widely adopted for years now - all with privacy-preserving technology built in”.

The key benefit of AI means that you can do these things at scale. What’s more, it can model with high accuracy where gaps exist to predict the most probable outcomes, help find new growth opportunities and optimize to the objectives that matter to the business.

“When the world is increasingly uncertain, the volume of searches continues to increase on Google - we’re seeing billions of queries every single day,” explains Sinclair. “Those queries present countless opportunities for our advertisers to show up in front of every customer - but to manage that as a human is near impossible and the only way you can do that is using AI.”

That’s the power of having an AI suite of solutions to reach customers with smart bidding. Innovations like Broad Match can identify related queries to help ads reach a wider audience without having to build an extensive keyword list, while Performance Max combines Google’s automation technologies to drive performance based on specified conversion goals, delivering more conversions and value by optimizing in real-time across channels.

3. The measurement: prove effectiveness against the business objectives

The final stage is validating the measurement to prove that the campaign has met its objectives, providing a feedback loop to the business goal you set out to achieve. “Our AI-powered ads learn from you and you learn from them,” says Sinclair.

Data-driven attribution (DDA) is the default recommendation by Google as it gives appropriate weight or value to each touchpoint based on how people engage with different ads and the contribution of each touchpoint to the eventual conversion. This enables marketers to shift from channel-centric measurement to measure marketing across all Google campaign touchpoints.

Instead of breaking it down to single channels - whether that be search, display or video - instead you are able to gain a holistic view of performance across all channels. “We believe using AI across all of our surfaces, you’ll get a better result,” explains Sinclair.

“Media effectiveness is an important control lever that allows advertisers to adapt and refine their marketing plans by experimenting and learning from the data, making it possible to determine which channels are driving the most value for the business.

But of course none of this will deliver as effectively if you don’t have the trust of consumers. A study from Google and Ipsos* found that when people feel in control of the data they share with companies, they find ads from that company to be more relevant, and feel more emotionally positive about communications they receive from that company.

With the research also highlighting that people are more likely to choose brands who employ good privacy practices, the foundations of responsible, performance-enhancing marketing practices should be underpinned by sound data principles to drive better value.

For more insights and advice on responsible marketing to drive better performance in a privacy-first world, visit The Responsible Marketing Hub with Google.

*Source: Google/Ipsos, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, UK, Privacy by design: the benefits of putting people in control, n=10,001 online participants aged 18-70, July 2022.

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Google is committed to helping businesses thrive in a privacy-first world. The technology giant works with thousands of businesses and agencies to help them prepare for a future without third party cookies. Using privacy-preserving technologies, built on machine learning and automation, it can fill reporting gaps and understand people’s needs in a privacy-centric way.

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