Going Mobile is No Longer Enough: Consumers Demand Relevance

Going Mobile is No Longer Enough: Consumers Demand Relevance

A version of this article first appeared in Mobile Marketer.

We cannot deny that the smartphone is an extension of ourselves, a staple in our daily lives. We spend more time with our phones than any other piece of technology. And yet, less than a decade ago, many doubted that mobile advertising should be a key area of investment (and ad tech players are still playing catch up because of this belief). Most people certainly never believed that the smartphone would be a mechanism to drive purchases or, at the very least, feature ads that could influence purchases at a later date.

More Mobile Choice Means More Competition

But 2016 is here, and the current generation will only continue to demand more out of mobile. They will provide information in exchange for a free market to view pictures, videos, and relationship statuses. They will make purchases, even big ones, on their mobile devices and will choose to share their most intimate moments on their smartphones versus their laptops.

They will bounce from game to news to gossip column to WebMD as fast as you can say Snapchat. They need not be loyal to any one publisher, because their mobile search results produce a wide variety of options to answer their questions.

As this generation has been given the luxury of choice, it is more important than ever for an ad to be relevant, especially on the platform where these users are most engaged. With so much data now available to marketers, it is crucial that they understand the different types of data to create the best and most relevant user experience. Otherwise, these consumers will choose to go elsewhere.

If a marketer understands the buying behavior of a particular user, this not only leads to a more positive user experience—it ultimately may lead to a purchase. Can intent data signaling a potential decision to purchase be an important component of mobile advertising?

How Intent Data Works

Let’s use a real life example.

It’s Thursday night at 7:30pm. I have the TV on and I’m scrolling through a premium news app. Mobile advertising’s initial charm was that the experience was uncluttered—“one ad per page.” This is no longer the case. We’ve seen so many recent examples of publishers that have disregarded the user experience in favor of creating a desktop-like experience masqueraded as a mobile one. This was my experience tonight: political ad, three ads in a row for a fancy keychain, and an “adhesion” unit asking me to download Hotels.com NOW.

But wait…a 300×250 emerges featuring dancing bubbles and a beautiful bouncing baby boy with a prominent Johnson & Johnson logo…

Do Johnson & Johnson know that I have a nine-month old? Do they know how much easier my life has been since introducing a bath with bubbles? Do they know that I searched for “safe baby bath products” several times in the past month? Do they know that I used the last of my Babyganics bottle and just texted myself “buy bubble bath” because my phone was closer to me than a pad of paper? Do they know how much bubble bath I’ve purchased in the last month?

I don’t know the answers to all of these questions. I do know that my behavior on my mobile device may have offered certain “clues” or signals that I am indeed a mother who believes very much in the soothing nature of a baby bubble bath before bedtime. I am not certain if the brand chose to read these signals or if this was a coincidence that ultimately may lead to a purchase.

Let’s Start Here

There is a great deal of data available to marketers today. Some data is more valuable than others. Accurate demographic data, for instance, will soon be table stakes as purchase and intent-based data becomes even more valuable. If I know someone has bought products in my particular category, can I get them to buy more of my products? And, can I use this data to reach users on the platform where they are spending so much of their time?

The answer is yes. Marketers should align themselves with partners that have access to the right type of data to ensure that their ads are relevant, turning over more of their dollars to people-based advertising versus contextual spend and spray and pray type models. This may sound like an obvious statement, but there are still hurdles to understanding customers’ behaviors, especially purchase behaviors, as users jump from device to device.

So while marketers can’t control the aesthetics of a publisher’s page and the number of ads being shown, they can control the type of people they reach based on their past purchase decisions and potential to buy even more of those types of products.

Mobile advertising is still not perfect, but, at the very least, let’s be relevant.

5 Secrets to Maximizing Retail Sales

5 Secrets to Maximizing Retail Sales

With all of the world’s bounty just a few clicks or taps away, the competition for customers is growing fiercer by the day. Figuring out the best way to cut through the noise is a challenge—particularly for the savvy marketer or retailer who is trying to grow and adapt their business, while riding the waves of technical innovation.

For 2016, adopting a more data-centric approach will be the key to successful marketing. The more a brand can use high-quality data to personalize its messaging to consumers, the better its chances of garnering a response and closing a sale. Here are five tips to help you get started:

1. You don’t need much data to start targeting

The results are clear: companies with the best data have a dramatic advantage. However, you don’t need much to start seeing immediate results. Start with these two simple steps to get your data-driven programs going:

  • Do you see higher checkout rates or a higher basket size from female consumers? Split your advertising in two and double down on the more valuable group.
  • Who might be interested in buying? The customer who just clicked one of your advertisements yesterday! Build a separate campaign to retarget recent clickers. They already had one foot in the door, why not invite them back into your shop?

