The Key to Successful Advertising Is Empathy -- Which Comes From Data

Innovation Requires a True Understanding of Users' Wants, Needs and Grievances

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When you book a flight online, you may be curious as to how all those flights are aggregated, visualized and booked in real time, but what you care about most is purchasing a seat on a plane, at a good rate, so you can get where you're going.

The same goes for advertising. Brands are more interested in the effectiveness, transparency and efficiency of advertising solutions than the complexities involved in building them. Consumers simply want an enjoyable viewing experience, free from distraction and lag time.

It's our job as marketers to deliver on the promise of a seamless experience for brands and consumers, while concurrently helping publishers maximize revenue. To chart the best course forward, empathy should be at the center of every decision we make.

Empathy comes from data

The great Renaissance sculptors took a block of marble and slowly chiseled away the extraneous bits until they reached their desired form. But imagine if Michelangelo took that raw block of marble and announced, "Let's just put the whole block on display; the form is in there somewhere." This is effectively how traditional advertising has, and is, being transacted: "Buy the adults 25-54 demo -- your audience is in there somewhere." We can do better.

Where is the empathy? When we leverage data to provide consumers with more relevant ads, whether diapers for parents or running shoes for marathoners, we are directly reducing viewership frustrations. Viewers no longer have to see the same ad multiple times, or wait for what feels like an eternity for a page to load. Advertisers no longer have to blanket a full age/gender demographic in hopes of reaching their desired audience. And publishers are rewarded with higher CPMs and reduced ad clutter for building high-value audiences on viewability-optimized pages. It's a win for the brand, consumer and publisher.

Programmatic advertising's use of data allows us to chisel away the extraneous bits. As with those great sculptures, what falls away is not "lost" but rather a necessary step in uncovering the form beneath -- in our case, the most effective, relevant and impactful campaign. With less, we can actually do more.

Empathy will fuel innovation

The primary goal of an ad buyer or seller should not be to ensure the entire budget is spent. This mentality, conspicuously lacking in empathy, is the reason we viewers get blasted with the same ad multiple times at the end of each quarter -- akin to a cop giving out speeding tickets at the end of the month to reach quota. Viewers are catching on to this nonsense, and they're voting with ad blockers and the fast-forward button on their remote.

We've done a good job of adopting branded content, or original content with brand integration. We've listened to viewers (especially millennials) and found that they are open to this approach, so long as the content is good and the integration is natural and relevant. This requires brands to tell their story within the context of a broader theme but, done well, it's a powerful way to reach an engaged audience.

Branded or integrated content is only the first step. As backlash against unempathetic marketing tactics grows, we have to admit that we've held onto the old ways of doing things for too long. Blindly producing more and more branded content, without a plan for the future, will only be repeating the same mistakes we've made with an overreliance on pre-roll.

We need more creative advertising solutions that draw on our collective experience and the data we have to back it up. Examples include data-fueled dynamic creative, sequential messaging and device-aware assets. Most of all, innovation will rely on empathy -- a true understanding of a viewer's wants and needs, annoyances and grievances.

The real secret to empathy

We spend so much time as an industry discussing the best way to reach engaged audiences at scale, and other combinations of buzzwords. But we often forget that we are viewers, too. Perhaps it's anticlimactic, but empathy is the simple secret to marketing.

Our experience as marketers and viewers, paired with programmatic technology and data, gives us the tools we need to create a more empathetic experience for viewers, better monetization for publishers, and a more valuable opportunity for brands. We're holding Michelangelo's chisel in our hands. Are you ready to use it?

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