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  • September 29, 2021
  • By Linda Pophal, business journalist and content marketer

Which Market Research Platform Is Right for You?

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The digital environment is rich with real-time communication and consumer sentiment across a wide array of topics, industries, and geographies. But what if companies could cultivate, synthesize, analyze, and draw conclusions from these sentiments to improve their marketing communication and CRM efforts?

They can. Over the past several years a wide range of programmatic market research or advertising platforms have emerged to help companies make sense of the rich insights now so readily accessible in the digital environment. Traditional market research efforts—like focus groups and surveys—could take weeks, even months, to produce any significant insights, and the costs of conducting such primary research could be prohibitive.

Programmatic insights can occur in real time while leveraging significantly higher numbers of data points to which market researchers had access in the past.

In addition, traditional market research efforts have focused on gathering information from consumers about their levels of awareness, perceptions, and opinions about companies and their products and services, and their input on what they might do—e.g., their intent to purchase.

Digital analysis platforms can go beyond this type of speculation, which has rarely provided a direct correlation with actual purchases, to evaluate what consumers have done and to provide this information at a very granular level, both in terms of consumer actions as well as target audience segments.

THE PROMISE OF PROGRAMMATIC MARKET RESEARCH

As Phillip Britt pointed out in an August 2021 article for destinationCRM, artificial intelligence-powered technology today “can now drive programmatic advertising, predictive analytics, measurement, virtual assistants, chatbots, marketing automation, customer data platforms, [account-based marketing] platforms, site personalization, and sales enablement personalization.” It’s a data-rich environment that has significantly changed the landscape for marketers.

Today, platforms like Brandwatch, Kedet, SmartyAds, and a wide range of others bring real-time data into the hands of marketers, placing these insights literally at their fingertips. This data is most widely used by marketers to help make decisions on digital ad placements—a market that is expected to approach $97 billion in 2021, more than 49 percent higher than 2020’s total, according to Insider Intelligence. Perhaps even more startling, it represents more than 89 percent of all spending on digital display advertising.

To make sense of it all, marketers today have access to a wide-ranging and ever-increasing array of platforms to better understand their ad performance, competitive impacts, and strategies for future campaigns. That’s both good and bad news. Understanding the differences between the options available and choosing the right platform to meet one’s needs can be exceedingly confusing and challenging.

Mike Tressler is a digital marketing expert at TheGoodyPet, a website dedicated to helping pet parents better care for their animals. He has 12 years of experience developing, executing, and measuring digital marketing campaigns and is well versed in the programmatic platforms available for advertisers. Some of the most used, according to Tressler, are Google Marketing Platform, Amazon Advertising, MediaMath, Adobe Advertising Cloud, TubeMogul (acquired by Adobe in November 2017), and Verizon Media (Yahoo), which was recently acquired by Apollo Funds, he says.

Kane Swerner, CEO and cofounder of Memento Memorabilia, points to MediaMath as one standout in the crowded programmatic arena “due to its excellent data management and intelligence.” Another option, TubeMogul, “is Adobe’s advertising solution that streamlines and automates all of your digital video ad campaigns,” he notes.

Shiv Gupta, CEO of Incrementors SEO Services, explains how one platform—Simpli.fi—can offer insights to marketers in a variety of ways based on factors that they can use to segment their audiences very specifically. Simpli.fi, he says, “is a localized programmatic platform that enables advertisers to acquire ad inventory across various real-time bidding (RTB) ad exchanges.”

Using Simpli.fi, Gupta says, advertisers can “create various audiences based on a variety of factors, including device, operating system, browser, region, and intent-based search data.”

Augmenting this data with their own CRM data can allow marketers to further enhance these insights to better target their audiences, Gupta says. They can “target users based on search and contextual terms, IP data, frequency capping, CRM data, and so on,” he says. “You may also broaden your audience by using look-alike and search-alike modeling.”

Gupta likes MediaMath’s platform, saying it “stands out in the programmatic arena because of its excellent data handling and intelligence.”

With MediaMath, “advertisers may have more transparency and control over their campaigns with access to audience-based buying strategies,” he says, noting that they can then target the engaged audiences “to discover better conversion outcomes for their ads.”

In the crowded programmatic market research platforms space, marketers face no lack of potential options for managing their digital efforts while gaining useful insights to power future campaigns. The real challenge is choosing which platform will best meet their needs.

SO WHICH MARKET RESEARCH PLATFORM IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

As with any marketing decision, selecting a programmatic market research platform requires some foundational considerations around company goals and objectives, as well as practical issues related to the type of data that is needed to make decisions and whether some of that data might be available through other means.

Phil Steggals is managing director and global head of research and strategy at Kadence, a global market research company. The success of any research program within a client agency requires the following stages, he says:

• Audit. “Many businesses are sitting on a treasure trove of data, so before commissioning a new project, consider what information you already have,” Steggals recommends. “Your team might not have data on a particular topic, but does another function or another market?”