2. Creative matters 

While it’s all good and well to say “test, test, test” and “vary it up to see what works,” that’s like saying the secret to cooking well is to use the stove and the oven. Here are a few specific creative tips proven to maximize conversion:

  • Trying to get customers to come to your website or app? Use concrete numbers to illustrate why they should check it out — e.g., Over 1,000 new items in the collection! 5 million people already shop in our app.
  • Articulate your best feature and clearest value proposition. Consumers are bombarded in every channel; try picking an area and going all in on that one particular differentiator — e.g., The best place to shop for the whole family! 
  • Bringing a customer into a mobile experience? Feature a smartphone in your creative to show your exact use case and how your app will work. It may seem simple, but it boosts conversion.

3. Interactivity sells 

Whether you’re pitching a new customer or re-engaging a shopper who’s looked at an item on your site before, try using a dynamic creative format that displays multiple products. Presenting a mini shopping experience while giving a feel for your offerings has proven to increase clickthrough rates by as much as 180 percent.

For new potential customers, you can use your own first-party data or other reliable data sources to tailor which items you feature. For example, in ads for a large multicategory store, you might show women offerings for shoes, bags and apparel, while men see gifts and home goods.

4. Your best customers keep giving

One of the easiest ways to start unlocking the power of your data is to identify your best customers and find more like them. One big-box retailer we worked with took its branded customer list and had a lookalike model built using those customers as the seed audience. This segment — as well as the subsequent targeting iterations built from these profiles — dropped the retailer’s cost of acquisition to its app by 56 percent.

Speaking of your best customers, they may benefit from a nudge themselves. You can bring your offline data online and target them digitally to stay top of mind.

5. Don’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good’

“We’ll have the perfect campaign for each of our 28 different shopper personas!” one of your colleagues might shout after reviewing analysis. More PowerPoint documents will be created to determine the subtle differences between “Cheryl” and “Martha” personas.

Along with the power of data comes a challenge — it’s easier than ever to make campaigns needlessly complicated.

It goes without saying that a rigorous, data-driven approach can take more time and effort to implement. However, that shouldn’t keep you from staying focused on what you set out to do in the first place: delight more shoppers and bring more of what you offer to the world.

Becoming a Senior Engineer

Becoming a Senior Engineer

In the advertising technology world, a solid engineering team is core to staying ahead of the curve and exceeding customer expectations. At Liquid (now PCH/Media), we’re lucky to have a talented group of engineers who are committed to our products and their teams. 

Today we’re switching gears a bit to explore what it means to be a software engineer and what it takes to get there, from the POV of Josh Begleiter, one of Liquid’s Senior Engineers. Interested in pursuing a meaningful engineering career in an exciting, rapidly evolving industry? We’re hiring!

How it all began

When I first began programming almost 14 years ago (not counting the QBasic I first learned), it was a fun hobby, a class in my high school learning Java, which grew out of my interest in web design and computer graphics. A few years later I was in university taking a major in computer science, which transformed my hobby into the focal point of my studies, and just four years after that, in what now feels like the blink of an eye, I was doing it full time, and suddenly it was my career path. Looking back, it’s now easy to see how I was grinding the metal of my understanding in computer science into a hardened, sharpened edge, but in many moments I distinctly remember thinking, “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

I’m an avid Quora user as someone who answers a fair number of questions. Something I’ve noticed is that there are certain questions that seem to appear without fail almost every week: “What’s the difference between a Junior / Intermediate / Senior developer?” “How can I know if my knowledge level makes me a junior, middle or senior level developer?” “What is the main difference with a senior and a mid-level developer?” “What’s the difference between a mid-level and a senior developer?” “What is a Senior Software Engineer supposed to know?” “Software Engineering: How do I know what I don’t know?” and on and on and on. This is just a small sampling of many similar questions, and they all have different answers, some far more different than others.

Breaking it down

This week I set out to answer those questions, at least in part, which is motivated by a need for standardization and is the first step in a larger project to define career development plans for my team at Liquid. We’ll use the following rubrics for self-assessments, to help guide engineers towards work that they’ll find fulfilling, and in evaluating potential hires. I started by putting together many of these answers and using resources like fellow Bostonian Sijin’s programmer competency matrix, which you’ll see a lot of in my own developer rubric. At Liquid in particular, we are interested in people who want to excel in all parts of the stack, and as a result every item in the developer rubric is valuable to us.

Check out the rubrics here.

You’ll notice immediately that I combined some things, added context and specific examples to certain categories, removed others entirely, and, I think most importantly, added categories related to soft skills and personal development. This is because being an engineer is more than writing code, putting together components, and writing documentation. It’s the process of taking something complicated and making it simple for our consumers and partners.

From junior to mid-level to senior: steps to honing your skills

One of the wisest, most concise pieces of advice that I have ever received was that “simple is hard,” and as a result the more complex something is the better we must be to make it easy. It’s an exercise in constant technological evolution, one in which, as we grow, we become more actively involved for our respective organizations. It’s teaching, mentoring, and encouraging more junior engineers to want to be better. It’s the stuff that applies to any career that I so often see missing in these answers. Adding the soft and hard skills together I ended up with, well, a lot of requirements; four pages, to be exact. So how does one actually go about tackling all of these subjects, whether moving from junior to mid-level or mid-level to senior?

