From Mad Men to Math Men – Insights From I-Com Global Summit 2012

Digital marketing need more scientists, particularly when it involves big data. A year into her role as I-COM vice chair for China, Joni Ngai shares emerging trends and insights from the conference she attended in Rome recently.

The theme of the global summit was “Big Data: Game Changing Strategies that Drive Your Brand.” It was an excellent opportunity to meet with all the industry leaders at the wonderful venue of the Hotel Rome Cavalieri (known as the “Mad Men” Hotel) in Rome to discuss industry topics, such as the transition from the “Mad Men” years to the “Math Men” era.

I think all topics that we have discussed are important for our industry and the full list of the topics are listed on our conference website.

In my opinion, the three most important takeaways for the event are:

  1. The rise of “Math Men.” There’s no doubt that we are already living in the big data era. Data is becoming the oxygen of businesses that not only can help them to become more competitive but also be more efficient to optimize profitability. At the same time, it poses a huge challenge as well. I agree with one of the speakers that said, “Big data is only the start of the problem, not a solution of a problem.” In order to seize the potential of big data, we have to connect data to answer business questions. Other than Mad Men, we need Math Men – Data Strategists and Data Scientists. As one of the speakers said, “One Data Scientist can potentially replace 20 Media Planners.” Data is definitely playing a more and more important role in the media and marketing space now and in the future.
  2. We need metrics that matters. Online has struggled to create standards for the metrics that connect back to the business and marketing objectives. Everyone agree that the measurement for ad effectiveness must go beyond “Impression” and “Click.” ComScore conducted a research of 12 leading brands in the U.S. earlier this year that revealed 31 percent of delivered ad impressions were never seen. There were additional researches showing that “clicks” do not necessarily represent brand resonance or sales. We had a lot of good discussions if the “viewable impression” should be the new standard (because it is comparable to GRP), as well as other different approaches of measuring business impact, from using Engagement Index to building mathematical models to identifying correlation of marketing net impact to sales.
  3. Trusted data source and technology is essential. Other than measurement standardization, transparency and validation are important for establishing a healthier ecosystem to drive further growth of the industry.

Big Data and Analytics will remain hot topics for China in 2013…

I don’t see China to be much different from the rest of the world from the 30,000-foot view trend. However, the way that it will be executed (ground-level view) will be different based on the market environment and infrastructure, and these fundamental factors cannot be ignored. China is a fast moving market and anything can happen, possibly in a way that goes much faster than the West. Weibo and WeiXin are some good examples of leapfrogging. New trends and opportunities should follow where the users are.

Mobile and social media are definitely key trends, as they’re becoming an essential part of many Chinese users’ lives. They will continue to grow exponentially as more and more affordable smartphone devices will be available in the market in 2013. As a result, there will be a lot more data that can be collected, with much more valuable dimensions that include users’ location and their social behavioral information, which can potentially help businesses to execute much better targeting strategies to deliver the right messages, to the right people, at the right location, and the right time.

The Rise of RTB in China

At I-COM global summit, we also had a lot of discussion about the future of media planning and buying, as well as the important role of data and technology in the media space. With the RTB (real-time bidding) success in the west (RTB has already taken up significant share of display ad sales for U.S., U.K., France, and Germany at a very fast growth rate), many industry folks are expecting that a similar trend will happen in China too.

There are a lot of exciting opportunities, at the same time, I am seeing a big gap here. While the market (business leaders) is having very high expectations of the business values that data and technology will bring, there are still many challenges. Other than the talent shortage, there are still many fundamental issues yet to be resolved, including measurement standards, data quality, transparency, and privacy that are much more complicated issues. In reality, there is no shortcut.

I believe the future growth of data analytics in marketing is also dependent on how fast these fundamental measurement and data issues could be fixed. I am glad to hear a lot more discussions of these topics in China (compared with a few years ago), which is a positive sign that this will happen sooner or later.

I-Com and Ngai’s role as China vice chair…

I-COM is a tripartite industry backed international forum for exploring data and measurement issues facing the digital marketing industry, with the goals of showcasing meaningful innovation, international co-operation, and working towards consensus on best practices. As the vice chair of I-COM in China, my role is to work with I-COM Program Board in China and The Interactive Internet Advertising Committee of China (IIACC) to facilitate China’s full participation in an international effort to standardize online measurement. Our goal is to build and nurture an influential community of online measurement champions and support the growth of the industry in China.

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