• Align. “Before embarking on a new piece of research, take a step back and consider what’s critical for your organization to understand right now versus what’s nice to have,” Steggals says. While acknowledging that “this may sound like an obvious starting point,” Steggals notes that “too many businesses can get lost in comfort research, which, while reassuring, does not provide strategically important, insightful findings.”

• Socialize. “It’s easy to get drawn into assessing potential projects through the lens of costs going out of the business,” Steggals says. While important, he notes that “it’s also useful to think about the impact coming in.” One underused tool, he says, is design. “Working with a design team can transform an impenetrable PowerPoint, which might once have only been read by the insight team, into easy-to-understand outputs that can be shared across the business—from the boardroom to the factory floor.”

There are a wide range of considerations that will come into play when determining which platforms are most likely to meet your needs. And, as Tressler points out, the platforms all have their own special features.

In addition to the strategic considerations that Steggals offers, additional considerations will include the following:

  • • the type of analytics available;
  • • audience targeting methods and options for personalization;
  • • reporting capabilities;
  • • compatibility with other systems, both in-house and external;
  • • security;
  • • technical support/training; and
  • • cost—upfront cost as well as monthly fees.

“Prior to deciding on a market research outlet, think about your goals and what they may provide to assist you in achieving them,” Memento Memorabilia’s Swerner advises. “If you have the resources, you can consider using various programmable platforms to test methods and evaluate outcomes.”

In addition, he recommends checking out “features like accessibility, usability, mobility, and accurate predictive analysis to make the most of the data they present.”

While programmatic offers many benefits, including the ability to gain access to rich data across a broad range of variables, it’s important for marketers to recognize the potential limitations of programmatic insights. Yes, digital advertising is big business and offers big benefits for many types of organizations, but it is not the only type of marketing that many businesses will use, nor should it be. The insights gleaned here need to be considered in context with the overall marketing mix, giving full consideration to both the benefits and drawbacks of programmatic.

WHAT PROGRAMMATIC PLATFORMS CAN AND CAN’T DO

Programmatic market research platforms can offer rich insights for digital marketers. Of course, not all consumer influences or buying decisions take place in online environments.

Programmatic platforms are, to some degree, muddying the waters between advertising and market research. Because of the insights that marketers running digital ads can attain through the process, these platforms actually serve both purposes to a large degree. Digital marketers tend to use the terms “programmatic advertising” and “programmatic market research” interchangeably.

There are other issues and concerns that have been raised about programmatic market research or programmatic advertising despite—and, perhaps, because of—its prevalence. Caroline Brown, a market researcher, points out potential obstacles in a post for AYTM: “While the promise of programmatic sounds great, there is a long road ahead before programmatic advertising actually targets the right people, at the right time, through the right medium.”

Here’s why, according to Brown:

  • • Ads don’t always appear when and where they are expected.
  • • It’s “a jargon-heavy topic, making it less approachable.”
  • • The focus on price over quality is unbalanced which is ultimately “causing advertising quality to suffer.”
  • • Many organizations don’t have the technological infrastructure to support in-house efforts.
  • • Marketers and market researchers themselves “often lack the necessary expertise on programmatic.” In fact, she says: “Only one in 10 marketing professionals, including market researchers, understand programmatic advertising sufficiently.”

While programmatic platforms can provide useful, real-time insights, marketers should be cautious about taking an approach that might be too narrow in some situations, at best, and misleading and fraught with fraud, at worst.

MARKET RESEARCH TO THE RESCUE

While traditional market researchers, like traditional-minded practitioners in many professions these days, might feel threatened by the potential for technology like programmatic advertising to make them obsolete, the opposite might actually be true. Particularly when it comes to programmatic, market researchers have an important role to play, Brown points out. “Market researchers understand the landscape of media, have long understood advertising effectiveness, and have made countless recommendations and suggestions rooted in sound data,” she says. “That doesn’t have to change just because programmatic seems confusing.”

“Market research, at its best, draws on multiple sources,” Steggals points out. Marketers, he adds, “need a comprehensive understanding of what is going on rather than a snapshot.”

Steggals further recommends taking a more holistic look at market research inputs. “Marketers should look to understand trends that are happening,” he says. “This could mean getting insights from other industries or other markets. Market research is an ever-changing but ever-relevant industry.”

As seasoned marketers know, and disconcerting as it might seem, there are no silver bullets when it comes to finding solutions—traditional or digital—to address all marketing challenges. Programmatic is one example of a solution that has seen rapid and widespread adoption, but it is just one tool in an ever-growing marketing toolbox. And that isn’t likely to change. 

Linda Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer who writes for various business and trade publications. Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends, and more.

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