Adding science to media

Michael Cullen, Marketing.ieCore Media has big plans for data, as Michael Cullen discovers

“There are known knowns, there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we know we don’t know… the difficult ones” – words said not by a data analytics guru, but by former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Since joining Radical six years ago, Justin Cullen has felt marketing has been crying out for more science. Cullen says there are so many unknowns in the business he finds it “incredible” that the appliance of science in marketing has been so widely ignored in unearthing intelligence. But all is about to change and the shift to data analytics will be seismic.

Why now? Cullen says it is down to technology and processing power. Before digital, there was little data, and especially a dearth of return path data – directly correlated pieces of data derived from marketing actions. Aside from TV ratings and call centre contacts, that was it. People had to rely on a stream of anecdotes about in-store behaviour and sales stats.

Core Media Data Team

Creative analysts: Justin Cullen, extreme right, heads up data at Core Media. He is joined by Dr Veli Bicer, who is senior manager on the group’s big data platform, Jennifer Cruise, head of data and Maryam Hussain, analytics manager. Core hopes to recruit what Cullen says are other well-rounded scientists who can interpret data and tell marketing stories.

Photo: Barry McCall

They would connect the dots, which meandered aimlessly. Since digital marketing took hold, return path data is there to provide clarity in what marketers do. The development became most finite in the early days of digital as marketers tracked consumer actions with an ad, directed them online and began getting targeted results with new sales or appointments.

“The technology broadened and has become more complex,” Cullen says, “to the extent that it made us (Core Media) realise that data should be the priority in our business in the future. Digital wasn’t massively transformative for our business at all – it was just an evolution, another channel which followed consumers as they moved on to something different.

“It’s nothing new, consumers have changed media channels for decades and moved around media channels. With digital so big, they move around there. Our first obligation to our clients is to understand those consumers and place messaging in front of them. With digital, we were doing new things that were applied from old techniques, in some respects.”

Data is a whole new ballgame. To compete and win, it means bringing in people with skills in maths, computer and business engineering, applied physics. Cullen says it demands a new talent set for the business as most people in marketing do not need a qualification. Data requires having people with the right background and training to do the science right.

Jennifer Cruise is Core Media’s head of data. In keeping with what Cullen says, Cruise holds a masters in mathematics from NUIG and was a Fulbright scholar at NYU’s Courant Institute for Mathematics. She has over eight years’ experience as a data scientist and data strategy consultant, specialising in insurance. Adland is a whole new experience for her.

Traditionally, marketing services has relied on creative minds for fuelling campaign and data’s advent does not change things one iota. Cullen agrees 100 per cent that the big idea from right-brainers still counts, but now the more exact thinking mathematicians get a look in too. Core plans to build its business on the fusion of the two; science and art.

Cruise has an interesting take on it. “Even within the science side of it,” she says, “what’s looked for in a data scientist is arts and science – because it’s a whole new field. It’s not physics or biology where you’ve got set principles. So it’s both left and right brain.” Cullen interjects: “Yes, Jennifer has mathematical and numerical abilities, but she’s also creative.”

Cullen, 45, is a highly-articulate IT advocate. His career started with Dimension back in 1995, as he was hired by the agency’s media boss, Peter McPartlin. He was to later team up again with McPartlin at Irish International. In 2005, he founded Net Behaviour and spent over four years running the online agency, until Alan Cox hired him to head up Radical in 2010.

Never shy to come forward on issues which he considers crucial to advertisers’ interests, Cullen raised some eyebrows at a TAM agency briefing with his comments about how shortcomings in cross-referencing TV research caused tensions in adland. He said there needs to be more open-mindedness with the old rules of TV giving way to “the new reality”.

Cullen said stubbornness had seen Google repeatedly “walk away from the table”. While he insisted he was “not anti-TV, or not pro-digital, like some Nazi”, there were new rules to the TV game and they were not going away. He called on advertisers to go to Palo Alto (part of California’s Silicon Valley) and “stop using expensive TAM… and look at price”.