The answer won’t surprise you: take a kernel of knowledge, something in which you have achieved mastery, and grow your knowledge around it. Once you begin to nucleate knowledge around the core of your understanding you’ll find that, much like Newton’s first law of motion, it will become a part of your process and remain so. Start with something you understand deeply and then you’ll be able to move effectively to other areas of knowledge. The same holds true for the ops side of the house, for which I have also included a rubric.

But how long will it take? That depends on you. I don’t hold to the idea of ten-thousand hours, or some number of years’ experience, but rather the experiences from which an engineer has been able to learn. The trajectory of your understanding is entirely dependent on your attitude and the amount of time you will devote to improving your skills. By constantly challenging yourself to learn more and do more with that knowledge you’ll be able to tackle harder and harder problems.

Take your engineering career to the next level at Liquid. Check out our job openings!

5 Digital Trends to Watch in 2016

5 Digital Trends to Watch in 2016

A version of this post first appeared in Adotas as an interview with Noah.

1. Mobile “Show Rooming” is the Norm

2015 marked a tipping point, where numerous companies (from small eCommerce to Google) reported that the mass majority of action is happening on mobile devices.

But there is a catch: purchase size. While it’s becoming the norm to do research, price comparison, and purchase through mobile, IBM data noted that overall purchase rate on mobile was much lower than traffic driven on Black Friday 2015. Great for impulse buys—but bigger ticket items might still require a slightly larger screen or an in-person visit to finalize.

What’s this mean for the savvy marketer? Tying together intent coming from your customers on mobile—and using it to shape your emails, promotions, and targeting—is more important than ever. From the tech side, it can be a challenge to connect all the dots, which involves tying a non-logged-in mobile cookie back to a central user profile. But tactics exist—and 2016 is the year that will start to show big differentiation for firms that adapt.

2. CRM and Media Worlds Collide

Much has been written about the collision of “Marketing Tech” and “Ad Tech” (coined “Madtech”), but we won’t dwell on the specifics of the technology platform. Historically, firms have separated media and customer acquisition budgets from the team that manages CRM—or, more broadly, the programs to engage, upsell, and delight existing customers. But all that is changing, fast.

An anecdotal account: a colleague’s mother was shopping for a dress to attend a wedding. She wanted to show her daughter the dress before purchasing, and to do so, she simply navigated to her favorite homepage. “What store was it from?” the daughter inquired. “Just wait…it will be here in just a second.” A moment later, an ad with the exact dress reappeared, and off they went.

As media gets more tailored, it becomes a key part of our digital experiences.

Email, a mainstay of CRM teams, is a tremendously powerful (and relatively low-cost) tool when used properly. But you can only add so many new campaigns, mailing times, and trigger emails before the signal to noise ratio becomes too low for some customers. Thus, the turn to media.

The first step was simple retargeting—whether provided as a percentage of media spend at very high ROI, or on a commission basis for sales. While effective from a numbers basis, many lament the shoes (or other shopping whims) that seem to endlessly follow them around the web.

But now, data about your customers can be quickly tied to systems to buy, personalize, and deliver media. 2016 is the year that it becomes best practice to tie CRM strategy to judicious use of media—and find new ways to engage customers, ultimately bringing them back to the register.

3. Deep Linking Will Become Standard

Remember when some merchants didn’t have mobile optimized sites? Pretty soon, anyone left coming to the party without seamless integrations from their advertising, marketing emails, and other customer channels will open a chasm too large for most consumers to cross. When all of the world’s goods are just a tap away, any merchant that doesn’t minimize friction the way the big boys do will be left behind.

There are now a number of vendors providing various offerings to bootstrap your deep linking efforts—whether driving app installs, first time experience, advertisement link destination, or otherwise: URX, Deeplink.me, Branch.io, Yozio, Appsflyer, and others.

Top apps to look at for inspiration? Redfin and Amazon. Try their ads, marketing emails, and affiliate links around the web—with app installed, uninstalled, mobile cookies cleared, and otherwise to see how seamless this can be.

4. “Discovery”: Dangerous Waters Ahead

There’s a bitter fight going on for the home screen. It’s about to get muddier than ever. The explosion of such apps as Wish (and, to a lesser extent, Wanelo, The Fancy, and others) proves customer appetite for great shopping experiences on mobile. The question remains: just how many shopping related apps will a customer install? And how many will she remember to use regularly?

Gilt’s reported acquisition by Hudson’s Bay poses another question: what happens when the curated content discovery platforms just become extensions of one merchant?

So, ask yourself in 2016: does our app (or mobile experience) really provide something that consumers need and want? Or is it driven by our own aspirations to have a mobile and digital storefront?

5. Platforms: One Eye Open

We must never forget the power for platforms to drive distribution and attention. As a basic example: a startling percentage of Facebook’s traffic comes from the Google query “facebook login.”

