It’s time for news media companies to take Big Data to Main Street

What if your local media company had a product that could make local businesses say, “Wow! Can you really do that?”

That’s the Holy Grail of media sales – a solution that meets an urgent need for customers in a way they have never before thought possible.

I saw that kind of solution a couple of weeks ago. I promise you – it will be big.

Best of all, it’s within our grasp as local media companies, and nobody else seems to be taking it to the streets in our markets yet.

It won’t be long before someone does. We need to be the first.

What’s this exciting solution? It’s taking Big Data to Main Street.

That is, it’s helping local businesses use Big Data to hyper-target their most likely potential customers.

Big Data has been much discussed in the media business for several years.

As used by marketers, the term refers to the incredibly detailed data now available about individual consumers and households, compiled from online and offline behaviour. Included are Web sites visited, links clicked, purchases made online and offline, and other sources that provide vast amounts of demographic and lifestyle data.

In the media business, it refers to using that data to direct marketing and advertising messages to the most promising target consumers.

So far, using Big Data for marketing has been a practice largely limited to sophisticated digital marketers and national brands.

But Big Data is coming to Main Street – you can count on it. And soon.

I’ve blogged briefly on this before – most recently a couple of months ago, in describing my vision of the next-generation local marketing agency. Big Data marketing services for local businesses are a great fit for that business model.

I first glimpsed this opportunity when I talked to a sales rep from Axciom, one of the Big Data providers, at a BIA/Kelsey conference a couple of years ago. He was there to pitch media companies about becoming resellers of Axciom’s Big Data services to local businesses in their markets.

The idea took on a new level of excitement for me a couple of weeks ago, when Morris had a couple of presentations from vendors – LEAP Media Solutions and Marketing Solutions Group – that use Big Data for circulation marketing.

Their pitches were centered on matching up a newspaper’s existing subscriber data with online and offline sources of additional data. By doing this, they can add immense amounts of additional data to each subscriber record.

That way, they can identify the characteristics of the most likely new subscribers.

The data range from the simple and obvious – age, income, family status – all the way to amazingly precise information about buying habits, responsiveness to various media, interests, and lifestyles.

The next step is to search the whole consumer population of your market to find non-subscribers who match your subscribers’ characteristics – sometimes called customer cloning – and market them.

These vendors offer turn-key marketing services – e.g., telemarketing, direct mail, e-mail – to reach them. The Big Data on your subscribers even provides cues on which of these channels will be most effective.

I sat there, particularly in the MSG presentation, thinking that news media companies aren’t the only kinds of businesses that need this kind of precision marketing.

Every kind of business needs this.

No matter what your business sells – jewelry, pet supplies, financial planning, home improvement services, furniture, etc. – you want this.

You don’t want to blast expensive marketing messages to everybody when Big Data can help you target the consumers who are most likely to buy. And, it can help tailor the messages to the specific characteristics of different types of consumers.

Pitch this powerful capability to local businesses and youll get the Holy Grail response: “Can you really do that?” followed by, “How much would it cost?” and “When can we start?”

Most local businesses have no idea that these capabilities are available – or, if they do, they have no idea how to take advantage of them.

During the MSG presentation, I asked Monica Bartling, the company’s CEO, if she could perform the same service for businesses other than newspapers.

That is, if we could get a business to share its customer database, could she run the analysis to reveal the customers’ key characteristics? Could she run those characteristics against the entire population within a given radius of the store and identify the best prospective new customers? And which media would be most effective?

Not only could she do it, she’s done it. Later in her deck, she had a slide showing how a newspaper in the Quad Cities had her do that for a local jewelry store, enabling the newspaper to propose a killer marketing programme using the most effective media to target the most likely jewelry customers.

Folks, this is the future. The days of selling blind, blanket-reach media solutions to local businesses are numbered.

The pitch of the future is not about selling a media product. It’s about selling the ability to reach exactly the consumers who are most likely to care about your product or service, using whatever channels and messages provide the highest yield per marketing dollar.

Facebook offers a similar solution under the name Custom Audiences. Businesses can upload their customer lists and then target banners ads to “lookalike” Facebook users. This doesn’t use the comprehensive online/offline data providers like Experian or Axciom, as the vendors above do. But Facebook does have massive amounts of data on its own users.

For local media companies to sell solutions like these, they have to become target-audience obsessed and media-agnostic. Whatever works best for a given customer group, our salespeople need to be ready and able to sell.

Personally, I think it would be a blast to sell this solution.

And we wouldn’t just be selling advertising; we’ll be providing all the key elements of the pinpoint marketing plan:

  • Customer-base analysis.

  • Customer cloning.

  • Tailored marketing creative for each important customer segment – both to win new customers and generate more business from past customers.

  • Multi-channel message-delivery plans using the channels that deliver the most response for the least money.

  • Analysis of results and adjustment of ongoing marketing.

  • Year-round marketing programmes to keep new customers coming in and old ones coming back.

But wait – can we get local businesses to hand over their customer data for this kind of analysis? We’ve never been able to do that in the past.

Monica says that, in her experience, no business has ever said no once they understood what the benefits would be. And customer lists can be ingested and analysed in just about any form – a business doesn’t have to have a sophisticated system to participate.

Based on the capabilities of these vendors, a local media company could get started on this new opportunity right now, using the marketing channels they currently support – direct mail, e-mail, and telemarketing.

But a couple of additional channels need to be added – programmatic buying of targeted banner and video advertising on the Web, and social media marketing. These are top contenders for best ROI, and they would be a perfect fit with a data-driven approach.

At Morris, we can probably figure out the former because we’ve been selling targeting and retargeting across the Web for a couple of years now. And maybe we can figure out social, too.

It would be best if all these channels were integrated and available now. But let’s not wait until everything is perfect.

Let’s start now.

In the traditional media, we’ve been witnessing the painful exodus of advertising and marketing dollars for 20 years. We’ve been the victims of wave upon wave of disruptive innovation.

This time, let’s take the lead. Let’s be the ones who take Big Data to Main Street.

About Steve Gray

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