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The ongoing impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic means a Data Marketing Infrastructure is more important than ever

by Philip Raby

18 January 2021 20:25pm

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted society and business in ways that forced rapid change to our daily lives. From a consumer perspective, we spent more time online than ever before and from a marketing perspective, we planned and activated media in an unprecedented agile way. Today, we are in the midst of the third wave of disruption caused by the sprawling, evolving virus which is regaining control over how we live and work. For brands this means a new phase of strategic, agile, data-driven marketing.

Necessity is the mother of invention

In the Socratic dialogue ‘Republic’, Plato famously wrote: “our need will be the real creator”. Over time, Plato’s words have developed into the English proverb ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen this famous saying play out in reality. One area that has seen tremendous, ubiquitous growth is digitisation. We’ve seen everything from small companies take their first steps into online sales and marketing, to some of the biggest global brands reinventing how they approach data-driven marketing technology infrastructure. These are the trends that will shape the new normal in marketing best practices.

The familiar big four - Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple - dominated in the initial stage of the pandemic driven by two main factors. Firstly, there’s the sheer scale of media buying they are able to offer from a single platform. Secondly, the speed at which they are able to collect huge amounts of data, identify new consumer trends and insights, and enable brands and agencies to pivot exceptionally quickly. For these reasons the GAFA achieved an average increase in share price of 92% between March and December 2020.

The remarkable thing about the rises in value across the GAFA is that there was very little innovation, they simply triumphed due to who and what they are. Undeterred by the rising dominance of the behemoths, large publishers and brands refused to accept defeat and instead turned to innovation in order to bolster their share of the market.

Who are you and what do you do?

Over the past few years, regardless of the type and size of the business, brands’ and publishers’ turned to data in order to fight back against the behemoths that dominate the industry. We’ve seen many new data projects take off, each one of them underpinned by effective data marketing infrastructure.

The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the digital/data revolution, however, the way in which advertisers are reacting differs depending on their size. For smaller advertisers creating the infrastructure to have total control of their data is often an unreasonable goal. The challenge is to find ways to work with the big platforms with as much transparency and control as possible. Larger advertisers are in a position to invest in marketing infrastructure to take control of their destiny and manage exactly how and when data is collected, managed, and activated.

Here we explore a few of the most popular routes taken.

Private gardens: Private gardens are similar to walled gardens with one exception - the data contained within a private garden belongs to the data owner but is visible to buyers enabling them to have more visibility and a deeper understanding of the audience without losing control. It is this collaborative approach that makes it easier to reach audiences at scale and measure efficiency against a common, independent metric.

Logged in, first-party data enables publishers to really analyse and understand their audiences which in turn means they can create their own targeting tools and be completely self-sufficient. The use case is similar for brands who also have plenty of consumer data which is highly valuable when housed in a private garden and is visible to media buyers.

Data alliances: The sheer scale and efficiency of the walled gardens means that independent publishers need to collaborate in order to compete. Publisher data alliances create something unique and exceptionally valuable - up-to-date cross-publisher data that resides in a single, trusted data marketing infrastructure. This enables media buyers to identify synergies between audiences and create premium media buys at a significant scale and shift budget away from the walled gardens.

Machine learning optimisation: Often referred to as a ‘buzzword’ machine learning (ML) is in fact very real, and very useful tool for marketers when applied in the correct way especially when it comes to delivering personalised consumer experiences and optimising budget. In order to optimise anything you need to be able to label large data sets and analyse them. ML can do this faster and more accurately than humans can - creating benefit number one - efficiency.

Secondly, ML can be applied to AB or multivariate testing in real-time which gives benefit number two - faster optimisation thus less wasted spend. Finally, ML is a combination of human and machine intelligence meaning that we can share our thoughts with the technology to take the algorithms to greater heights.

Retail as media: In the UK alone, the top 50 retailers each generate in excess of two million unique page views outside of peak each month, with many brands consistently in double digits each month. All of these ‘eyeballs’ are valuable to brands who are competing to win their own market share vs. their rivals.

Retailers have a huge amount of first-party data which can be used to create customer segments and procure data management platforms for digital marketing and on-site personalisation. This enables retailers to really hone in on audience intent data which is highly attractive to brands and easy to monetise.

2021 - the year of transition

2020 was a year unlike any other, and for many of us the most turbulent year of our personal and professional lives. As we move into 2021 we have a much clearer line of sight into the future, even if we don’t know exactly when things will return to normal. In contrast to much of 2020, this year will bring an opportunity to shape the future rather than taking each day as it comes.

The great acceleration in the use of new data marketing technology and new forms of working will prevail. The short-term challenge is to move from reacting to the crisis to refining and institutionalising what has been done well so far. Brands and publishers need to focus on forming trusted partnerships with technology companies or alliances that enable a private exchange of data.


data marketing
data and insight
data analysis
private gardens
Machine learning
retail brand