PebblePost® Appoints Sales Veteran Sean Simon as VP Sales, West and Marketing Expert Celeste Giampetro as VP Marketing

NEW YORK – August 16, 2016 – PebblePost, the inventor of Programmatic Direct Mail®, is announcing the addition of two exciting new talents to the team. Sean Simon will fill the role of VP Sales for the company’s western U.S. business. And in New York City, Celeste Giampetro will serve as VP Marketing.

The announcement was made today by Lewis Gersh, CEO of PebblePost. “Celeste’s experience, achievements and ability to provide brands with a memorable and compelling voice is a tremendous advantage,” says Gersh. “Sean’s years spent developing strong relationships based on proven performance will be an important asset for our sales strategy moving forward.” 

Sean Simon comes to PebblePost, with 20 years’ industry experience, most recently at Criteo, where he helped build the now-publicly traded company into a global leader in retargeting with a value of more than $2 billion. In his new role, Simon will roll out new PebblePost products to the marketplace and build the western U.S. sales team. 

Simon points to the company’s off-the-charts results as a huge motivating factor for his move, “PebblePost’s Programmatic Direct Mail® will help clients rise above the noise of banners, but more importantly, the value proposition for marketers is tremendous: fraud free, ad-blocker immune, and viewable. Brands can touch consumers in their home and solicit an emotion that digital never could do.”

Celeste Giampetro is an award-winning marketer with two decades of experience. In her previous position as Senior Director, Corporate Marketing & Creative for Tremor Video, she developed the company’s voice from startup to IPO. Giampetro will be responsible for increasing awareness of the company among marketers and brands through strong storytelling, brand experience and expression.  

“This is a marketer’s dream job — creating an entirely new marketing channel. I’m thrilled to evangelize how PebblePost melds the best of digital with the in-home impact of tangible media,” says Giampetro.

For more information about PebblePost, please visit, PebblePost.com.

About PebblePost®
PebblePost invented Programmatic Direct Mail® to transform real-time online activity into personalized, dynamically rendered direct mail that’s delivered into postal hubs within 12-24 hours, every day. The company’s patent pending digital-to-direct mail platform delivers the world’s first real-time tools for the channel, including segmentation, campaign management, analytics and optimization. PebblePost combines the power of intent data with the effectiveness of in-home to achieve far higher response, conversion rates and ROAS. PebblePost is a venture-backed company based in NYC.

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Media Contact:

North 6th Agency, Inc. (For PebblePost)

212-334-9753

pebblepost@n6a.com

PebblePost: the direct mail equivalent of addressable TV

Media-Post-LogoLaurie Sullivan at MediaPost likens our approach to direct mail to what is happening in TV. Addressable TV displays a targeted ad (new thinking) via the TV screen (traditional medium). In a similar way, we at PebblePost are “addressing” consumers directly, with a fully functioning ad server that connects consumers’ digital behaviors with the direct mail they receive.
As our CEO, Lewis Gersh, told Laurie, “marketers think of the addressable, programmatic platform as the ‘first new channel since search and social.'”

PebblePost® Launches First-Ever Ad Server Connecting Digital with Direct Mail

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(Originally posted in Target Marketing)

New Addition to Programmatic Direct Mail® Platform Brings Real-Time Personalized Marketing to Direct Mail

PebblePost Inc., the inventor of Programmatic Direct Mail®, today announced the launch of the PebblePost Ad Server, the industry’s first ad server connecting the power of digitally-determined intent data with the effectiveness of mail sent to the home. The innovative, patent-pending Ad Server allows marketers to transform data from online behaviors, audience attributes, and campaign objectives into dynamically rendered, personalized mail pieces to existing or prospective customers.

 

“With our digital-to-direct mail Ad Server, we can apply the power of real-time intent data to the effectiveness of physical mail to deliver relevant and timely marketing with far better response and conversion rates than other marketing channels,” said Lewis Gersh, founder and CEO of PebblePost. “Marketers can now target and optimize their campaigns with powerful core ad server features such as behavioral targeting, audience targeting, and intent-based inputs like keywords and browsing activity.”

