Audience-based planning is the next battleground for media agencies

Original article appeared on Digiday website

As media becomes more fragmented, the days of relying solely on panel data from comScore and Nielsen to determine media planning and buying are nearing an end. WPP-owned GroupM has promoted its audience-based planning platform mPlatform since last December, and shops like Dentsu Aegis-owned Merkle and Omnicom-owned Hearts & Science are quietly doing something similar.

Audience-based planning — also known as “people-based marketing” and “identity-based marketing” — essentially assembles different data sets like brands’ first-party data; device IDs; data from Amazon, Google or Facebook; and agencies’ purchased data sources to build a consumer identity graph, and then matches it with publishers’ inventory, without disclosing personally identifiable information, according to media agency executives. They believe audience-based planning is more practical and targeted than traditional, panel-based planning, as the former is channel-agnostic.

“Consumer behavior has changed. If a person watches a Facebook video on their mobile device, we shouldn’t treat mobile, video and social as three separate channels,” said Megan Pagliuca, chief data scientist for Hearts & Science, who is building an audience-based planning division for her agency. “An audience-based planning approach would consider the consumer profile, the format (video), the screen (on mobile) and the publisher (in this case, Facebook). We need to change the way we think [about media planning].”

Hearts & Science is building identity graphs for clients in collaboration with Omnicom’s data and analytics arm Annalect, and has mapped out an ad inventory graph based on real-time availability data and data historically purchased by Omnicom, according to Pagliuca. “The audience and the context are both critical to consider, so we focus on both our clients’ identity graphs and our inventory graph,” she said.

Meanwhile, agency Merkle is ramping up audience-based planning as well. After working on it for a year, Merkle rolled out its M1 platform, which stores the consumer IDs of around 280 million individuals in the U.S. based on personally identifiable information like name and email addresses, to Dentsu Aegis Network media agencies in June. Merkle is looking to create a centralized team that can support the whole network in running audience-based planning, as the data expertise of Dentsu Aegis-owned media agencies varies, according to Peter Vandre, svp of analytics solutions for Merkle.

“Audience-based planning is shifting from cookie-based to ID-based. Cookie-based planning has lots of problems: People change their devices, cookies get deleted and cookies are not available on mobile apps, et cetera,” said Vandre. “Consumer ID-based planning can bypass cross-device problems, and we can even connect it with offline sales. We can see who we show ads to and who we don’t show ads to, and then match the sales back.”

Merkle also developed a solution called Publisher Addressable Marketplaces that has user account information from more than 20 large publishers in the U.S., including Time Inc., The Wall Street Journal and the AOL network, according to Vandre. He said that with those consumer IDs, Merkle can create a media plan against a publisher’s inventory. “We know that we can find your target audience on the Journal, for instance,” said Vandre.

Although the technology is mature, Vandre believes both agencies and publishers need more education on audience-based planning. “We are not having a hard time getting publishers on board, but not every publisher can handle the [client] need around data and system automation,” said Vandre, adding that rolling out audience-based planning to every Dentsu Aegis agency is not easy.

Pagliuca agreed that technology alone is not enough. “It’s about people, process and technology,” she said. “We are changing how we operate. Today we are still using tools like DCM [DoubleClick Campaign Manager] and Prisma that are built for the legacy world of channel-based planning. We have to change the mindset of the planners.”