Data-based Marketing: “Human Intelligence is Indispensable”

Diana Degraa, Managing Director of Plan.Net Hamburg, talks about her technological experience, her tips for female talents and what role big data and business intelligence will play in the future.

Why voice search is not the end of SEO

Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant and their like are undeniably on trend: Since the market launch in 2015, Amazon alone has sold well over eight million Echos and Echo Dots in the USA and now Apple has jumped on board the smart loudspeaker movement with the HomePod. According to a current Statista analysis, around 17 million people in Germany use the virtual Google Assistant, eleven million ask Siri questions on Apple devices and almost seven million communicate with Microsoft Cortana. Whether it’s on a smartphone or via a smart loudspeaker, more and more people are using voice control for searches. According to a ComScore forecast, half of all searches will be carried out via voice command in just three years’ time. At least 30 percent of people will even be searching without their own screen. These numbers are making a lot of marketers nervous. If new devices are changing our search behaviour, what will happen to SEO? Is it time to wonder once again if this is the end for search engine optimisation? No, not yet!

There’s no doubt that voice search is dramatically changing our search behaviour, as verbal search requests are very different from typing queries. Search terms and phrases can be longer, less specific, descriptive and closer to natural language use via voice control. However, this can also make them more complex, making it harder to understand the actual intention behind the search, because keywords and their attributes are no longer the primary focus as features of the search.

Is this going to give agencies and advertisers a headache? No – voice searches and changes in input behaviour are more of a challenge for search system providers, i.e. for Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft etc., as they are in more intense competition with one another to adjust to new user behaviour. If Alexa, Siri and their like cannot understand certain questions, it is up to search system and search assistant providers to find the solution. However, this challenge is nothing new for the dominant company groups. Their algorithms are getting better and better at recognising the intention behind a search and delivering the right results. For example, Google prepared itself for the trend five years ago: with its ‘semantic search’ and, since 2015, the RankBrain system based on artificial intelligence. With one small exception: Try asking Siri about SEO. It does not come up with the right match, even on the fourth time of asking.

When it comes to search engine optimisation, I find one thing far more interesting than the questions that can be asked using voice search and that is the answers that are given as a result. Is there one answer, multiple answers or does the initial question then lead to a conversation between the search system and the searcher? In principle, the process is the same with a virtual assistant as it would be with a physical advisor: do you want a quick result or a full sales pitch? Do you want to be left alone to browse quietly or do you need the help of a sales assistant? Is a brief answer enough or do you want to break down your query more specifically in stages until you get the right result?

The challenge for SEO experts in future is therefore based on these conversations between the searcher and the voice assistant. Clear, direct answers are only possible for a small proportion of search queries, e.g. the weather forecast for the weekend, the opening hours of a doctor’s surgery, the number of people who live in Madagascar or traffic reports. The sources for Google’s ‘featured snippets’ already provide the answers for such questions. However, there is no need for general reorientation for voice-controlled searches when it comes to the identification, preparation and answering of such questions. In future, it is local search queries using voice search that will take on a prominent role in particular. Tagging geo-local information on a website is already part and parcel of basic SEO work today (keywords: semantic markups). The integration of local data for businesses, hotels or restaurants into existing search engines that specialise in such queries, such as Yelp or Kayak, is even more vital. Both providers already have skills on Amazon Echo and also use search assistants like Siri and Cortana as reference.

Open-ended questions and statements where the person asking the question is looking for advice are harder to deal with. They are similar to those we would ask in a shop: e.g. “I would like to buy a TV” or “I’m looking for a dress”. It’s not easy to simply counter this question with an answer. Questions have to be asked in return – for example: “Do you need the dress for a particular event?”.

These days, good SEO means optimisation relating to the intention of the search. In the voice search era, it will become even more vital for website operators and search experts to understand and handle the search intentions of their target groups. Only by doing so can they provide added value and tailor the information they offer precisely to the demands of their potential customers. Voice-controlled search will therefore not kill off SEO, but it will make us think more than before about what’s beyond Google. In future, SEO must also look at defining information in the context of content and presenting this automatically.