The PebblePost Ad Server leverages page-level site code and proprietary algorithms to determine customer intent and apply marketers’ campaign criteria to dynamically render individually targeted direct mail creatives. The Ad Server manages progressive hierarchies of behavioral activity such as browsing, keyword searching, social sharing, cart abandonment, purchase, dwell time, and other site visitor actions. Additionally, the PebblePost Ad Server applies campaign rules such as frequency capping, list suppression, budget/mail piece time smoothing, geo-targeting, A/B testing, and more.

With the PebblePost Ad Server, the application of individual intent data to direct mail campaigns using Programmatic Direct Mail® delivers total conversion rates 250 times higher than digital marketing channels, and 80 times better than traditional direct mail.

“One of the reasons why we love working with PebblePost is because of the highly specific ways in which we can send physical mail that is relevant to our site visitors,” said Wonny Lee, Head of Digital for Greats, a Brooklyn-based shoe retailer.  “Our customers enjoy receiving personalized mail based off their shopping habits, as it makes them feel as if we truly care about their needs. We’ve seen a very positive return on investment on current campaigns, proving that PebblePost’s Programmatic Direct Mail® platform is a brand new channel, one which exceeds either digital or direct mail alone.”

As the first ad server for direct mail, marketers who use PebblePost can change creative, targets, and messages on a daily basis as the ad server responds to marketers’ evolving campaign objectives. As marketers are able to review and optimize campaigns based on daily trends, as they do in digital channels, they will benefit greatly from having the power of digital data applied to their direct mail efforts.

About PebblePost
PebblePost invented Programmatic Direct Mail® to transform real-time online activity into personalized, dynamically rendered direct mail that’s delivered into postal hubs within 12-24 hours, every day. The company’s patent pending digital-to-direct mail platform integrates segmentation, campaign management, production, analytics and optimization. PebblePost combines the power of intent data with the effectiveness of in-home to achieve far higher response and conversion rates. PebblePost is a venture-backed company based in NYC.

 

PebblePost® Appoints Former Hearst, Time Inc. Exec Adam Solomon as VP Product and Retail Merchandise Leader Loree Lash-Valencia as VP Sales

NEW YORK – June 1, 2016PebblePost, Inc., the inventor of the Programmatic Direct Mail® platform, today announced it has appointed Adam Solomon as VP Product and Loree Lash-Valencia as VP Sales. In this role, Solomon will bring his industry, professional and technical skills to the task of making Programmatic Direct Mail® a fundamentally new channel for marketers. Lash-Valencia will expand the sales effort in retail, e-commerce and catalog sectors.

“PebblePost prides itself in having a world-class team, and the addition of Adam and Loree really solidifies that for us,” said Lewis Gersh, founder and CEO of PebblePost. “Adam has a proven track record in developing products for the publishing world. As PebblePost continues to identify and build products to help marketers drive high ROAS through direct mail, Adam will be a key driver of product/market fit. Loree brings a strong merchandising and analytics perspective to the challenges brands face across marketing channels.

Solomon combines 18 years of digital product management and marketing expertise. His diverse background, as an aerospace engineer and patent attorney, has enabled him to drive development of innovative and complex marketing products and solutions that deliver results for marketers. Prior to joining PebblePost, Solomon led some of the most innovative ways for publishers to drive digital innovation as the General Manager for Core Audience, the data and programmatic advertising solutions business unit at Hearst. In this role, Adam led product development, marketing, client service and campaign operations, providing data-driven audience engagement solutions to clients at the Hearst TV, Newspaper, U.S. & International Magazine, and iCrossing business units. Prior to his role at Hearst, Solomon led Digital Ad Product development at Time Inc., Viacom Media Networks, and MTV. Solomon is co-inventor on three U.S. patents issues related to interactive video advertising technology based on his work at Viacom Media Networks.

“I couldn’t ask for a better next step in my career,” says Solomon. “I have been a part of purely digital solutions and finding the synergies between digital, TV and print for marketers, and see Programmatic Direct Mail® as an exponential leap as a cross-channel programmatic product. I am excited to bring my doctorate in intellectual property law to this patent pending technology platform as we execute on our several-year product roadmap.”

PebblePost also hired Loree Lash-Valencia as VP Sales. Lash-Valencia held senior roles in the retail and technology industries, including WGSN and MyShape.com.  Lash-Valencia began her career in design and in merchandising then progressed into e-commerce and retail fashion tech. She is a leading executive in fashion retail. Says Lash-Valencia, “The magic of Programmatic Direct Mail® is the ability to deliver a timely, physical representation of the brand to drive sales. The response has been amazing from retail, e-commerce, and catalog brands and I am excited to bring these great results to more customers.”

