In-depth: Charles Wiles at VisualDNA and Kevin Telford at Callcredit

by Jessica Ramesh

Charles Wiles, MD at Visual DNA and Kevin Telford, Strategy Director at Callcredit Information Group, will be among the speakers at the Figaro Digital Marketing Conference in London on 29 November. They talk to us about data on-boarding and unified channel marketing

Figaro Digital: for those who’ve not come across the term before, could you give us a quick introduction to ‘data on-boarding’?

Charles Wiles: Data on-boarding is the process of taking an offline consumer data set, for example a CRM data set, and making it available to use in your online marketing activities. At its heart, it’s as simple as that. 

Could you give us an example?

Charles Wiles: Imagine you’re a supermarket and you have an offline data set. Your users are divided into different marketing segments – DM, email and so on – so you can customise your marketing. In the past that offline data set would not be connected to your online world. Data on-boarding allows you to bring your offline data sets online so you can reach individuals with a unified message across direct, online and television marketing channels. There is a real transformation in the way companies target and engage with their customers. It can improve campaign performance and return on marketing spend, whatever the size of your company.

Put simply, how does the process work?

Charles Wiles: Fundamentally, you need to match the unique identifier in the offline data set – typically that’s an email address – with an anonymous online cookie. At VisualDNA we work with publishers and websites who enable us to make that match. They know the email addresses of users registered with their sites. They see that user, identify that cookie and match them up.

Talk us through some of the benefits for ROI.

Charles Wiles: Ninety billion dollars is spent on online advertising every year, and a lot of that is made without knowing anything about your users. Sure, you might know which web page they’re on right now, you might know which site they visited yesterday – that’s what retargeting does – and you might know what they just searched for. But that’s it. But once we have this data on-boarding capability in place, you can use the same sorts of techniques you’d use offline for direct and email marketing.

An example might be a newspaper with a whole load of print subscribers which is looking to develop its online presence. They may also want to identify online users who they can convert into print subscribers. The newspaper can look at the customer profiles in their offline database – their print subscribers – and find other, similar users in their online database who are most likely to buy the print edition. It can then advertise directly to those people, both on and off the website. 

That’s a very simple example of how this technology is allowing people to run much more efficient campaigns, because they don’t need to waste impressions on their site presenting subscriptions to people who they know aren’t going to be interested. They can also reach those users in other places, off their own site, and increase the likelihood of conversion.

Kevin Telford: Online advertising can be a bit like digital junk mail. Callcredit and Visual DNA came together to work out how to serve people with more relevant and appropriate ads. At the moment, generic advertising still performs well for a lot of people. But we want to serve the people; our clients want to reach with the right offer, at the moment they value it, through their preferred channel; moving the market from a push to a pull. 

Do you think data on-boarding reflects a more general blurring of the line between online and offline activity?

Charles Wiles: Well, that’s true to an extent, but rather than a blurring of that line, I’d say they’re becoming much more connected. 

In the old world – and this applies to TV, online and display ads – as a brand you’d try and identify the characteristics of the audience you want to reach: let’s say 21-35 year old males with an interest in sport. Then you’d look at the environment where you might find those users: TV advertising during a football match, a sports website or the back pages of a newspaper. All of that made sense in the old world, because online and offline channels were quite separate.

In the new world, it’s very different. Now you can start with the brand saying, ‘We want to find individual users from our data set who we believe will love our product.’ Once you can find those users – and we’re not just defining them by a characteristic, we’re looking at individual people – you then say, let’s find those individuals on every single channel – by direct mail, through online display ads and, in the future, through online TV. 

We’re seeing a real transition now from what I call environment-based advertising to addressing advertising to known individuals. This is great for brands because they get much more for their money, with much less wastage, and it’s great for users as well, because they get much more relevant marketing messages, which are customized to them. It’s a very exciting place to be in. So, yes, the lines are blurring, and rightly so.

Kevin Telford: Looking ahead, I actually think the ‘line’ will disappear as a description of marketing activity. The ‘line’ distinguished above-the-line mass marketing from direct below. Where does this fit into a user’s world now? Seeing an ad on TV whilst responding via their mobile device to a simultaneous piece of marketing supporting what they’re experiencing across TV and mobile! The ‘line’ doesn’t make sense – it’s integrated, and part of enhancing a deeper experience. 

What do you think some of the key factors will be within data management for marketers over the next year or so? 

Charles Wiles: As the use of data expands, one of the key things for brands and technology providers will be responding to and respecting the privacy of consumers. We also need to help people understand how online marketing works. It’s fundamentally a good thing for consumers to get more relevant advertising, but it’s also really important that that they are aware of and value the process. If we can communicate the benefits which it can bring, then rather than this being something people might consider opting out of, they can see its value, get involved and make their data available. 

Kevin Telford: I think this is centered around personal information and government initiatives like Midata. [An initiative set up by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills enabling consumers to request their personal data from businesses.]

For example, Tesco are releasing their Clubcard data back to individuals. As a consumer, you might think, ‘Well, what can I do with that?’ But imagine a world where you can see what you’ve bought from Tesco this year and then work out, say, how many calories you’ve taken in. Or imagine if you could combine your purchasing habits with those of other people in your social network to get better deals or identify how to support more local produce.

This is already starting to take shape with people like O2 and Scottish Power, who’ve both released their customer data back to the person. Over the next two or three years people are really going to start taking ownership of their data. You’ll also see companies take control of their anonymous or aggregated data. For example, a leading telecom, who runs live traffic information via their TrafficTV app, could easily replace the way the government collects traffic data. They’re creating a new digital economy out of data, insight and technology. People are in control of their own data for their own benefit, and people like Callcredit are acting as data intermediaries to help users realise those benefits. New businesses are forming and people who trust those businesses can utilise and harness that data with other, bigger data sets to create mutual value.

Charles Wiles: Exactly. It’s not about how much data you have. It’s about how you use it. It’s about the techniques and methodologies you apply to that data to make it useful so that the people operating at the coalface – the marketers running campaigns – can leverage it.

Kevin Telford: Yes. It’s the ability to combine the sum of the parts like the tiny little bits of unstructured data with big data sets and then to make sense of it all. An example would be linking my social data to certain brands which I trust so that I might get appropriate, relevant offers.

There can also be opportunities here beyond marketing. O2 Health are helping people recover through Wii Fit exercise routines in their home. Now, this is a telecoms provider, and they’re monetising data insight in a way that’s hugely different from the way that company was first set up, and it’s people like us who can help them bridge that unstructured data so that people can be served information on an online, offline or even no-line basis.

Interview by Jon Fortgang