There are comparisons and learnings to be drawn from the traditional world of Direct Mail and the ever evolving landscape of Real Time Bidding (RTB). Brands should draw on their experience of traditional data pathways in order to get the most profitable return from their Programmatic and Paid Social activity.

The early 2000’s were a golden age for Direct Mail. The data owner landscape was busy, competitive and establishing a digital presence, with a focus on online versus paper-based data capture and e-mail marketing. Companies such as Experian were understanding the value of commoditising their traditional offering and UK based operations were seeing acquisitions from the US, with companies such as Acxiom purchasing and merging established operations, in their case Claritas and Consodata. Graduates and junior executives would use systems such as FastStats to run ‘counts’, identifying the available audience volume (of names and addresses) of a given target audience.

List or Data Brokers such as Prospect Swetenhams and Response One were thriving, with media agencies having their own specialist divisions, Zed Media in the case of Publicis. These companies would assess the market and select the most appropriate data source, negotiating the best price on behalf of their clients.

The brands, the end users of the data, would partner with a Data Bureau to clean, process and deliver the campaign. Putting variations of mail packs and response mechanisms into hands of existing, lapsed and potential customers.

So you had data owner, a means to assess the marketplace and build out an execution strategy, and the ability to clean and order the data to ensure quality and that the client gets their message into the hands of the most appropriate audience.

Sound familiar? Fast forward to today and that exact process is happening in Programmatic. However now it is against the well documented digital backdrop of automation and real time, and of course an additional depth of data and optimisation points.

However, instead of FastStats we have, for example, Facebook Power Editor which gives us live demographic and action based mobile behaviour of 30m+ individuals. Instead of ‘banker’, rollout, test lists and Datapools, we have targeting opportunities in both Open and Private Marketplace inventory, coupled with technologies that pertain to reach both more effectively. In order to drive the best rates, scale was coupled with a need for talent in negotiation and relationships. Scale still talks of course, but the Talent is now in an ability to influence the system rather than the individual.

We can understand performance of different creative executions more immediately than creative mail packs, but still need to give them time to run out and not be tempted to assess performance after only several hours. Just because we can do these things more immediately, doesn’t always mean we should. Analysis and interpretation of results is key, but within a traditional framework of A/B and incremental testing and a focus on quality and iteration. We shouldn’t shift our focus wholesale when something ‘doesn’t work’, instead we should invest more time to try and understand why something didn’t work as we expected and go deeper to understand how it can be improved.

So, whilst the landscape has obviously changed, the fundamentals remain. We shouldn’t over-complicate a world that has existed for years, rather follow its tradition of rigour whilst taking advantage of the automation and additional dynamic creative executions it affords us.

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