For more information about PebblePost, please visit, PebblePost.com.

About PebblePost®

PebblePost invented Programmatic Direct Mail® to transform real-time online activity into personalized, dynamically rendered direct mail that’s delivered into postal hubs within 12-24 hours, every day. The company’s patent pending digital-to-direct mail platform delivers the world’s first real-time tools for the channel, including segmentation, campaign management, analytics and optimization. PebblePost combines the power of intent data with the effectiveness of in-home to achieve far higher response, conversion rates and ROAS. PebblePost is a venture-backed company based in NYC.

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Media Contact:

North 6th Agency, Inc. (For PebblePost)

212-334-9753

pebblepost@n6a.com

 

PebblePost Secures $5 Million in Series A Funding

Investment follows high demand from retail, e-commerce, catalog marketers for Programmatic Direct Mail®

NEW YORK, May 16, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — PebblePost Inc., the leader of digitally reactive direct mail and the inventor of Programmatic Direct Mail®, today announced it has secured $5 million in Series A funding led by Greycroft Partners and Tribeca Venture Partners, and adding to the roster of industry investors. PebblePost has raised $8 million to date, and will apply the new funds to help expand its Programmatic Direct Mail® platform with new products and new markets.

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Within the last year, brands and agencies including Tumi, Boxed, Greats, Fjallraven, Eloquii and more have turned to PebblePost’s revolutionary Programmatic Direct Mail® platform to dynamically transform real-time website activity into personalized direct mail within 24 hours. The company solves the most difficult digital-to-direct remarketing challenges by combining the efficiency of real-time data with the effectiveness of direct mail sent to the home, producing exceptional response rates and on-site conversions. PebblePost has been awarded the trademark for Programmatic Direct Mail®, and has patents pending on the use of ad serving workflow and campaign management, address verification and daily optimization to manufacture Programmatic Direct Mail® every day.

“Large brands and agencies are telling us that Programmatic Direct Mail® is essentially a new marketing channel that brings a distinct level of customer engagement and performance that no other solution available today can offer,” said Lewis Gersh, CEO and founder of PebblePost.

In the coming months, PebblePost will expand the team, and launch new ways to reach active or potential customers and new programmatic collateral formats.

“PebblePost has done what other people thought impossible, reinventing programmatic across digital and direct mail,” said John Elton, partner at Greycroft Partners. “We’re astonished at the rate at which marketers have embraced PebblePost and its products since launch. They are shooting for a large share of a $100+ billion digital and direct marketing opportunity. The rocket ship is packed.”

The round included full participation from existing investors, as well as adding more industry leaders as angel participants.

For more information about PebblePost, please visit, PebblePost.com.

About PebblePost®
PebblePost invented Programmatic Direct Mail®. We transform real-time online activity into dynamically rendered, personalized direct mail that’s delivered to postal hubs within 12-24 hours, every day. We also provide integrated real-time analytics on response path activity and conversions, enabling continuous optimization based on each day’s results. Our platform consistently generates over 20% response rates, 40% conversion rates and a 15x ROAS.

 

Full Release: PebblePost Secures $5 Million in Series A Funding

Back to the Future: The Digital Marketer’s Return to Direct Mail

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Believe it or not, print as a medium is making a comeback, one that’s becoming increasingly necessary for any digital marketing campaign. Don’t agree? Take a look at the recent news coming from Time Inc. and Nielsen Catalina Solutions (which connects TV and digital ad exposure to in-store CPG sales), showcasing how combining print, digital and TV in a cross-platform campaign has a positive impact on sales.

Time Inc. and Nielsen Catalina Solutions collaborated with Crystal Light to measure a cross-platform campaign for the brand. What did they find out? There’s a significant increase in sales impact when you add print and digital to TV. Kazim Gunay, head of consumer insights and strategy, beverages and snack nuts, The Kraft Heinz Company, said, “print continues to play an important role in our media strategy.”

