Trading 36 Ten-Degree Views for a 360-Degree View

In December 2008 Cox Enterprises brought together its newspaper, television, and radio subsidiaries under a single banner: Cox Media Group (CMG). The combined holdings include 24 daily and non-daily newspapers, 19 television stations, and presence in 20 radio markets.

That’s a lot of customer data.

The problem is that “instead of having a 360-degree view, I have 36 ten-degree views of the customer,” says Alan Segal, CMG’s senior director of digital insights.

It’s a problem familiar to many companies that have multiple insights into their customers—just nothing holistic. CMG’s views were multiple. It had registration data from Janrain, the vendor that provided its online registration system. It had Web analytics data—not all of which was complete. Separately, it also had video viewership data, readership data, and audio streaming information—all from different companies.

A couple of weeks ago, CMG kicked off a project with marketing analytics firm iJento to aggregate and draw conclusions from these disparate sources. If anything, this is a sign of the times: Marketers know they need to start leveraging their data assets, even if they’re still learning how.

But the situation is improving: three or four years ago, Segal reflects, a multichannel data analytics deployment the likes of which CMG is currently executing with iJento would have been difficult to justify. Now, he says, “you really can’t read any marketing or publishing industry analysis without data being a topic that comes up.”

It’s a sentiment that iJento CMO Paige O’Neill echoes: “We’re in the middle of this massive Big Data wave,” she says. “There’s a notion that’s growing that companies that can’t leverage that data will be at a competitive disadvantage.”

That companies can mine data effectively is a dawning realization for most marketers, O’Neill says. “Many feel it’ll be harder than it is,” she adds. “It’s not easy today, but it’s easier than it used to be.” To that end, the amount of time and resources that go into a data project varies considerably—depending on whether a company is combining one or two data sources versus seven of eight. On average, it can take three to—on the high end—six months to get up and running, and the cost can vary between the low hundreds of thousands to a cool million.

Prep work

There was no epiphany within the CMG walls—it was something the company had always felt needed to get done and only recently was it able to line up the resources to do so. Over the last couple of years, it’s been freeing up the underlying data so iJento could have a crack at it.

O’Neill says that iJento works with clients to pull the various data assets from various sources (digital channels, advertising sites, DoubleClick, CRM, and marketing automation to name a few). 

It’s all so CMG can better understand its audience. For instance, the media group has both paid subscriptions and premium members that log in and view content—but CMG has no idea what content those people view before actually logging in. “I don’t know what they’re looking at on the free side,” Segal explains. “We should do more work with that so we can provide a larger view of what an online experience looks like for our best customers.” And in understanding its audience better, CMG also provides a better value proposition for its advertisers by enabling them to serve up ads in a contextually relevant space.

The roadmap, as Segal describes it, is tentative. As the data analytics solution rolls out, he expects to fill in some of the gaps of his customer knowledge. This includes whether there are holes in CMG’s data that prevent that seamless multichannel view, how it can clean up the data assets it has, and whether it’s overlooked any data it needs to collect.

Then it’s a matter of knowing how to attach the disparate data pieces—essentially putting together a giant jigsaw of CMG’s customer base. “By the end of the year,” Segal says, “we want to get the environment lined up.” By 2014, CMG wants to go into deeper data discovery and, beyond that, roll the agenda into product development informed by a feedback loop of building products, measuring customer reaction, and refining.

Working together

A recent Teradata survey on the state of data-driven marketing has shown that even though marketers are cognizant of the importance of a data strategy, they’re not always deploying one. This is largely because they don’t understand the process by which to do so, and because the marketing department isn’t always aligned with IT.

While CMG has a centralized digital group that services the different units within the brand, iJento’s O’Neill knows conflict often arises when marketing goes one way and IT, well, isn’t even aware that a project has begun.

“The points of conflict are that marketing wants to get moving as quickly as possible,” she explains. “They’re looking for a solution in the marketplace, so they move down a path, but the IT team isn’t in the loop, and they come in during the middle of the project because, for good reason, they’re expected to bless technology initiatives.”

Without alignment, O’Neill has seen projects stutter—which is why, at the beginning of the sales cycle, it’s important to make sure that all the relevant stakeholders are a part of the conversation.

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