Jennifer Cruise is joined by two highly-revered data experts. Maryam Hussain joins Core as analytics manager. Hussain holds a degree in applied physics and a diploma in geophysics and data analysis. She has six years’ experience as a data scientist with a specialty in geo-spatial analytics. Dr Veli Bicer is the senior manager on Core’s big data platform.

He has a PhD in economics and business engineering and a masters in computer engineering. He has over 11 years’ experience as a data engineer and architect. He was a research project leader in the IBM Smart Cities Technology Centre where he helped develop ‘smart’ bus stops for Dublin city. Data is used to benchmark performance and improve a brand’s prospects.

Big Data

Decoding info: Big data is really only starting. The difference between data and big data is down to structure. Like footfall counters on all the major shopping streets in a city and chats on social media. Dr Veli Bicer is building Core’s big data platform. The cost of technology is now minimal – the cost of a few laptops, while the real outlay is on people – talented analysts.

For every euro spent on marketing, there might be a return of say, 12. Business plans may indicate the target should be 14, or maybe keep it at 12, or, there again, a new launch may only settle in at eight. It is a powerful basis for a CMO and a CFO to have a meaningful conversion – as opposed to just saying I’d like another €6m for marketing, Cullen claims.

Core does not want to recruit data scientists ‘black and white’ but rather well-rounded scientists who can interpret data and tell stories. Cullen insists “it’s absolutely critical” as data in marketing is an informer, not an imposter, which some people on the creative side might suggest. But is there simply too much data out there? Or, poorly distilled data?

No different to any other business practice, a company must have a strategy, business objectives and goals, in the form of results. As Cruise explains, data comes from the Latin word meaning ‘that which is given’. Events across the world are on record. The oversupply of data creates headaches as companies struggle how best to deal with all the feedback.

Cullen wants to be able to answer the perennial client questions: do I know if my media investment is driving sales? Do I know, what level of return on investment (ROI) I’m getting? Core runs econometric and multi-mix modelling studies combining client activity and fuses in micro and macro data relevant to the business, which links up with targets.

The correlations (as distinct from Core relations) are then worked out. “We recently did this for a motoring client,” Cullen says with some satisfaction, “and where it’s become really insightful is that marketing is not effectively linked in to make business cases for investment. Marketing is seen as a cost. We want to see it turned into an investment decision, with ROI.”

Direct marketers tried doing it for years, but without today’s data. DM still does it, but in a silo. So too does SEO, but it is in a swimming lane. It has got to be pooled together, which allows for wide analysis, while isolating marketing activity. Cruise says there has to be an understanding of the economy, for instance, what drives sales in the car market?

Details on every car sold in the country can be used to give a market perspective. Interest rates and consumer sentiment are included. Working alongside that data provides feedback on where a brand’s marketing is having – or, not having – an impact. Cruise says information from the likes of the Banking & Financial Federation (BFF) builds a picture on mortgages.

Data protection is becoming more an issue. Warnings have been issued by industry heads in Ireland. But not only is it imperative to keep commercially-sensitive information secure but as world events have shown with WikiLeaks and the Panama offshore investments scandal involving the Mossack Fonseca go-between, global deals come under close scrutiny too.

“Data is like crude oil,” Cruise says, “there’s too much of it. It’s finding out how to connect it up and point it at a business challenge. That’s where we come in. Providing solutions to what problems clients may have. What data would help? Going from data, to insight, to impact. Rather than seeing what data you have and building a model, start with the problem.”

In going from right to left, Core Media intends building a big data platform, bringing in all the publically available data. It includes CSO, Census, consumer sentiment, car sales, the insurance market and so on. Cruise says that by buying in a plethora of information and combining it with what they have in the agency, it provides a well-armed arsenal.

Operation Unknown Unknowns is underway.









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