People Love Direct Mail, Especially When it’s Personal
According to direct mail statistics from Compu-mail.com, almost two times as many U.S. adults react positively to receiving mail than negatively, and 55 percent look forward to getting their mail. What does this mean to the consumer? Think about this: How often have you shopped for an item online and added it to your cart, only to realize you could probably find the same item or something similar for less elsewhere? And how often after leaving that first site were you followed around by digital ads on Facebook or an unrelated content site?

If you’re like a lot of consumers, these ads are distracting. For many retailers however, remarketing delivers results. By using digital media, shoppers are flooded with retargeting campaigns in the form of banner ads and personalized emails. Over half of marketers now spend 10 percent to 50 percent of their budget on remarketing. Thank you, digital marketing.

Related story: Remember Direct Mail? It’s About to Become A Disruptive Marketing Tool

The Whole Marketing Breakfast
While many of these new routes to the consumer are inexpensive and easy to produce, they lack the personalization and tangibility to which consumers respond well. Consumers want to feel as if brands and retailers understand them and their needs. After all, each person is different.

What marketers got away from in the rapid growth of the digital era is the need to serve the whole marketing breakfast — i.e., the ability to understand who wants their eggs over easy and who opts for oatmeal. This means marketers need to bring their digital, data-driven approach to all marketing efforts, combining the best of digital with more traditional forms of advertising, like television, print, radio and direct mail, using that data to achieve the “right place, right time, right message” approach marketers long for.

Quality Over Quantity
At the most recent SXSW conference, that exact return to quality was laid bare to a digital audience by Robert Candelino, vice president of marketing at Unilever. He said, “While there’s a lot of energy and excitement around these emerging channels, we [as marketers] have to be mindful that it’s a balancing act. The threshold on the quality of content and the importance in the value you add to someone’s life has never been higher. You’re one swipe away from being irrelevant.” In this very strong statement, Candelino expresses the need to show customers that you understand and care about them.

Direct mail in particular complements digital by sending an impression — e.g., a branded card or promotional offer — to a consumer’s home, making them feel important and understood. One of the benefits of using direct mail to reach consumers is the trust and tangibility that direct mail brings. By applying digital data to direct mail, marketers can programmatically determine who to target and with which creative, test offers ranging from free shipping to percent discounts, and determine the best message to drive the most return visits and conversions.

A Viable Real-Time Medium
The use of direct mail by brands and marketers shows the effectiveness of this traditional marketing channel in the new world of digital. Consumers already respond to mail. According to Compu-mail.com, 67 percent feel that physical mail is more personal than electronic. However, the fact that it’s rarely timely or targeted has made direct mail seem largely outdated in the digital age. As marketers see the need to vary their media strategies, they can’t ignore the role and importance both digital marketing and direct mail plays in attracting and keeping customers. By applying digital concepts to make direct mail more “digitally reactive,” mail has become a viable real-time medium.

 

(Originally posted on Total Retail on April 21, 2016)

Will Programmatic Direct Mail Be the New Growth Channel?

We were featured in a great article this past week by Al Urbanski at Direct Marketing News. The original post can be found here and below:

dmnews logoWill Programmatic Direct Mail Be the New Growth Channel?

Martech impresario Lewis Gersh strikes out on his own with what he envisions as a multibillion-dollar business.

Lewis Gersh is well known on the marketing technology scene as an investor, and he’s placed several winning bets in that regard: Madison Logic, Indiegogo, Sailthru, and Tapad, to name a few. But the funder of startups in cross-channel marketing, personalization, and retargeting has left his full-time VC gig to run his own company. What breakthrough digital technology would make the 48-year-old magic-maker leave the strategy room for the battlefield? Programmatic direct mail.

PebblePost, for which Gersh serves as CEO, has secured a trademark on that term. He sees his digitally reactive version of direct mail as a billion-dollar proposition, a new channel that blends the scale of digital with the efficacy of direct to lift digital marketers to stratospheric heights of engagement. “Programmatic was sweeping through display, but it was getting overdone and efficacy was falling. PebblePost was born out of that,” Gersh says. “Everybody looked at anything but direct mail as a solution. But direct mail is second only to TV in marketing expenditures, and no new products have come out in direct mail for 25 years.”