Why we urgently need better ways to advertise online

A skyscraper here, a billboard there and more often than not a layer ad between them: on an online page which, let’s say, does not have the needs of its users 100% at heart, it is easy to feel as if you were standing in a side street just off Times Square, with bright lights flashing on and off everywhere you look. It is not surprising that exasperated users turn away. Of course there is advertising elsewhere; in some publications there appears to be even more than on an online news page. However, the distribution of content and ads usually seems tidier and less insistent. It goes without saying that magazines and websites impose completely different layout constraints – but it must nevertheless be possible for advertising material to meet certain standards in the digital environment. Marketers promise high-quality advertising spaces. This is what users want, but the reality is sometimes still reminiscent of an overcrowded funfair.

It is high time for a digital spring (summer) clean. And that means all of us: marketers, advertisers, creative and media agencies. Let’s wave a gradual but final goodbye to advertising as an alien component in design. The optimum user experience should be the paramount consideration online as well as elsewhere. Flagrantly over-used pop-ups have exactly the opposite effect, as do traditional rectangular formats with an appearance and a content which bear little relation to the editorial.

In this online age, relevance is the be all and end all; this should apply not only to content, but also to the aesthetics of advertising. Rule number one: be polite. If I want to persuade consumers to buy my product, I should not be distracting them repeatedly as they read. We must find a way to attract attention without intruding. At the same time, we need balance. Rule number two: online advertising should occupy as much space as possible. Few creatives can really show what they are capable of on 200 x 300 pixels. Sticky Dynamics are a positive feature for use on desktops. Large-format ads which move as the user scrolls and which ideally are enhanced with moving elements but which do not break into the editorial content.

For me, the balance between target group, advertisement and editorial content is another consideration when placing large-format advertising designed to avoid irritation. In print media, advertisers can adjust their advertisement to suit the editorial plan. Although online articles are a much more short-term affair, in these times of big data the maxim “content is king” still holds true. Polite advertising means making the target group in each situation an offer: “You are reading an article about mountaineering. If you still need outdoor equipment for the season, this is the place for you.” Ideally, advertisers will use multitab advertising materials so that users can browse through what’s on offer without leaving the site they are on. In theory, it should be possible for a complete customer journey, including finalising a sale, to take place within a multitab advertising environment.

All content streaming formats function as well as they can on mobile end devices. Content and advertising are clearly distinguished and users can just scroll away from the ads. Generally speaking, every advertisement which does not need to be clicked away is a step in the right direction. This is because most of the clicks on many layer ads accumulate because some users fail to hit the X for closing the advertisement.

Furthermore, smartphones by their nature offer quite different functionality from desktops – interactive move formats such as shake ads, 3-D ads and panorama ads use movement of the smartphone to provide entertaining interaction and a completely new and surprising brand experience for users.

So, dear industry, let’s get to work! We urgently need to improve the quality of online advertising formats, because, unfortunately, the current standard still sometimes borders on highway robbery. The good news is that this seems to be recognised to some extent. For example, BURDA Forward’s “Goodvertising Initiative” is spearheading more user-friendly advertising. Striking evidence of implementation of this strategy is the change in the layout of Focus Online which deserves to be mentioned. The website’s original three-column basic layout has been replaced by a substantially more sophisticated two-column approach.

Excellent editorial content deserves innovative, high-quality and, above all, user-friendly advertising material – which, incidentally, can probably be sold for a higher price than a fairground bargain stall. If we can’t do this, then we know what the alternative is: users who reach the end of their tether and install adblockers.

This article was also published at W&V.

Connected Retail – Customer Centricity Meets Store

If large-scale investor Warren Buffet no longer believes in the stationary trade, then this is really spectacular. How else can we call it, when his holding company “Berkshire Hathaway” sells Walmart shares amounting to 900 million US-Dollars and instead prefers to invest in Airlines? The industrial portal Business Insider even asks, whether this would be a death knell for the entire industry.

PCs, laptops, smart phones, tablets, wearables: Whether for shopping, getting adviced or simply browsing, their options are limitless. Sophisticated product presentations and descriptions, chat bots and live chats replace more and more the seller in the stationary trade. Increasingly free and faster deliveries save time and favour the nerves. In addition, Big Data does not only help to personalize the online shop and find merchandise faster but even provides precise suggestions for something that you didn’t know you were searching for it. The online shop wins the set, one might assume.