For savvy marketers, that means keeping a close eye on how the giants move—and quickly testing and evaluating new channels.

Two trends to watch:

1) Integrated platforms

Just as the WeChats of the East have built entire portals within single applications, 2016 will be the year that many people try to replicate this success in the US market. Whether it’s Facebook’s neatly integrated commerce experience with Everlane or Uber’s same day Rush delivery pilots, watch this space closely.

Sometimes the biggest moves are the quiet ones—even noted by a former Facebook exec—so when typing “W” in Facebook’s search bar automatically suggests “Walmart” and not “Will,” take note.

2) AI Helpers

There are a bunch of them: Facebook M, Alfred, Magic, Operator. But the thread is universal: maybe the storefront of the future is the one that tells you exactly what to buy. Just as we see slimmed down product line companies taking mindshare—Casper Mattresses is an easy example—maybe our mobile store of the future isn’t an endless feed of tiny photos, but a system that knows your body shape, your shoe size—and shows you just what you need.

By the end of 2016, we’ll see what a number of these efforts look like—and either an interesting forerunner or a lack of success.

2016: The Year of Mobile… Video?

2016: The Year of Mobile… Video?

For anyone who has attended an advertising conference over the last few years, you know that we’ve been stuck indefinitely in “The Year of Mobile.” At this point, I think we can all agree that mobile is here to stay and is key to any brand’s digital advertising strategy. If you want to compete, you need to be mobile. That’s where your customers are, so that’s where you should be too. Right?

Absolutely—but it doesn’t end there. Mobile advertising technology is finally starting to catch up to the way people are consuming mobile content, and that provides the opportunity for brands to get more creative than ever before with their mobile campaigns.

It also puts mobile video front and center.

3 Reasons Mobile Video Isn’t Going Anywhere

In 2015, we saw a steady uptick in mobile video functionality: higher bandwidth has brought improved video quality, mobile optimized creative means better, more personalized user experiences, and easily trackable engagements make for quicker conversions (like sharing a video, purchasing a product, or downloading an app). These advancements will only get better, and mobile video will continue to change the way marketers reach and attract new consumers.

There are a number of stats supporting and validating the amount of growth anticipated in mobile video for 2016. Here are three main reasons why video is working so well for advertisers—and why it’s here to stay:

1. Hunger for Mobile Video

According to a study done by ZenithOptimedia, video consumption on mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets) is forecast to grow by 43.9% in 2015 and 34.8% in 2016. This is due in large part to the consumption habits of young consumers as well as the proliferation of video content being shared via social networks by both consumers and brands.

The same study states that the average amount of time people will spend consuming online video each day will increase by 23.3% in 2015 and by a further 19.8% in 2016. With Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and now HBO adding tons of new programming to their on-demand services, these numbers will likely continue to grow beyond 2016.

2. Unique Mobile Video Content is King

Back in October, I attended the Videonomics conference in Santa Barbara, CA. Many of the major brands and agencies in attendance mentioned that mobile video content creation is a major push within their organizations, and the creative storytelling behind mobile video is crucial to their digital campaigns.

One example of great mobile video execution discussed at the conference was the partnership between Tony Hawk and MINI USA under the leadership of Lee Nadler, MINI’s Manager of Marketing Communications. As a long-time brand ambassador for MINI, Tony Hawk creates his own video content (incorporating the MINI brand) to share with his social media followers. This has proven to be the best way for Tony to retain his authentic brand while also highlighting his partnership with MINI Cooper.

There are a number of videos (here’s one) showcasing how Tony has created unique content bridging his brand with that of the MINI Cooper—and the positive impact the relationship has had on both brands.

We’ll likely see more of these types of symbiotic marketing videos moving forward.

3. Mobile Video Drives Conversions

A study of online fashion retailers showed that those using video on product pages saw a 134% boost in conversions. An A/B test of a fitness product sales page saw a 46% uplift in click throughs to the purchase page when the sales page included a video.

These are just a couple examples of many, but it’s quite clear that mobile video drives lift in conversions. We see this at Liquid in our own performance-focused campaigns: because of its engaging content and reliable performance, mobile video continues to take up a large percentage of our clients’ media plans.

Next Steps for Moving Forward

I think at this point we can all accept that “The Year of Mobile” is really just a constant state of being for today’s digital marketer. I’m hopeful that 2016 instead becomes “The Year of Mobile Video,” and that we see even more brands allocating creative and budgetary resources to this highly effective marketing channel.

Want to find out how we can help you maximize your mobile video campaigns? Get in touch!

Shopper Marketing and the Rise of Digital

Shopper Marketing and the Rise of Digital

If you’re in the advertising technology space, you could attend a conference focused on mobile/video/data/programmatic any given week. We all know the usual suspects and there are a myriad of reasons why our presence at these conferences is important to our business. Although the content can often be a bit stale (it’s the year of mobile, right?), these events keep us connected to the pulse of our business as well as to the people we’ve grown up with throughout our time in digital.