PebblePost launched last June on a promise of 8% response rates and 15% conversion rates. After its first five customers posted rates closer to 20% and 40% in those regards, according to Gersh, he knew he was on to something. PebblePost is run on an ad server that is activated by customer-determined hierarchies such as product segments. For instance, should a customer go to a retailer website, look at some shirts and blazers, and then leave without purchasing, a 4×6 postcard with an offer on an apparel purchase could be sent out to her within 24 hours of her visit. Of course, the retailer must have her physical address on file in its database.

“We’ve built the first server connecting digital with direct mail,” Gersh maintains.“This was really enabled by the printing machine manufacturers. This is a cool extension of variable data printing.”

Gersh now claims to have more than 100 brands engaged in real-time, reactive direct mail. One of them is Boxed, an online retailer of consumer packaged goods in bulk sizes. It is a true multichannel marketer, using Facebook, Instagram, email, and desktop and mobile display ads, as well as direct mail, for customer activation. Boxed sees itself as “Costco Online,” and since it’s often easier  for customers to just stop by the warehouse club on the way home from work, the e-com has been focusing on re-engagement strategies. A good number of its customers have lapsed and it’s difficult to re-engage with them.

“We started testing PebblePost targeting our unsubscribe list. Many of them have unsubscribed in the past 60 days and have come back to the website but not made a purchase,” says Nitasha Mehta, senior marketing manager at Boxed. “Prior to PebblePost, we didn’t have a way to engage with them. It’s been groundbreaking for us.”

Mehta says that conversion rates via PebblePost have been running six times higher than those Boxed sees from emails. She says the company is still feeling its way around programmatic direct mail, but she thinks higher conversions might have something to do not only with the surprise factor of mail retargeting, but also with increased impressions for the postcards (above). “One email sent is one impression, but one postcard sent is likely to receive several impressions among members of a household,” says Mehta, who is currently preparing a March Madness themed PebblePost campaign.

A big differentiator between programmatic direct mail and triggered direct mail, says Gersh, is real-time metrics and campaign management. PebblePost users get a dashboard they can check on an ongoing basis to see the volume of mail sent, response and conversion rates, and return on ad spend. “You could never do this before on direct mail,” says PebblePost CMO David Cooperstein.

Both Gersh and Cooperstein say that programmatic direct mail remains in its formative stages and that more can be expected of it in years ahead, such as third-party access to physical addresses. As more customers come on board, PebblePost will continue to add breadth to the Address Cloud it’s constructing and validate addresses as specific users of clients. Then programmatic mail will shed its reliance on first-part day and users will be able to mail to unknown website users without taking ownership of their names and addresses. Of course, they’ll be able to capture them if they convert.

“We’ll have ownership of the address and won’t give it to the client. It’s like when someone does a search and clicks on a link for an item. The retailer doesn’t know who it is, though Google may know,” Cooperstein explains.

Pebblepost’s reception in the marketing community far exceeded his expectations, Gersh says. Brand marketers love it, he says, because they can load it into their programmatic budgets, digital agencies see it as a natural extension of both programmatic and retargeting, and traditional direct mailers employ it as a way to eliminate some of the waste in an expensive channel.

“We have a product roadmap for PebblePost that goes out five years,” says Gersh, the digital era version of Victor Kiam, the former president of Remington Products, who proclaimed in ads that he was so impressed its razors he bought the company. “We’re looking at multibillions in revenue.”

Brands: How to use programmatic direct mail to your advantage

The following Q&A was posted in BizReport on February 15. Click here to see the original article.

When most of us think direct mail, we think of those postcards sent out to residents of a school district or city. But there is a new kind of direct – programmatic direct – that may change direct mail’s stats.

by Kristina Knight

Kristina: What is Programmatic Direct Mail, and how did PebblePost come up with the term?

Lewis Gersh, CEO & Founder, PebblePost: PebblePost™ invented Programmatic Direct Mail to dynamically transform online activity into personalized mail sent that day, applying real time analytics to optimize messages and creative. Programmatic Direct Mail allows marketers to deliver your message to your customer’s home mailbox when they are actively interested. When you say “Programmatic Direct Mail” the term explains everything a marketer needs to know. Programmatic gets them in a digital and automated mind set, and Direct Mail gets them thinking about their most effective marketing channel after TV. The combination of the two is so powerful it rarely needs more explanation.

Kristina: Why does Programmatic Direct Mail close the deal better than digital advertising?

