Marketers share stories of the tech knowledge gap: Audience Intelligence conference

Responding to a recent survey showing that more than a third of Canadian marketers haven’t heard of programmatic, senior marketers speaking at Marketing‘s Audience Intelligence conference were refreshingly honest about the knowledge and skills gap they face.

Dale Storey, VP of marketing at General Mills Canada, was especially frank. “I feel like we’re truly students of the game on this,” he said. “Being invited to be on this panel forced me to learn more about programmatic, and start asking the questions. To be honest it was a little humbling to realize how little I knew about this even a week ago.”

The survey of 522 marketers across management and junior levels was performed by Rogers Media Insights on behalf of programmatic platform Acuity Ads and Marketing, and presented at Tuesday’s conference. Key findings were that a significant majority of Canadian marketers (71%) either had not heard of programmatic or knew little about it. Marketers cited “lack of understanding overall in my company” as the number one barrier preventing brands from embracing the fledgling digital media buying technology.

But despite the knowledge gap, Storey said there was clear potential for marketers to improve their messaging with data-driven programmatic buying. The challenge of adopting programmatic was counterbalanced by the promise of customized messaging and micro-targeting.

He said the measurable success General Mills had seen in campaigns that made use of microsegmentation was hard to argue with.

“Who would believe me if I told you the fastest growing ready-to-eat cereal in the last two years [at General Mills] is Lucky Charms?” he asked. “No one — everyone loves to hate on pre-sweetened cereals. But it’s been growing 20% a year for two years, and the only reason is we’ve been targeting millennials, not kids. We’ve been reaching 20-somethings and re-engaging them in a more targeted conversation.

“We’ve got a marshmallow cereal, amongst a sea of organic and natural and better-for-you flax that’s kicking everybody’s butt — because we got an insight and figured out how to execute. … It’s finding fresh ways of touching new targets in unexpected ways, and it really works.”

General Mills is heavily dependent on its agencies to learn about and take advantage of those capabilities, he said. Unlike P&G, which has committed to transacting 75% of its digital media spend through programmatic, General Mills will never be able to build its own in-house media buying team, so it needs its agencies to lead the way.

“That’s what we need from our partners: to be provocative and bold and make sure we’re not behind. I do envision us being 50% digital in five years — I have no question about that. It’s just the journey to get there.”

Marketing and Acuity’s survey found 44% of Canadian marketers that are aware of programmatic leave decisions about execution to their agencies, and 71% are satisfied with how their agency handles programmatic.

But, the marketers on the panel with more experience in programmatic warned that agencies shouldn’t get too comfortable with those satisfaction rates.

“I think the biggest and best agencies are pretty adept at managing programmatic and incorporating programmatic feedback,” said Craig Jennings, director of media and agency management at RBC. “But I think the industry is evolving really quickly — and I’ve had numerous conversations with my agency about their relevance. If they don’t continue to be smarter than the client in this domain, they risk losing control of the planning and buying function.”

Jennings said RBC invests roughly 50% of its digital spend in programmatic, putting it well ahead of the 16% that survey respondents estimated their brands were spending, on average.

Jo Allan, regional VP at Intercontinental Hotels Group, stressed that agencies need to be sensitive about brands’ first-party data, and the potential conflicts that working with data from competing brands can create.

“The appetite for a brand to hand over that first-party data to a third party like an agency — that’s not going to happen easily. That would be like me giving up my kid,” she said. “Agencies are critical to our success, so I think we have to find the right combination of how we use the data and leverage the smarts of an agency.”

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