Thomas Strerath’s Data Advocacy for a New Era

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Thomas Strerath
Managing Director

Thomas Strerath’s Data Advocacy for a New Era

“The customer is not a moron, she is your wife.” This less famous quote by David Ogilvy is about 70 years old, but has lost none of its relevance.

In fact, it is directly in line with Apple’s Tim Cook’s appeal at CPCD on January 29. Coverage of it has been very one-sided, focusing on Cook’s alleged criticism of Facebook. However, Cook gave a tour d’horizon of using technology for good, and the resulting corporate responsibility and positioning of Apple.

David Ogilvy couldn’t have known any of this 70 years ago, but he urged even then to take consumers seriously, to respect them as people who are intelligent enough to see through over-the-top advertising and who had better not be bored to death. “You cannot bore people into buying” in 2021 also means that you don’t buy the data of umpteen marketers together, in order to then track a consumer via targeting across the most diverse applications. In the 20s of this century, as in the 50s of the past, you need content: advertising that fascinates, that interests, that can generate resonance on its own.

But we no longer live in the time of Ogilvy or Bernbach. We live in the time of technology and data. If Ogilvy understood creativity as a measure of courtesy to consumers, modern marketers must face the challenge of how the demand for this courtesy plays out in their own strategy on data and technology. Or within Tim Cook’s logic, how to live up to one’s social responsibility as an advertising company—and thus as a service provider in this field. 

Not everything should go through the cycle of it emerging, being misused and consequently banned before we look at it critically and allow it to be possible with the right effect. The events surrounding elections in once democratic fortresses, or the division of societies through the spread of fake news should concern everyone who uses these media or uses them commercially for themselves. This is not solved with a one-time boycott as an advertising partner of Facebook, as effective as the #StopHateForProfit initiative was. 

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    Monk Thoughts Not everything should go through the cycle of emerging, being misused and banned before we look at it critically.

    But even then, criticism was mixed in with the applause, and questions were raised about financial or moral motives, about one-time restrictions or permanent consequences.

    There was little discussion, however, about whether it was enough to point the finger at the social media giants or whether the company should reassess its own handling of customer data. In Germany in particular, the discussion about customer data usually only takes place in connection with legal initiatives, i.e. the DSVGO. What is allowed and what is not seems to be more important than what is right and what is not. The sudden abandonment of cookies is understood as an obstacle in the same way as the advent of adblockers five years ago.

    However, in 2020, the year of COVID, two other major developments are significant that put the issue in a different light. One is the debate around purpose for brands. More and more marketing decision-makers believe their brand needs to communicate what role it wants to play in society, what it should stand for. One can argue whether candy bars need a socially relevant role or whether such a question should be decided in marketing and addressed in communication. But one can hardly argue whether brands that claim such a strategy for themselves also need to provide answers about their responsibility in handling and using data. This topic is causally located in marketing and is a direct question of communication. 

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      Monk Thoughts Most marketers have a purpose strategy in place rather than a data strategy.

      The second major issue in 2020/21 is that of direct customer access. D2C (direct to consumer) was one of the big winners at a time when many brands felt that the absence of a strategy in ecommerce; the dependence on a few platforms can make business very cumbersome, to put it nicely. The investment of a billion on the part of Dr. Oetker was not about a few leased delivery trucks, but about owning the last mile, bringing access to customers and the use of data for assortment and sales planning.

      And while this deal was one of the big headlines in Germany during COVID, it’s important to note that most marketers have a purpose strategy in place rather than a data strategy. The Marketing Tech Monitor 2020 suggests that this strategy isn’t even in the drawer—no, it’s mostly not even in the planning stages.

      It is becoming increasingly difficult to engage with customers because their media behavior has changed so massively. And even if many still carelessly release all cookies with every single website visit, marketing that continues to rely solely on the data policy of third parties will be too expensive in the long run. An idea about direct access to customers, about a first-party data strategy and on which technology this should be mapped, is becoming more and more essential. Technology for the benefit of people, as Tim Cook put it. And how do companies position themselves in this regard, what is their responsibility, who wants to be “a good corporate citizen in a tech world?” Marketing has to answer these questions, because the customer becomes pickier, but never becomes stupid. As David Ogilvy described it 70 years ago.

      This article was originally published in German at Horizont. You can find follow-up coverage from Horizont here.

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