Lewis: Digital media is a high volume, and today a highly cluttered environment (when ad blocking is not turned on). The reason why Programmatic Direct Mail is so good at converting customers is that a) it’s in a less crowded environment – the home mailbox, b) its relevant because its delivered in 3 days from an online visit based on data from that visit, and c) it is a high quality piece of mail from a brand with which the customer is already familiar. Of course, it does not explicitly reference that visit, but our customers see the value in reinforcing the interest that was displayed by product or category type as well as their brand.

Kristina: What tips do you have for marketers to help move customers along the sales funnel, and complete their transactions?

Lewis: Make it easy to buy – add incentives to the products. With a great-looking image and a discount coupon (and let’s face it, many folks prefer a discount), the incentive to buy is right in front of the buyer — i.e., consumer who has expressed user-driven segmentation and intent. They can enter the special code they’ve received and make the purchase.
• Identify the window shoppers – Using tags on your site, you can flag visitors that come and go without transacting or identify those opportunities to upsell. They’re the ones who are unsure if they are getting the right price for the product, or if they truly want the product, kicking off repeat visits to the site.

Kristina: How can retailers capture customers that come to their site, think they found the right gift, but don’t “close the deal”?

Lewis: The intent to buy comes from the visitor to the site who looks at a number of different products, but doesn’t hit the “Buy” button out of concern that the gift is “not quite right,” a work email or phone call causes a distraction, or something else needs attention. For customers that aren’t ready to hit the buy button, retailers can use Programmatic Direct Mail to test which offers work best. They can determine which segment – maybe those who look at shirts vs. pants – a test offers ranging from free shipping to percent discounts to see which follow up message drives the most return visits and conversions. Because we can optimize and change creative on the fly, when something is deemed to be working the marketer can see that and focus on the success.

Retro-marketing: A Return To Traditional Marketing Tools

There is nothing better than a debate amongst peers. No, this is not a post about politics. I am referring to a lively dinner that PebblePost hosted earlier this week, with some amazing Chief Marketing/Digital/Customer Officers from companies as diverse as banks, luxury goods, online megastores, innovative start ups and media brands. Get this group talking, which my colleague Rebecca Lieb did, and the conversation gets lively quickly.

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The topic was centered around the return to traditional forms of media to complete the “marketing breakfast” (in other words, a well-rounded marketing meal to start your day), why that is happening, and what should come of it. Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:

  • The power of putting a digital spin on retro tactics. If you watch Back to the Future 2, a lot of the things that movie predicted are true today – hoverboards, a baseball team in Florida, tablet computers, and easy video conferencing (think Skype and Hangouts). Digital thinking is indeed impacting the way traditional channels like TV and direct mail work. While standalone digital thinking and channesl are is not working as well as they used to, they are informing marketers of the value of data. Said one marketer, “data is the backbone of the process. But where it gets used is up for grabs.”
  • The message trumps the medium. All new channels play a role. But the creative teams need to be more creative. According to one marketer, direct mail is a great channel “despite the lack of effort to make the creative compelling. Its still a generic set of promotional offers.” Creative needs to improve to handle the challenges that true omnichannel marketing presents.
  • Privacy is not dead; people are willing to give it up for value. Our dinnermates agree that millenials and younger are far less concerned about data privacy than their parents and older siblings. But they will get more concerned as they are impacted by career issues or personal identity fraud, making privacy an age-related issue. Outside of the US, privacy remains a big concern. And if you forgot, Facebook and others are now able to listen to your conversations to make recommendations. We talked a lot about the good and bad implications of that new tool.

We’ll host other, similar dinners later in the year. Let us know (here) if you are interested to attend. This is a conversation that will take on many sides in the coming months. 

 

Why You Need to Curb Your Obsession With Big Data

Blind faith in big data is robbing us of our humanity, and if we’re not careful, our obsession will ruin us. By all accounts, 2015 was a big year for big data. Fields as diverse as medicine, law and even fashion have gotten the big data treatment of late. This is good news; a data-driven world is a smarter place. But that revolution comes at a cost, one that’s best illustrated by advertising and media, both industries that pioneered big data years ago and spent 2015 grappling with an existential struggle between creativity and technology.