However, for some time also an opposite trend can be observed: Going for shopping in the local store has gained again a certain importance to the customer. This, of course, only applies if they can expect an added value. For consumers it is no longer a matter of “Either / Or”. They want both – online shopping as well as shopping in the stationary trade, preferably connected in an intelligent way. This brings the stationary trade back into the game.

In doing so, the famous “Seamless Customer Journey” is, however, still not yet achieved even if the sellers in the store are equipped with tablets, or digital consulting terminals are set up to ensure the extension to the online shop. Options such as beacon installations in the shop, tracking of mobile devices or voice services such as Amazon Alexa enable to pick up the end customer where he most recently did start, pause or finish his/her journey – to wit online.

Via the intelligent evaluation of data, dealers can also finally solve another decisive disadvantage: Up to now, a retailer did not know very much about his/her customers, except for maybe the particularly good ones. Neither did he/she know what the interest of the customer was before, after or during the store visit, or whether he/she compared prices of competitors in parallel with the visit to the store. The holistic collection and recording of behaviour patterns, preferences and needs of customers in the store and in the online shop makes it possible to practically summarize this information to create a personal profile and return it to the customer in the form of real added value.

The prerequisite for this is asking the right questions. The information on the hair colour is of less importance for the multi-media store than the music taste of the customer. Not all data are relevant – all the more important is the right data strategy. In doing so, not only shop owners have the possibility to adapt themselves to the visitors, but also the stationary furniture dealer, the Hifi shop or the supermarkets down the road.

The collected data can already be read in real time and be converted into an interaction at the POS. However, all too often there is a lack of an intelligent data strategy and it fails due to outdated structures, which now need to be broken. If you then also bear in mind that in the future the shopping experience at the point of sale as well as the efficiency of a perfect advice can be raised to a whole new level thanks to Virtual and Augmented Reality, it is better not to write off the stationary trade too early. The digital transformation opens up the opportunity for future-oriented retailers to catch up and compensate one-to-one. They only have to seize their opportunity.

So why do we not finally bring together the best of Online and Offline in the interests of the end customer? If the focus is really on the customer, it is important to stop thinking one-way and to take new steps. However, this will only be possible if you exactly know both the consumer’s behaviour and where you want to go. The POS is forced to take action, and it only has chance in the future, if they do adjust their services to the needs of the customers, just as online retailers do.

Digital Transformation: Bye Bye Buzzword Bingo!

Would you like to speed up the transformation process in your company by fast-forwarding the change using disruption and out-of-the-box thinking as the ultimate goal for 2017? Or perhaps pursue the end-to-end process, through programmatic advertising, with first, second and third party data, with marketing automation and immersive marketing, to achieve customer centricity? And are you also convinced that virtual reality and live content are the next big things?

Yes, I‘m exaggerating, of course. It isn’t that bad, fortunately. But anyone who has to deal with digital topics knows that they abound with specialist jargon. And that is not at all bad. We only have a problem if we can’t guarantee a common understanding of these terms – if everyone understands something, but not necessarily the same thing. And from time to time you can’t help feeling that some people also like to hide behind technology, abbreviations and abstract technical terms, in order to hide their own ignorance of the details.

Take a term like ‘digital transformation’. Do you as a businessperson think that digital transformation is important? Of course it is. And now ask your employees and colleagues what they mean by this term: The answers will surprise you. From an app for the canteen plan to crowd-based product development, they could cover just about anything. If there is no common understanding here it will be difficult or impossible for everyone to be on the same page. But how can they be, if no-one knows what is to be changed by this digital transformation? On top of that, a recent study has found that just a third of German companies feel well prepared or very well prepared for the digital revolution. Those who play Buzzword Bingo at this stage risk having this process fail for their company. Not because employees and service providers are fundamentally reluctant, but because announcing changes generates feelings of uncertainty, fear and the feeling of a lack of competency in established company structures. Abstract, difficult to understand language, suggesting great complexity, can cause additional resistance among the employees. But these are the most important supporters – or to put it in buzzword-speak, the ‘enablers’. So the ultimate maxim for decision-makers must be: Make things understandable and create a common understanding of what you mean by certain terms.