This past October, Liquid (now PCH/Media) decided to step out of our conference comfort zone and embark on a new adventure, where we gathered valuable new insights into the world of shopper marketing.

Shopper Marketing Shift

We sent a small army to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to attend the Shopper Marketing Expo. Our group was equipped with a basketball hoop, two “big checks,” and positioning that spoke to our ability to help marketers reach high-intent shoppers most likely to buy their products.

For those of you not familiar with Shopper Marketing, the category focuses on the ability to understand and influence a shopper’s behavior to make a sale and build a relationship. I originally believed shopper marketing to be limited to in-store, but the rise of digital has certainly changed this common assumption. Shopper Marketing includes in-store marketing activities, but also display banners that promote e-commerce or geo-targeted mobile banners that influence the products you buy when you’re in close proximity of a given retailer.

Challenges and Trends

As much as our team was at the conference to exchange business cards and introduce Liquid to the market, we were also there to simply listen and learn. None of the content was stale for the Liquid group as we learned about the challenges brands are facing as shoppers are empowered with so many options.

Here are a few of the major trends we heard from people we met:

  • The adoption of digital usage is converging shopper marketing and media budgets: Agency teams outside of shopper marketing agencies usually oversaw the media budgets. However, when a user is in-store and sends a push notification to enjoy 20% off a product…is this media or shopper marketing? The answer is both as the two worlds collide.
  • The value of data: More and more CPG brands are relying on data to find the right context to reach the consumer. Smart uses of data increase brand relevancy and the right type of data will connect brands with their audiences. While many brands we talked to had access to their own first-party data, many were not taking advantage of it to better reach their consumers. In addition, many brands were just starting to explore the data available to them through various sources and trying to determine how best to use it. There is a lot of potential here!
  • In order for a shopper to come back to a store, you need an experience that is enjoyable and memorable. That’s where shopper marketing and various touch points come in. Touch points influence the shopper at every step of their path to purchase (pre-store, in-store, and post-store). How do we reach a consumer across each touch point to maximize the shopper’s experience and influence them to come back to that retailer (whether in-store or online)?

There were a variety of sessions hosted by some big brands and agencies.  We loved the Hershey presentation (especially thanks to the bags of chocolate on every seat as the Hershey team “wanted to end the session with ‘Kisses’ not ‘Snickers…’”).

Hershey discussed the general trends they were seeing at a macro level and how their shopper marketing strategy needed to shift to accommodate these changes. Retailer trips are down, shopper loyalty is as fragmented as ever, and e-commerce is up and here to stay…hence more money pouring into digital and mobile advertising. It’s important not just to understand who is buying candy, but also what is the best way to reach them. 

Hershey is looking for insights they don’t currently have today, and it seems that the company who can provide them will get a chunk of their shopper marketing budgets in 2016.

The Next Frontier of Fresh Shopper Insights

The Shopper Marketing Expo was Liquid’s first foray into the world of shopper marketing. Our three days in Minneapolis validated our belief that Liquid’s first-party purchase data can help influence a shopper’s behavior and equip brands with unique insights not available to them today. 

You’ll see us at the next mobile/video/data/programmatic conference, but you can also be sure that Team Liquid will be a familiar presence at shopper marketing conferences in 2016.

We are One of Maine’s Best Places to Work!

We are One of Maine’s Best Places to Work!

We are proud to announce that Liquid (now PCH/Media) was voted one of the 2015 Best Places to Work in Maine!

For the last 10 years, The Society for Human Resource Management’s Maine State Council has recognized Maine’s top employers with the Best Places to Work in Maine initiative. Dedicated to highlighting companies that have established and consistently provided outstanding workplace environments, the Best Places to Work in Maine program addresses all of the hard work employees put in to get their company to where it is today. It’s a tremendous accomplishment and true honor to make the list!

Liquid was ranked #7 best medium sized business to work for in Maine.

How does a company make the list? Employee satisfaction is the answer in a nutshell. Real and honest feedback is taken from actual employees, and the winners are chosen by the council, based in large part on those responses. The assessment process also evaluated each company’s employee policies and procedures.

Competition is fierce: out of all of the companies that apply, only about half end up getting ranked. Categorized based on number of employees, businesses are awarded within their size category to ensure a level playing field. With 42 other employers along with Liquid in the medium sized category—the largest group—it was that much more of a triumph for us to make the top 10!

Real Feedback

Here are just a few of the comments from our employees’ surveys:

“Incredibly supportive peer-to-peer environment. Lots of people that want to work hard and drive the positive culture here.”

“Liquid consistently works to maintain a fun, challenging work environment that encourages a healthy work-life balance. Unlike many employers, Liquid provides a flexible work environment and has a solid tuition reimbursement program that truly speaks to the organization’s commitment to personal growth.”

“The company has a long term vision and is dedicated to putting forth the resources and time needed to build towards that vision. Everyone is really excited to be here and we feel that we have a great opportunity ahead of us to build one of the coolest companies in Maine.”