As it turns out, the choice between creative and tech, between what’s subjective and what’s quantifiable, between humanity and computers, is a false one. Like all revolutions, the digital one bends toward extremism. The old way was guesswork, the new science of big data is perfect beyond our wildest dreams. Extremes are neither healthy nor sustainable. More importantly, adopting such extreme positions misses the larger point — big data is the most powerful tool we have, but like all the tools that came before it, it’s not a panacea.

Big Data Binging and Retail Stalkers

Search online for a pair of shoes and before you can add them to your shopping cart, you’ll want to pick up a restraining order just to keep the banner ads at bay. Even consumers who may not be so tech savvy are well aware of the obsession with data-driven targeting. In fact, consumers haveknown for years that the often clumsy application of big data is more akin to stalking than advertising, even if they aren’t familiar with lingo like retargeting, programmatic or cookies. This is the logical result of a big data binge, but it’s only getting more extreme. Collecting more data and baldly adding it to a marketing algorithm exacerbates the problem; some consumers find it creepy or invasive, others install ad blockers or learn to ignore solicitous sellers.

Beyond the detriment to a retailer’s relationship with its customers, the obsessive big data binge is troubling because it speaks to an approach that favors quantity over quality. Retailers know they can use programmatic to buy an audience on the cheap. In fact, it’s so cheap that many advertisershave overlooked the ad fraud and viewability issues that plague programmatic. Just because you can buy audience cheap doesn’t mean you should. And if you do, it doesn’t mean you continue as the impact gets diluted. Furthermore, just because you’re running your campaigns with big data doesn’t mean you’re driving at real business goals. Put simply: Retailers win by using big data to maximize the quality of their engagements, not by scaling junk and fraudulent engagements at the lowest possible CPM.

How Should Retailers Apply Big Data in 2016?

Rather than obsessing over how to collect more data, retailers should instead focus on activating the data they have. If the data a retailer collects can’t be activated to achieve a marketing plan or business goal, there’s little value in collecting it. In fact, collecting data that cannot be activated is detrimental because it distracts retailers from achieving concrete business goals.

Up until this point, marketers have largely used big data to isolate, analyze and influence sequential events. An internet search or site visit leads to a series of targeted display ads. Opening an email triggers an avalanche of more emails with better offers. For every consumer action, the programmatic application of big data offers a corresponding counterpunch. Effective retailers have found value in this approach, but only to a point because most consumers don’t follow the choreography of the media buyer’s playbook.

Instead of using big data to force an artificial narrative on the consumer, retailers would be better served by using that quantitative firepower to uncover connections that already exist. Rather than imposing the artificial construct of a buyer’s journey onto an equally artificial funnel and segmenting that world into neat channels, retailers should embrace the complexity of reality. Moreover, retailers should use big data to uncover the connections that enhance a more nuanced understanding of reality.

Do consumers really buy shoes or a new couch because they’ve been targeted with all the precision big data can muster? They don’t, although if we look hard enough for a cause-and-effect relationship and we have enough data, we can probably convince ourselves that the 16th banner ad (out of 20!) really did drive the sale. More realistically, retailers need to think of their marketing as a complete breakfast. They need to serve their customer on their terms, and they need to be able to engage in ways that are appropriate and, ultimately, more personal.

A retailer might serve that ad for shoes based on an internet search, but wouldn’t it be better off using big data to decipher the lifestyle/shopping pattern that corresponds to the prediction of a customer’s regular and ongoing need to buy new shoes? Similarly, a furniture store could respond to a website visit with a mail offer for a new couch, but if the mailer arrives on a Monday, what’s the point?

Here are a few insights retailers can apply to make big data manageable:

  • Apply some human logic. Data by itself isn’t logical, it’s just data. For example, data may trigger an event to happen — e.g., sending mail or email — based on consumer behavior, but if the marketer knows that customers respond better to a Thursday mail piece for furniture than a Monday email, then the ship date for mail should be timed accordingly.
  • Develop theories and test them. Most marketers using big data search for trends or create systems to act. However, the data scientist employed by marketers should be tasked with hypothesis-driven testing, like “how many direct contacts does it take to trigger unsubscribe activity,” and then use data to scale the findings and inform strategy.
  • Establish a single currency for comparison. Data can be used to deliver insight into media, branding, performance marketing and many other things. Establishing a single touchstone (e.g., return on ad spend) will give all the data experiments a number to tie back to so marketers can evaluate the entire portfolio.