Another example? You make the fundamental decision for your company that ‘customer centricity’ will be part of your future strategy. So you want to ‘focus on the customer’ in future. This may be particularly important because your company has collected a large amount of customer data at the different contact points where customers engage with the company and its products (‘touch points’). You already have various databases, where customer information has gathered over time, but they are rarely compatible and cannot be ‘matched up’ with each other easily. If all the departments involved, such as the IT, marketing and sales departments, define customer centricity separately, they will all suggest quite different approaches with very disparate requirements. You could, of course, buy a software solution as an all-in-one solution because a strategy consultant has promised you double-digit savings. It would be more sensible, however, to allow all departments involved to exchange ideas – perhaps even moderated by an external, software-independent consultant – on how the goal of absolute customer orientation should be achieved in individual steps: what content, at which points of contact, how often, etc. And only then should they make subsequent decisions on structures, responsibilities, budgets, and maybe software as well.

In our experience, common understanding is achieved best when things become tangible for all concerned – and ‘tangible’ is also to be understood in the literal sense. Take for example a workshop where you can test new technologies and try them out yourself. Or you can talk to start-ups in your own industry, getting to know them from the inside, or ask experts from other sectors who have mastered certain aspects of the digital transformation in their company. And don‘t worry, you won’t have to book a trip to Silicon Valley! You can also gather such insights in a metropolis of your choice. You probably won’t draw up a total transformation strategy for your company after one such workshop. But in the best-case scenario, you will have jointly identified the most important fields of action for such a strategy, and established a common vocabulary.

It is just as important to find a common basis of understanding with your service providers. Don’t hesitate to ask what is meant by a certain term and what is behind it, along the lines of: “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” If you also encourage your service providers to do the same, you can greatly simplify and speed up the exchange of knowledge, allowing yourself and your counterparts an optimal learning curve and thus creating a good basis for efficient communication and co-operation.

Once you have achieved this, the practical implementation in your company will be many times faster. And then even buzzwords are no longer a problem. After all, everyone will then be reading from the same page.

Born digital: 20 years of Plan.Net

The Plan.Net Group is turning 20 and celebrates its anniversary with a tribute to two decades of Internet. Plan.Net was founded in 1997 and today is one of the largest independent digital agencies in Europe and in more than 25 locations worldwide.

Connected Retail for Real

Here is a supermarket with no queues at the checkout; no need to line up your items at the till. So you just go into the store, stick whatever you want into a shopping bag and go? With Amazon Go at the end of last year, Amazon transformed what stressed-out shoppers the world over dream of into a reality… Shopping just as it should be – simple and painless.

With this option, Amazon has in fact managed to overcome a major weakness in fixed retail shops. If the concept proves reliable, Amazon will have thus created a promising scenario for truly optimising the payment process in fixed retail trade. At present, however, there are still many questions about the practical implementation of Amazon Go. For example, there is no information to date on how reliable item-recognition is for articles selected from the display, or how well the technology performs in randomly setting aside products at points in the store. Furthermore, current reports make it clear that the tracking technology is still facing problems in its practical application, which postpones the start-up of further stores until further notice.

The above example therefore clearly shows that integrated solutions for fixed shop retail are only possible via complex systems, which must be personalised, smart and target-oriented, but also planned for the real world. Even for an industry giant like Amazon, this is not child’s play.

Complexity equals difficulty?

Customer centricity therefore plays a decisive role, because it is only if we fully understand customer requirements and behaviour patterns, placing them at the centre of our strategic efforts, that points of contact can be built with them. Offering them the urgently required added value to help them with their purchasing decisions and to enable distributors to generate revenue. This surely means that suppliers need to be aware of their opportunities for connecting with customers and more especially, how to steer them.

Various points of contact, such as fixed retail outlets, online shops and apps, amongst others, therefore require different approaches and technical concepts, in order to be able to provide, gather and meaningfully consolidate information. Moreover, in order for this to be effective, sophisticated interfaces must also be provided to bring these together.