“There are few places where I’ve worked that incorporate collaboration and an exciting day-to-day like Liquid does. I show up everyday looking to team with coworkers towards client and partner goals. Most days I leave feeling as if I’ve done so, which is a rewarding feeling in itself and a testament to the effective teamwork that occurs daily.”

We love where we work. Would you like it, too?

We’re hiring! Liquid is always on the lookout for smart, motivated, and fun people to join our team. Check out our current openings here!

The Biggest Data Challenges Facing Marketers Today

The Biggest Data Challenges Facing Marketers Today

As Ad Week 2015 drew to a close, one thing became abundantly clear: digital advertising has come a long way, but innovations in programmatic, video, and big data have brought their own set of challenges for marketers. Top AWXII themes centered around the usual suspects—creative, viewability, mobile, cross-device—and Liquid (now PCH/Media) was in town to add our own insights to the mix.

Data Demystified

We kicked off our first ever Liquid Lunch Series roadshow in NYC with casual lunch and drinks (including our signature cocktail, the Liquid Courage). The lunch/presentation combo centered on “demystifying data,” with Ash Dhupar, Chief Analytics Officer at PCH and Noah Jessop, Liquid’s own Head of Data, covering off on topics aimed to help marketers successfully navigate the intimidating yet essential task of picking data partners.

When it comes to data, Ash and Noah truly know their stuff. The presentation began with an overview of the importance of data in today’s marketing landscape. It’s indisputable that data is everything—Goldman Sachs  affirms that soon, “the value of ad tech companies will begin shifting from media buying, to ‘data enablement.'” When thought of this way, unique insights are one of the most valuable tools marketers have at their disposal, more pivotal even than the media that they’re being applied to. With that, it’s important that everyone gets on the same page about what constitutes quality data: what are the different types of data? Where do they come from?

Ash and Noah broke down the often misunderstood—and misrepresented—data types, proclaiming first-party data as king, second-party data as the new but influential kid on the block, and third-party data as an oftentimes necessary component for scaling seed audiences of first-party data. Since first-party data comes directly from the source, it’s the most reliable, but in the currently hyper-commoditized data market, it’s tough to decipher who’s offering true first-party data and who’s just giving it lip service. Worse yet are the DSPs that are listening in the exchanges and then packaging up stolen data and selling it as their own.

Data Challenges Defined

A blend of agency and DSP folks made for interesting discussion, and we were able to get a first-hand account of some of the challenges they face in today’s increasingly data-driven marketing environment. They described the ever-growing abundance of available data as both a blessing and a curse, with the proliferation of oftentimes unregulated and unreliable data resulting in commoditization and confusion about what constitutes quality targeting information.

Four trends emerged as the leading hurdles:

  • Too many data companies are unwilling to articulate where their data comes from and who makes up their audience segments. How are they collecting data? What qualifies a “nightlife enthusiast” or a “couponer”? How are these categories defined?
  • Most data sets are small. The vast majority of data out there—especially first-party data—lacks the scale necessary for impactful campaign reach. How can marketers get both the unique insights they crave and the scale to make them worthwhile?
  • It’s difficult to unify campaigns across devices, including TV. It’s well known that the most effective campaigns are multi-channel, with ads hitting consumers at various touch points along the path to conversion. Being able to match devices deterministically, including across television, is a must, but is currently only possible through a small number of large-scale providers.
  • Goals are unclear at the outset of a campaign. When proper goals aren’t assigned to data segments, marketers are unsure what to expect from reaching particular clients. What types of results should they get from targeting “pet lovers”? How are we defining success?


With so much confusion in the market, it’s important that marketers know the right questions to ask when figuring out which data companies to work with, so Ash and Noah also covered off on best practices for evaluating data partners.

Key questions for marketers to ask include:

  • First-party data: Does this data align with your target audience? Does it have the scale to reach your audience? Is it comprised online or offline data?
  • Second-party data: What is the size of the data? What is the proportion of first and second-party data?
  • Third-party data: How was the data collected? What is the proportion of probabilistic vs. real data? How is this data going to drive performance?

Onboarding is On Point

Finally, Ash and Noah walked us through how exactly data can be leveraged to complete an audience buy across platforms. They explained that once a segment of user data is compiled, it’s synced with an onboarding partner like LiveRamp, who has licensed mappings from partner publishers. Mapping that user data to cookies allows targeting to those users across different devices and platforms so you can be sure you’re actually reaching the people you think you are.

Noah also explained why using first-party data as a seed audience is one of the best ways to ensure a high-quality segment while increasing reach from a smaller pool of data. By identifying your key customers and distilling the common intent signals from those VIPs, you can use that insight to identify new, similar prospects in the larger data pool. You then execute a media buy targeting a significantly increased group of people who you know will respond, based on past actions.

Next Stop is…

All in all, it was an eye opening day on all fronts. We’re looking forward to more inspiring data discussions at our next Liquid Lunch in San Francisco!

