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The Rationality of a Numerical Operation

Alex Ferguson, ex Manager of Manchester United Football Club, was one of the best in the world at forward planning and managing his own team’s resources. Often managers, all over the sports world, use data to plan teams and strategy several games ahead to optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of the teams’ performance. Ferguson demonstrated that being able to manipulate data is truly an art and by applying a thick layer of ‘on the job’ experience, the whole management process can be an extremely powerful thing. Asserting the same power with the same data cannot be said for his successor who was relieved of his duties early, clearly overwhelmed at the task.

Similarly, without data in the broadcast world, effective media planning and marketing would be extremely difficult.

Numbers can be used in all sorts of interesting and advantageous ways in order to get the most out of your valuable on-air marketing space. By using data analysis tools, we are able to identify and segment different audiences and follow ‘touch-points’ to create specific messages to maximize promotional and commercial airtime.

In the UK, we’re fortunate to have access to rich sources of data that benefits marketers tremendously when planning campaigns and trailing new programmes. From a return on investment (ROI) perspective, it’s a process that is essential when forecasting, especially when taking a leap of faith on new content. Research departments all over the industry armed with this vital information have commissioners at their mercy, ensuring the resource is channeled into the right direction in order to keep the business generating its revenue potential.

However, there are parts of the world where audience data is not so readily available and on our travels, JWM have faced a number of challenges when it comes to gather the required data in order to build a robust promotional strategy and evaluation process. Of course, there is always a way to mine for data somehow as long as you keep digging, but by working across a broad spectrum of broadcasters, I’ve realized that valuable experience and ‘savvy’ really comes into play. It can often be recognizing a similarity between markets that gives you the edge.

Using figures to understand your promotional resource can allow you to grow your audience simply. It’s sometimes as important to consider the questions you ask to properly understand the answers. How much time does my audience spend viewing the channel? Therefore, how many promotional messages are they exposed to? Or what is the difference between your channel weekly reach compared to monthly reach? You may be able to use this information to realize the benefits of giving a campaign a longer lead-time to launch.

Whenever we talk about utilizing data in media, Netflix always seem to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue when referencing ‘the new age of Television…a revolution to how we consume media’. It’s no fluke.

It must be recognized and commended, not only the way Netflix is attracting new subscribers but also how it uses data to retain users during a time when customers for cable and satellite viewers, in comparison, are thinning at the edges like a mature gentleman.

Netflix is commonly known for letting its analytics and audience insights do the talking when deciding to spend millions of dollars on brand direction or to commission new products. I spoke in my last opinion piece about the importance of understanding how your audience consumes media, specifically the millennial generation growing up around infinite choices; it’s important that they know messages are catered for them. Netflix are taking a route by ramping up efforts to target kids and parents who can appreciate the value of having an ipad or a laptop with an Internet connection to keep kids entertained at vital moments of the day. Instead of boasting a vast library of movies that can be found on other services, Netflix are focusing on exclusives and specific genres for specific audience groups. The on-demand streaming company have stated that 75% of viewer activity is driven by recommendations based on their data mining process.

Using data as a lead to commission new content is clearly very useful but we have to be mindful of the measurement of success.

Whilst working for a European broadcaster, we came across a situation where this particular broadcaster had acquired some content that, in their eyes, was almost certainly going to be a major success for them. Unfortunately, almost immediately, despite a large on-air promotion campaign supported by paid-for media, research teams and commissioners were scratching their heads at the very disappointing viewing figures. In terms of absolute volume, the new show did not perform as had hoped or indeed expected.

However, when looking over the data and segmenting into viewing thirds, it was apparent to JWM that even though overall viewing volume was lower, the programme had actually achieved the highest levels of viewing that season against their lightest viewing third. It was bringing in a large number of valuable light viewers that would not normally come to the channel and therefore was having quite a large beneficial impact on the overall reach of channel – helping to address one of the key issues of the network at the time.

This simple case study, exemplifies the need to often dig deeper in the data that we have at our everyday disposal. Being able to understand, manipulate and sense check that data is part of the process. Suddenly success can be sought from presumed failure and in other situations, issues are revealed once excess layers of data are removed, which may have been camouflaging reality. It is not only possible to misinterpret data but it’s also very easy to interpret data without properly considering crucial factors. This can potentially be hugely detrimental to the overall outcome.

It’s not an easy task achieving the buy-in of new revelations from department heads if it is not clear what you want to achieve. We have seen many businesses drawing on expertise externally for this very reason. When you are familiar with your own data, over time it’s quite easy to cease asking those important questions.

Numbers, solely in black and white, can quite often do the talking but how you use that evidence is equally as important. It’s a great mindset to have the confidence in your foundation in order to build on solid business objectives. In the short-term, a few points could mean the difference of a deal breaker for a new piece of content; medium-term, not achieving an internal quarterly ratings target and long-term could potentially mean millions of Pounds, Euros, Dollars…in revenue!

It’s important that we as marketers spend the time to become an expert in translating data in different scenarios to understand the logic and trends in that data. As briefly illustrated, there are many businesses that quite often spend lots of time and resource focused around research teams dedicated to programming but perhaps overlooking a data approach to marketing.

Probably a big misconception of football is that trophies are only won on the pitch. It’s also critical to recognize what Ferguson was doing off the pitch with his backroom staff in order to maximize the potential of his ‘players’.

Please feel free to give feedback on the above opinion piece. Should you be interested in exploring how JWM could possibly help your broadcast organisation then please contact us

Joe Goddard, May 2014



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