Over recent years, various distributors have already built systems that provide their online shops, apps and fixed retail outlets with price, customer and product data. Although these systems all fulfil their respective purpose to an excellent degree and are constantly expanding in terms of their functionality and data volume, they frequently fail to offer any straightforward smart options for meaningful information exchange. However, it really does depend.

In order to take the first steps towards complex scenarios of this kind, with relatively low infrastructural investment, so-called Middleware solutions are appropriate. Their implementation ensures the existence and successive renewal of old systems, without affecting ongoing business processes. Furthermore, they permit flexibility in existing systems, so that they can expand and bring together further points of contact. However, without a comprehensive strategy for off-setting offers and content against each other through different points of contact, such solutions achieve relatively little.

How will we get it, unless we steal it?

In fact, there are already approaches to such comprehensive strategies, although there is absolutely no point whatsoever in simply seizing hold of them and imitating them. A strategy which is not individually tailored to the company or to customer expectations will not work. For this reason, it is essential to develop a vision to clarify what should actually be created. In addition, it must be defined what is technically feasible, what is not (yet) possible, and how existing versions can be deployed in an appropriate form for one’s own company.

Nevertheless, without drawing upon real practical experience, such conclusions are not possible. It rather requires an experimental approach, using prototypes or MVP tests amongst customers. How do augmented reality, location-based service approaches and voice activation work? How can these be used in one’s own retail outlet? Moreover, do they provide any added value for customers? Questions like this would thus be explored in such practical tests. Small workshops to test and understand the most diverse technical systems and applications, as well as any ideas for scenarios that may be deduced from these, form the basis of the strategic process, whereby one’s own connected retail concept is the aim.

The time is now

Technical development has already reached a point where meaningful retail scenarios can be created, which no longer differentiate between retail trade and online activities. Ultimately, Amazon Go does not represent an example of this. What are still lacking are clearly defined concepts, such as how to combine this technology with various information about products and customer preferences accumulated over time and at various touchpoints, and how to use an integrated strategy. It is also high time that physical contact points with customers were re-evaluated and a particular experience created. Therefore, anyone who has not given much thought to this had better start doing so as soon as possible.

My Programmatic Big 3: We should talk about it

When has a technology fully reached the market? When everyone is using it? If the first hype is over? Programmatic Advertising is now an integral part of the digital media business. Are we therefore at the destination? Certainly not, because as quickly as the market and its participants change, the challenges that we as market participants are faced with again and again change too.

In my view, it is the following “Big 3” in Programmatic Business that concern us and for which we must find solutions and approaches in the coming months:

1. Transparency affects all

What was and is bashed up on media agencies – the reaction is easy and will therefore be willingly striven for: “We do not know exactly what is going on – and the agencies are to blame. They enrich themselves and are the bad guys in the game”, that’s the often-heard implication in published opinion. This is asked ineffectively without a microphone and without an official position considered to represent it, and the answer is usually different and always turns out considerably differentiated. Unfortunately there is rarely a journalist around.

All the better then the presence of two advertisers at this year’s d3con in Hamburg, who tell of their collaboration with a media agency in the programmatic era and their conclusion seems to be different:”The collaboration between client and agency works like in a good marriage: You have to constantly work at it and mutual trust is imperative for both sides to get a good relationship.”

Hence my appeal: Dear advertisers, dear agencies, programmatic advertising allows transparency – use it! No agency will oppose it!

2. Fragmentation and orchestration

The programmatic world is growing exponentially: By programmatic advertising we are not only talking about on-line or mobile advertising. Digital-out-of-home, programmatic radio, addressable TV and other disciplines are part of this or these are already part of an overall programmatic campaign. This fragmentation poses a major challenge, in which technology can help us and offer new possibilities. But to the great majority who are serious about programmatic advertising it will be or is already clear that no technology in the world removes the central task from them: the correct orchestration of marketing measures – based on more and more devices and more data.

But is this new? Certainly not, this has always been the job of a media manager and his agency. Only, I think it is becoming increasingly clear where the journey for the agencies is heading: If we are not able to be a real consultant for customers in this fragmented world, we will soon have to consider what our job is. Because to retreat to purchasing or the sheer volume of purchasing is no longer sufficient to meet all the requirements of an efficient campaign. The integration of creation in programmatic campaigns has not even been mentioned, although this will certainly be the deciding factor!