Keep your eye out for the Liquid Lunch Roadshow, coming soon to a town near you!

Perks of First-Party

This post is the second in our two-part series about making the case for first-party data. Check out Part 1 here.

Why are marketers clamoring to find clean, reliable first-party data for their ad targeting? There are three primary reasons, and they are game changers:

It’s Deep. 

When publishers collect information on their own customers, the sky is the limit. Every click, every movement, every purchase can be tracked. Online and offline behaviors are recorded, analyzed, and categorized, woven together to tell a comprehensive story about each person who interacts with that company’s sites and apps.

It’s Deterministic.

When publishers require users to log in with a single sign-on across their devices, the customer’s data story becomes even tighter. That person’s identity is linked to each device they are logged in on, which creates a unified device profile – a cross-device targeting map for that user. This type of first-party information – called deterministic data – is necessary to accurately identify and target the same person across their smartphone, tablet, and desktop, thereby greatly increasing the chances for a conversion.

Facebook is a master at utilizing deterministic data for ad targeting, and they are empowering advertisers with that data like never before. Aside from the connected ad experience on their platform, Facebook partners with publishers to target and retarget consumers across various properties, on multiple screens. It’s the Holy Grail of ad targeting, providing tangible connected value to the advertiser and increased monetization for the publisher. Expect to see more of this from Twitter’s continued integration with MoPub, advertising consortiums like Pangaea, and large programmatic platforms like AppNexus.

In addition to its cross-device targeting value, deterministic tracking is opt-in, so it’s reliable and privacy-safe. The same can’t be said for all third-party providers: some third-party data companies build profiles around users without their consent, like DSPs that listen and collect information without actually bidding, or user acquisition companies that grab other developers’ data to build models for their own use. The proliferation of data companies means that it’s getting harder to regulate questionable data collection methods, and the industry has yet to really crack down on these types of operations. Now more than ever, CMOs need to be ever-diligent about screening potential partners to ensure that they are collecting data in an ethical, opt-in environment.

On the other side of the cross-device matching story is probabilistic data. This type of data uses predictive algorithms to determine the likelihood that a specific device ID is tied to a user, typically resulting in match rates hovering around 40%-70% accurate at best. Claims of higher probabilistic matching accuracy are oftentimes based on data sets pulled from a small sample of information – or on probabilistic data layered with deterministic data – making the probabilistic results look much better than they are. In either case, those inflated accuracy rates are highly unlikely to hold up in a large-scale environment, so it’s best practice for advertisers to make sure that data partners are separating their probabilistic and deterministic models when testing accuracy.

It’s Scalable.

Many people argue that first-party data lacks scalability. No matter how big their databases, companies have finite consumer data and therefore finite audience prospects, right?

Not quite. A company’s data can be scaled, and it doesn’t even have to be that big to get started. When an advertiser starts with first-party data, they can be confident that those profiles are scrubbed and legitimate. They are segmented into the very best targeting prospects – the cream of the crop – and you know those customers are going to convert.

Enter lookalike modeling. Creating lookalike audiences based on high-quality, first-party data helps advertisers build incredible scale without affecting the integrity of their carefully curated insights. They can employ lookalikes from their own CRM databases or DMPs, or allow a publisher to create lookalikes on their behalf. (Caveat: Advertisers should approach this method carefully to make sure the publisher gives them the audience they are asking for and not leaving out valuable data attributes.) Growing an audience based on a successful seed audience is the best way to ensure that the scaled pool of prospects will perform well.

Similarly, third-party data finds its niche with audience layering. While employing solely third-party information in an ad campaign is less effective, large amounts of clean first-party data overlaid with specific third-party information can be a powerful combination. Layering on third-party insights can deepen data’s relevance and greatly increase the number of usable targeting prospects.

Pick Your Partners Wisely

A successful ad targeting strategy begins with deep, deterministic, first-party data, but tapping into this valuable resource isn’t as easy as it seems. Ideological challenges aside, today’s data environment requires that CMOs and marketers be diligent about asking data providers the right questions to ensure they are getting user information that’s accurate and ethical.

If advertisers take the time to evaluate their partnerships, force transparency into data discussions, and be more selective with the partners they choose, the results will be staggering. In a good way.

Contact us to learn more about how we use first-party data to make your ad targeting better.

The Case for First-Party Data

In an ideal world, effective ad targeting would be easy: get some accurate and complete profile data, put it into segments, and use it across channels and devices to reach the right person at the right time with relevant, personalized ads. Most marketers would agree that the concept is simple enough, but knowing the theory behind data-powered ad targeting versus effectively putting it into practice can mean two very different things.

As big data gets bigger and increasingly commoditized, more confusion clouds the market about what constitutes “accurate” consumer data. Where should it come from? What are acceptable ways to collect and use it? How do we define accuracy? The line between quality and quantity, first-party and third-party, becomes murkier by the day, and the integrity of first-party data is jeopardized in the process.

