How Analytics is Disrupting Digital Advertising

Takeaways from the 2016 Gartner ITxpo

Last week, CIO’s and senior IT executives from around the globe made their annual pilgrimage to attend the 2016 Gartner Symposium ITxpo. Taking place on the grounds of the Walt Disney World Resort, a destination known for fantasy, this year’s conference was all about stark reality; realities that are changing the face of business as we know it. 

Kicking off the event, Gartner’s Chief of Research, Daryl Plummer, delivered his 10 strategic predictions for the next three-to-five years. The overarching theme was digital disruption, which is not only happening, but is increasing in scale over time. While topics like augmented reality and IoT were at the top if the list, other vital components of business like digital advertising were hot themes as it too sees a massive transformation in the face of emerging technology and unparalleled access to data and analytics; namely programmatic advertising.

Programmatic advertising refers to the use of automated technology to buy and sell digital media across millions of websites, as opposed to relying on human interactions to manually secure digital ad placements. In other words, anytime a machine is used to purchase and deliver a digital ad, it’s considered programmatic. It’s turning the traditional model of advertising on its head, and the ability to leverage real-time data and analytics plays a big part in its growth. 

Everyone is Riding the Wave of Analytics 

As many attendees at this year’s conference learned, data and analytics is not just changing the way we do business, it’s influencing everything from our health to competitive sports. An interesting case study shared during the event was by Neal Henderson, founder of APEX Coaching & Consulting and a High Performance Consultant for the USA’s 2016 Women’s Olympic Cycling team. In a sport where winners are determined by fractions of seconds, data and analytics are just as critical as the athletes’ physical training.

Henderson shared how they used real-time data and analytics to identify problems, make adjustments, and reinforce positive behaviors that they could use ahead of their next training session. The key here was the ability to look at the data in real-time as opposed to waiting to review it hours or even days later; giving the cyclists and coaches more time to review and discuss while they were still sweating. The results speak for themselves as the team took home some gold in Rio this past summer. When asked how they maintain a competitive advantage, Henderson said they will continue to use technology to drive winning strategies where as other countries are “still doing things the old-fashioned way.”   

Data & Analytics is Disrupting Digital Advertisng   

The old-fashioned way doesn’t work in business either, especially in the world of digital advertising. Before the advent of programmatic, advertising was more focused on the “where” versus the “who.” Just ask Don Draper. The critically acclaimed drama Mad Men romanticized advertising’s golden age, but it seemed to be all about the creative, not the placement. Not much attention was paid to ensuring that those elaborate, alcohol-infused creative ideas actually reached the right audience. Sure, they had primitive research panels to get a better understanding of their target audience, but at the end of the day, media buys were made based on the most likely places where ad executives thought they could reach those ideal customers. 

Strangely, things did not change much with the introduction of the Internet and the rise of display advertising. While creative went from being high-gloss, full-page spreads to clickable squares and rectangles, media buyers still used Mad Men era tactics, choosing to run their ads on websites they thought reached their desired audience. This method is still quite possible, even through programmatic channels, though it is best to buy these ads directly through the publisher if you are hung up on having your brand message appear on a particular site; you can probably negotiate better placements. But that’s becoming less prevalent, thanks to the ability to measure and optimize campaigns based on user data and real-time results.

If data can paint a picture of what your ideal customer looks like, and lets you spend less money to reach them on a site you know they visit, why wouldn’t you do just that? And the more data and analytics you have, the better chances you have at honing in on the right audience. Data increases in value at an exponential rate when you are able to add additional, related data sets to the user profile. This is when advertising becomes truly powerful and what makes programmatic so valuable, according to Dun & Bradstreet’s former Chief Analytics Officer, Nipa Basu.

Smart advertising starts with merging probability with facts.
Nipa Basu, former Chief Analytics Officer, Dun & Bradstreet

Speaking to an intimate audience at one of Gartner’s breakout breakfast sessions, Basu discussed some of the ways in which analytics is playing a bigger role in advertising by  enabling marketers to tailor their messages to specific audiences. But, as she says, the analytics are only as good as the data you have. “Smart advertising starts with merging probability with facts.”


Knowing what type of data to rely on can often be complicated. What’s accurate? What can you trust? Many marketers face this challenge, especially with a "probabilistic" approach to data generation. They use proxy models to define targetable prospects that they then feed into their marketing engines. Unfortunately, probabilistic can be problematic if proxies are based on incorrect assumptions. Conversely, there’s "deterministic" data like demographics – data gathered from verified sources and vetted for quality. It’s not derived using assumptions; it is real user and behavioral information sourced from real people, collected, aggregated, edited and verified.  

A good example of deterministic data, Basu says, is firmographic and business behavioral -level data. This particularly helps B2B marketers who need to reach a specific prospect within an organization that fits an ideal profile. This is business-related criteria that can help you narrow down your audience to focus in on those organizations most likely to represent potential clients or customers. The data sets can include everything from a company’s geography, employee size, annual revenue, total assets to the organization’s growth trajectory, spend capacity, and propensity to buy. These insights can help you understand where to spend time and money prospecting and upselling. And best of all, this data can be layered on your media buy in a programmatic environment.

As technology continues to “disrupt” every facet of our lives - personally and professionally - there is a great opportunity to leverage data and analytics to truly win big.

Click here to learn more about using data and analytics to drive value from programmatic advertising.