Testing Audience-First Strategies in the Real World
A case study in reaching new customers on new platforms without cookies.
I know I’m doing my job as a marketing and business leader when I sit down with other Risers and hear their original ideas and the innovative work they are doing alongside our clients. This year has been a wake up call for marketers to get a grip on their audience and first party data strategies, explore more truthful measurement approaches like incrementality, and think seriously about building media plans centered on customers’ needs at a time when the volume of channels and platforms has become overwhelming. As I’ve said before, brands and marketers that can view these changes as opportunities have a unique window of time to sprint out ahead of the competition. I’m so proud of how the Rise team is rolling up their sleeves and bringing clients along for this journey.
I partnered with VP of Account Management, Ashmita Chatterjee, on this post to share an inspiring example of how Ashmita and a B2C telecom brand embraced the challenges of signal loss on legacy high-performing platforms like Meta and tested into new platforms to find the next winning combinations of platform-based targeting and first party data. I’m reminded that knowing what marketers need to do to prepare for the future is only half the battle — the true test is how to bring that new vision to life in the real world.
Me (Larry Fisher): For many brands, especially those with high consideration purchases, a major reason why they call Rise is that they need help figuring out how to reach what is often a very niche audience. In B2B, that might be C-suite decision makers. In at-home telecom, the specificity comes from reaching a person right at the time they would be in-market to switch providers. What targeting signals had worked to deliver that message to the right individuals?
Ashmita: This is why customer journeys are such a critical step in media planning. We first need to understand what are those moments in time or signals to look for, and then map to the platforms that have those insights or would be contextually relevant as part of that journey. For a telecom player, everyone technically is the Target Audience as everybody needs the internet! But, we collaborated with the brand and narrowed down their key personas to Gen Z, Movers and Gamers. The audience in the example I’ll focus on today is individuals who are preparing to move homes — “Movers”.
For a long time, we were able to use platforms like Meta, which offers billions of users to target with granular audience segments — a straightforward way to reach desired individuals at scale. We also relied on third party audience segments via various DSPs, many of which have a shelf life given the degradation of the third party cookie.
Me: Now let’s paint the picture of what events or moments led to the decision to make the investment in an ambitious expansion into new platforms and audiences.
Ashmita: Being laser focused on client goals is in our DNA at Rise, and in applying our Rise 5 methodology we observed increasing headwinds in meeting ecommerce goals — to the point where it was clear that we needed to rethink our strategy. This meant truly getting back to our audience: Not just who they are but where they are, where they spend time online and offline, their media consumption habits, and what is contextually relevant to them.
There are many “trigger” events to diversify media mix; changing consumer habits tops that list. Of course, this further gets endorsed by consumer research studies establishing that it takes multiple touchpoints before someone buys from your brand, and that if people see your ad on more than one platform, they’re more likely to remember your message.
Another inflection point was the availability of new, highly relevant environments to connect with customers. People go onto different platforms for different reasons, at different times, with different frames of mind. This is a critical component of planning that’s often overlooked. Our goal was to tap into these platforms that tend to be more specialized based on their unique value propositions to their end users — like Realtor.com, in the example of a Mover persona. This specialization fosters greater connections with users, which brands can tap into in a highly relevant but non-intrusive way.
Finally, of course iOS14 also prompted our shift. From a Meta standpoint, the good news was that we had always had a fairly diverse audience strategy, leveraging a mix of in-platform and CRM-based targeting. This helped insulate us from some of the impacts of iOS14, but it was clear that we needed to apply this diversification strategy to new platforms outside of Meta.
Me: What expansion strategy did we propose?
Ashmita: We put together a robust testing plan designed to learn as quickly as possible.
First, we tapped into Nextdoor, a hyperlocal social networking service for neighborhoods which now offers ads services. We also purchased audience inventory on Realtor.com’s real estate marketplace and related sites through Private Marketplace (PMP) buys for display and native ads. We tested Amazon DSP to target segments of Amazon’s first party “movers” audience data on the open web.
