Why the change from insights to technology?
S&T Insights was established in early 2018. The bulk of the team’s work initially centered around integrations; supporting our ad specialists and client services teams by using Tag Manager on clients’ websites to set up conversion tracking (primarily for Google Ads, social and programmatic activity) as well as centralizing data for reporting. That work continues, but now forms only part of the capabilities we have built up within the growing marketing technology landscape, which has now generated a technology side of the agency in its own right.
Typically these services were intrinsic to media buying we were managing on behalf of clients, but increasingly we also operate as a technical extension with clients working on standalone data-led projects. Insights still permeates right through the agency, of course, be it at an initial research and profiling phase to define audiences prior to planning a schedule of activity, or weighing in with user engagement observations to campaign reporting or web analytics.
Our clients’ businesses are shifting too, with more investment in harnessing data in response to changing consumer engagement as well as technical advancements from existing platforms being used. At our Effective Property Marketing event with Google in March, I spoke about how Covid-19 had accelerated this further with a growth in interest in seeking out analysis on the indicators of what could be anticipated from potential home buyers and inform strategy as the property market was allowed to return after lockdown. In the ten months from April 2020 to January 2021, our new homes developer clients invested 57% more in web analytics and tag management support than in the 10 months before lockdown in March.
Furthermore, as part of our repositioning, we recognized the value technology can add on a deeper level, across multiple layers of our clients’ operation, be it visualizing data beyond the transaction, adding value as a partner after a customer decides to purchase, increasing brand advocacy or repeat custom, ultimately driving growth marketing outcomes and unlocking growth. We feel our new positioning is representative of the value we bring.
From an e-commerce perspective, we’ve seen increased calls for tracking support looking at additional engagement metrics that funnel to transactions and an uptick in customer data profiling requests. With shopping habits changed, new audiences and competition, there’s a greater desire to really understand and track consumer behaviors and motivations.
Forming technology partnerships
Usually when tasked with setting up tracking, conducting audits or building reports we’ll uncover processes that aren’t as accurate as they could be for recording quality leads or the KPIs that drive decisions – for example, a form completion on a website that is based on a URL visit rather than an actual positive submission. Our data solutions experts will always take the time to advise on correcting these, either liaising with developers or actioning ourselves via tag management on site where possible. Such changes are communicated to our specialist teams for the wider benefit of optimizing biddable campaigns and strategy, ensuring budget is focused on activity driving higher quality conversions – translating to audiences with higher intent.
Similarly, we have a keen eye on customer data activation itself. Rather than processing customer databases and forming into segments, we have options for visualizing that data and, by working with our research team, ensure profiles are accompanied by an understanding of what that all means for ad delivery, messaging and options for targeting prospecting activity.
We’re often consulted when clients are evaluating new software and technology for customer data platforms, tracking, reporting or ad serving. Inputting on how integrations with these can enhance the centralized reporting view, as well as ensuring data from those investments is made accessible and used to its fullest potential, form other ways we help support the wider marketing effort.
Another important aspect of our role is identifying when tools or automation points can be developed to ensure consistency of incoming data, reducing any failures or time needed for cleansing, and freeing up time so everyone can action insights rather than churn through manual processes. On a basic level, that could be something like building bespoke URL tagging tools to ensure naming conventions are consistent where multiple users may be responsible for adding UTM tags to campaign URLs.
Data expertise to transform reporting
We made the significant decision a couple of years ago to manage and maintain our own data warehouse (using BigQuery) with bespoke reporting layers created by our solutions engineers, fed by robust data connectors to collect information in from myriad sources. The data integration process of transforming analytics, call tracking, ad channel data, financial and CRM, arriving in a variety of formats into essentially a single data source for use in visualization tools and dashboards, always starts with understanding a clients’ measurement framework or helping them plan and drive toward one. This infrastructure means we can push our media data into client reporting systems to their specifications or provide a full extract, transform and load capability right through to visualization across all of their marketing technology touchpoints.
Data visualization is increasingly a co-owned proposition, and having the flexibility to homogenize, store and curate data that clients then visualize for themselves has proven really valuable, while being able to consult on data architecture and the wider implications of visualization has had value for a lot of our clients. What’s more, we have the independence to constantly review our own tech to ensure our data partners are primed for security compliance, speed and taking advantage of the latest API updates. We acknowledge the need for a dynamic approach to capability provision in order to be completely aligned with a client; Full Experience enables us to flex between fully managed, hybrid or in-house, so the client benefits from our capability but on a model that works for them.
So much of the work we do – centralizing in a consistent format with clear business objectives agreed – is intrinsic to doing far more with data. Behind the dashboards we create, the engineering that happens in our data warehouse provides a fantastic groundwork for building toward experimenting with modeling and predictive analytics, as well as continually adapting to a set framework for including new data sources and measurement.
That doesn’t mean a disregard for the human element in all that we do. Far from it, with new processes in place there’s more scope for client and agency to have deeper conversations on brand development and creative, as well as taking data to the next level with it being channeled, processed and stored effectively.
Tom Carter, business director, technology at Space & Time.