For the sake of targeted ad campaigns everywhere, it’s time to clear the air about first-party data and what it is, what it isn’t, why it’s so hard to come by, and—most importantly—why it’s worth it.

We’re exploring these questions in a two-part series here on the blog, so stay tuned as the rest of the conversation unfolds next week!

Cracking the Code to Better Data

No matter how you spin it, successful ad targeting is impossible without accurate information about your audience. To be true to its name, “accurate and complete profile data” can only come from one place: a company who is collecting that data directly from its consumers, typically through registration forms, purchase behaviors, and other activities performed within that organization’s owned and operated sites and apps. This type of information—called first-party data—is obtained via legitimate collection methods and is therefore authentic, clean, and true.

Everyone claims to have first-party data, but the current standard for “accurate” targeting methodology is often from the use of third-party data, information collected by a business entity (a “third-party”) that does not have a direct relationship with the people whom the profiles are based upon. Third-party data ­­not thousands, of demographic and behavioral data points. Because it’s simple to access, third-party data is cheap and widely available—everybody is using it. If you’re Ford and you’re buying third-party data, you’re just doing everything that all the other automotive companies are already doing. It’s not unique. But it’s easy.

Cracking the code to first-party data, on the other hand, demands that CMOs and marketers adopt an entirely new way of thinking. Planning an ad campaign around known customer data blurs the line between marketing and technology, requiring a people-based approach quite different from traditional retargeting or third-party data buying. Scaling that data into an impactful, ROI-boosting campaign is an entirely other hurdle, but it’s well worth the effort.

When companies take on the challenge of harnessing first-party data, the results are incredible. We’ve seen Facebook turn social media into the gold standard for ad products, Amazon become a retargeting powerhouse, and Twitter drastically scale its targeting capabilities. These companies collect, scrub, and map out their real consumer data, and they are confident that other companies will want to buy it—spend billions of dollars on it, in fact.

Turns out, they are right.

Check out next week’s post for a deeper dive on the Perks of First-Party Data.

Liquid’s Digiday Debut

Liquid’s Digiday Debut

Liquid’s very own Jessica Speweik and Darin Leach had the pleasure of attending the 2015 Digiday Agency Innovation Camp in Vail, Colorado last month. With over 200 peer-nominated agency representatives in attendance and a tight-knit, team-based format, Jess and Darin both agreed that the Innovation Camp is one of the best (if not THE best) digital events here in the US for media agencies and ad tech companies. The passion and enthusiasm of this group was palpable, making the camp a phenomenal place to share insight and exchange ideas.

Our Digi-Debut

As a sponsor of the Innovation Camp, Liquid took the stage to talk about how we can partner with agencies to help them reach their clients’ target audiences. Check out our pitch below:

The camp included a number of other presentations by agency leaders on ways to get ahead in the agency world as well as a Shark Tank style competition based on two separate creative briefs.

In addition to the terrific content and words of advice from industry professionals, each team was encouraged to bond with each other. There was a series of team building exercises such as a scavenger hunt, photo contest and (personal favorite) the Digiday Agency Camp Olympics. These team-building events broke the ice and really helped identify each team member’s strengths and contributions. The innovation and creative thinking that went into each competition was not only hysterical, but also truly useful! When it came time to work on the briefs, I think we all felt a bit more prepared to be creative and innovate.

The Main Event: We came, we saw, we conquered!

On the last day of camp, each team presented their briefs. The panel of judges included representatives from Dell, SoulCycle, Travelocity, and MeUndies. Luckily, Liquid was representing both the “Candy Brief” and the “Tequila Brief.” We happened to be the only teams that included vendor-specific products: Jessica with RealBucks TV and Darin with Liquid’s audience profiles. The competition was stiff and all the presentations were fantastic. After some tequila shots for the judges and the personal sacrifice of a team member’s Twitter account….TEAM LIQUID WON!!! We are happy to report that each of the camp’s winning teams had a Liquid representative.

Overall, there were great relationships made, a lot was learned (especially a first-hand look at how agencies work on client proposals), and Liquid received a few shout-outs from clients at the conference.

We also got some pretty sweet trophies!

Welcome to Our Blog

Welcome to Our Blog

Hi there and welcome! We’re so happy you’re here.

In case we haven’t met before, we’re the advertising technology arm of Publishers Clearing House—yes, that Publishers Clearing House—and we’re on a mission to make ad targeting better.

Because ad tech is exciting and because we have lots of cool things going on, we thought it’s about time we have a place to chronical the Liquid Life (now known as the PCH/Media Life) and everything that goes along with it. You’ll find lots of helpful posts on data—what it is, where to get it, and how best to use it—and other industry hot topics (viewability, anyone?!) from our insanely knowledgeable team. You’ll also get a behind-the-scenes look at what it really means to be Liquid.

It’s not all teal and tight t-shirts over here (although there’s a lot of that). We’ve brought on some of the best in the business to build the best advertising products you’ll ever use, and we want you to come along for the ride. So put your feet up, grab a drink, and enjoy.