We also used this as an opportunity to test some other curated audiences through data providers like FourSquare and Distillery via The Trade Desk. It was critical that each audience was truly a Movers intent-based segment and not a generic audience based solely on demographic data, for example.
We also leveraged lists of movers from the brand that we could feed into different ad platforms to build custom audiences.
Me: Once we had all of these different platforms and audiences live, how did we decide what worked best? Did any results surprise you?
Ashmita: As a Rise data geek — digging into the results and seeing what actually worked was the best part! And yes, there were some learnings that I wouldn’t have predicted, but in hindsight are intuitive. For example, we tested the first party CRM list of known movers side-by-side in Facebook and on the open web using The Trade Desk. We saw much higher engagement and conversion rates on The Trade Desk first party matched audience than Facebook. Where Facebook excelled was using that first party data to build look-a-like audiences, which was a win-win. We were able to reach known movers through the first party list, and expand our reach to additional individuals who acted or “looked” like those movers to Facebook.
Having a measurement framework to look at the true side-by-side performance of Nextdoor, Facebook, The Trade Desk, Google, Amazon DSP, Realtor.com, and other tactics was the most important part of this test. I felt strongly about creating a blueprint for testing and comparing across a high volume of platforms to prove that it’s manageable in “the real world”, as you put it.
Me: I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of years thinking about the concept of granularity. In Rise’s early days, our approach to search was to create a high volume of campaigns and ad groups, each with fewer keywords, to enable more precise bid adjustments and actions. We managed at a granular keyword level while many brands and competitors managed to aggregate portfolio performance. Google and other platforms are automating that aspect of granularity, and I strongly believe that the next chapter of granularity is understanding the specific combinations of audience x funnel stage x creative x platform x geography or any number of attributes that drive the best outcomes. Which is why I’m so bullish, as you know, on Connex and our ability to pair technology with smart strategy to get at these insights. All that to say – were there any granular insights, in this new way of thinking about granularity, that you feel were revealed by your measurement approach?
Ashmita: I’m so glad you mentioned geography because not only is that a very important attribute for this business, it is the exact attribute that, when layered into our analysis, materially informed our forward planning media strategy. Zip code level geo targeting is extremely important to this brand’s success across three primary zones: East Coast, Texas and West Coast. We learned that not all media platforms perform the same across different markets. Some tactics performed and scaled really well in Texas while others outperformed on the East Coast. Specifically, we saw statistically significant differences in performance of audiences on Realtor.com based in these zones. Which goes back to the beginning of our conversation — the consumer behavior of audiences and their media consumption habits differs by geography. Sometimes we go into media planning knowing those consumption nuances, and sometimes we learn them once we’re live.
Me: What was the hardest part of taking this strategy from a plan to a live campaign?
Ashmita: The creative! We waited and waited for the right endemic creatives to launch these programs. Custom creative is a huge part of ensuring we are playing to the individual strengths of each platform. We need to not only diversify our media strategy to be where the audience is, but also personalize the creative to the channel and the context.
For example, using platforms like Realtor.com to tap into our Movers audience requires our creative assets to be succinct, actionable, with a clear CTA, and often featuring an incentive like a promotion or a gift card to sweeten the decision. For Snapchat, we want creatives to be lifestyle oriented, showing young people enjoying technology to engage and entice a Gen Z audience.
The volume, velocity and variety of creative are all ingredients you need to fuel your brand engine!
Me: What’s next for this brand based on these learnings?
Ashmita: Testing and growing the business! We have already solidified our 2023 roadmap with a focus on repeating and scaling the strategies that are working, testing new tactics and platforms, and learning from the tests that did not work. We plan to have more proactive conversations with the creative department so that in 2023 the strategy drives the creative — not the other way around. Of course, first party data collection and continued testing of those audiences across platforms is a focus as well.
Me: Thank you again, Ashmita, for your leadership and strategy to help our clients continue to grow their businesses, no matter what curveballs may be thrown our way. This testing approach is setting the standard for how we will continue to tap into new platforms and audiences for our clients as they become available.
Ready to discuss how to expand and diversify your media mix as consumer behaviors evolve? Let’s talk.