A Decade of Data

Allison McMenimen
September 23, 2015
Allison McMenimen, VP Client Services, reflects on ten years of NHI and a full decade of digital marketing.

Remember when all you needed was a keyword and a keyboard?

First you sat with your laptop and typed in “Mexican restaurants” and got a Wikipedia entry about the history of Mexican restaurants and typical Mexican cuisine. You got a couple of links to Mexican chain restaurants — none that were in your neighborhood, of course.

You’d have to type “restaurants in Minneapolis, MN 55402” if you were looking for something close by. Ten results would show up — only three of them looked promising. Finally, after clicking on the third search result, you got to a website bursting with flash animation. Chances are you’d click around on the website until you found a link to Mapquest and then printed out directions, or plugged the address into your GPS, and then drove to a meal.

You probably also listened to music on an iPod with a wheel, thought Facebook was only for college kids, and called your friends — sometimes on your landline — more often than you texted them. According to Pew, in 2005 only 27% of Americans even used text messages and only 34% were storing photos online.

Think about how much your behavior has changed in the past ten years. It’s likely you’re part of the 67% of Americans who use smartphones to share photos and stay in touch. Likely moving toward the point of constant connection was gradual: one year you got a phone with a touch screen, the next you got a Facebook account, and pretty soon after that you bought a car so you could make hands-free calls right from the console.

You know how much you’ve evolved? We’ve grown and changed too.

In 2005 we started our agency by figuring out what you typed into your search bar and what results you found. And much like you incorporated a new technology or two into your daily life each year, we built on our passion for search. In the past ten years we’ve become a smarter, more nimble, more adept team.

We love search because it starts with data: we look at the numbers and patterns that represent consumer behavior. We’ve always said that looking at search behavior data, and the language that people use to find things, is a sneak preview to how people think about their lives, their devices, and the products and services they encounter.

First we got more social. We realized early on that Google wasn’t the only big player in the digital space, and we learned as social networks became the standard — with 85% of adults on at least one social network by 2012 — and as they’ve evolved into daily touchpoints to the entirety of the outside world. Whether it’s a right-rail ad, a pinned recipe, or a #TBT photo, we have an eye on how people interact in different ways on each network.

As more and more behavioral data got stirred into the mix, we followed the trend. It used to be that only large, full-service agencies got the best rates and media placement. But all that data is more accessible now: if you can successfully create and measure an optimized paid search campaign, the same principals apply to any other media campaign on any other device. We’ve used big data to refine our targeting on all screens — from a smart watch to a big-screen TV.

And then we measured our results. We know that consumers aren’t staying in one place anymore, only looking at their top 10 search results. They’re on multiple screens, working in apps and browsers simultaneously, at different times throughout the day. Our attribution and measurement strategies have gotten as sophisticated as they have, so we can further refine exactly what placements are working, how they’re reaching consumers, and how they’re influencing the overall purchase process. When tracking and setup is in place, we can track 100% of consumer actions across screens. From brand awareness to the final conversion, we are tracking, refining, and using that data to optimize our actions.

Here’s some examples of what we’ve done in the past few months:

1. Expansion of media campaigns to include programmatic display, pre-roll advertising, social amplification, social community growth, and sponsored email advertisements — built on the foundations of organic and paid search data — to improve conversion rate by 25%.

2. Identifying highly customized target audience behaviors to develop actionable segments for all stages of the purchase journey for a widely adopted consumer medical device. This also leads the development of content for performance that’s continually measured and optimized.

3. Highly successful programmatic advertising campaigns bolstered TV advertising to reach an audience with a divided attention span, with advanced forecasting closely aligning budgets, goals, and targeting.

Yes, in many cases we still start with the keyword data, but on top of it we layer demographic, psychographic, and audience targeting to refine and optimize what works. We’ve grown with the algorithms and added new tools and capabilities every year, including paid social placement, cross-channel content optimization, cross-device media planning, programmatic display, and analytics automation.

We started from search and got smarter. Our results outperform our initial goals more often than not. We’ve added team members who have been working in media planning, in traditional advertising, and in publishing, and incorporated their knowledge base across the company. With decades of combined years of digital media experience, we have a pretty broad understanding of the world outside of the keyword and the keyboard.

I’m thrilled to celebrate a 10-year anniversary with the best and brightest in the industry. So, what’s next? We’ll let the data lead the way for another decade.


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