3. Quality

When talking about data-based communication, the issue of quality is ever-present. But what do participants understand by quality? When asked for a definition, it is complicated and the answers are very different: Since quality is described, for example, as “maximum effect”, or even as “an advert seen by a person,” up to “quality includes the relevant message.”

None of this is wrong, but neither of these statements is truly comprehensive. And maybe that’s the conclusion: There is no uniform concept of quality! What quality is, is defined by each viewer from their own perspective. This presents us with the central challenge, to ask each other in advance of any communicative action what kind of quality is to be achieved in the end.

Or rather on what basis we should optimise a campaign. And here is the crux, because there are in fact very different fields that need to be integrated. Whether we are talking about the quality of coverage, quality of content or data quality – it will not be easy to build a common understanding of quality here.

Conclusion

Programmatic Advertising has fully arrived in the market and has been able to prove its benefits relatively quickly. But as with any stage of technological development we have to do some homework. The basis, like customers and agencies working together in the future, is just as important as a common understanding of key issues such as transparency and quality. Therefore let’s talk about them.

Is programmatic advertising better than Clooney?

Why creativity remains a human affair but can still benefit from programmatic advertising

The coming of the a. P. (after Programmatic) era has sparked a new debate on relevance: the consumer is becoming more critical and thus less susceptible to advertising messages: So instead of one message for all, target groups are now being addressed specifically: “Buy our product, it is exactly tailored to your needs. Yes, we mean you. No one else needs the product as much as you do.” On the other hand, companies paid five million US dollars for a 30-second advert during this year’s Super Bowl. Pure scattergun, one message for all. So who is it who produces relevance – intelligent machines or creative people? The answer is: both. In this debate, as so often, there is no either-or, because maximum relevance can only be achieved by technology bosses and creative directors jointly.

Programmatic advertising is one way to create relevance. But programmatic advertising is no substitute for creative excellence. Even personalised advertising needs the structure of a central message, for example in the form of a slogan that is taken up again and again over a lengthy period and several campaigns: “You’re not you when you’re hungry” – the Snickers slogan remains memorable because all target groups can identify with it on a basic level. If someone in your circle of acquaintances acts like a diva, what immediately comes to mind is the slogan from the advert – that is relevance. A fitting testimonial can also be the starting point for a successful campaign. When George Clooney looks casually into the camera and gives – even more casually – his best “What else?” it is probably also relevant to tea drinkers. The message in this example is less bold but no less effective. The coffee capsules represent savoir-vivre, confidence and coolness.

When the general story-telling is cut and dried, programmatic creation of the campaign can provide a strong stimulus for the second phase. Depending on the target group, the slogan “You’re not you when you’re hungry” could be re-enacted with different testimonials and contexts: sports fans see a Snickers spot on sports news pages or on TV during Wimbledon, when John McEnroe smashes his tennis racket to bits after an umpire’s decision – then, after one bite from the chocolate bar, he becomes Roger Federer and is on his best behaviour. George Clooney no longer just drinks his coffee in plush hotels but also in the office, at the hairdresser’s or in the theatre. What is important is that core ideas and personalised variations are in accordance with each other, both stylistically as well as regards content: the core message should always remain unchanged.

In addition to the big consumer brands, brands with specialised target groups and products benefit particularly from programmatic advertising, because it enables them to avoid high scatter loss. Even B2B enterprises use the personalised approach. Here too, however: An algorithm cannot replace creative input. Without a good central idea I believe there is absolutely no point in varying a couple of text components and pictures in a banner. Boring advertising, even personalised, is still boring.

Relevance has many facets. It can be produced by people and machines – the best solution is for creative people to do the preliminary work and for intelligent machines to go the extra mile. It only starts getting really exciting when ideas people and advertisers with enthusiasm for technology sit down at the table together. Experience shows that things don’t always go smoothly straight away and, particularly, that the whole can only work when both sides show mutual respect and understanding for the other’s work. The results which arise from this, however, are worth it every time!

Creativity and technology, with the client at its center

In an interview with Advertiser.it Sara Baroni, Managing Director Plan.Net Italia, talks about creativity and innovation and gives insights into the daily work life of the Italian agency.