Trade | Jeff Blackman
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Author: Jeff Blackman


28 Mar Define Your Data Architecture: The Path to Truly Personalized Experiences

Under pressure from younger customers with higher expectations and new digital standards being set in retail, finance companies must do more to build true omnichannel experiences that live up to the full potential of the idea – to provide personalized, contextually relevant customer and prospect experiences across device where, when, and how consumers want to interact.

Key to this concept is harnessing all the rich data that is generated from online and offline interactions.  As more and more is written about omnichannel in finance, we must start to get to the heart of how best to plan it.  Taking practices born out of “multichannel” planning –  where the focus was establishing options to engage with nothing smart or personal – is the mold that must be broken.

The fire is fanned by the idea that consumer demands for retail experiences are on the rise.  Finance brands must understand that there is data beyond the transaction that can lead to a better overall customer experience.

As Andrew Joss from Informatica writes in his post, “Omnichannel Banking and the Need for Data”:

Being driven by a younger generation of Banking customers, with high expectations of service provision due to their experiences with some market leading retailers, there is now an increasing demand for channel choice based upon individual preferences allied to continuous availability of the service as well as the ability to switch to an alternative channel if desired.

He goes on:

This same experience has created an impression that all key service providers (i.e. Banks) have huge amounts of customer data and that this data is being used to drive the engagement process. Banks have traditionally managed their businesses as operational or functional siloes as there was little need to do anything else – that time is coming to an end.

The key being data intelligence.  The parallel is drawn to consumer expectations based on other retail experiences outside banking which is generally understood to be a better experience.  But it is also assumed that banks are rich in data therefore are able to craft experiences based on preference, behavioral patterns, and sentiment which lead to better, higher value marketing and utility to the customer.  This is all driven by smarter data management and optimization.

The big promise of omnichannel is the idea of seamlessness across devices.  Within that concept, is the notion of personalized and contextual experiences.  And this is where most finance companies fall short.

In The Mobile Mind Shift; Engineer Your Business to Win in the Mobile Moment (Groundswell Press, 2014) we learned that “within the next 1-2 years, 50% of consumers will have the expectation of anywhere, anything, anytime on their mobile device and yet in reality a mere 4% of companies actually have what it takes to provide it.”

One of the key challenges is in the strategic planning approach. By definition, omnichannel is to provide users with a seamless experience no matter the transaction point – desktop to mobile to phone to physical space. This needs to be more than just enabling interaction or offering the touch point option such as what multichannel planning provides.

Omnichannel is not achieved through thinking merely about channels and touch points first.  It’s achieved by understanding how data flows – the inputs and outputs that map the true view of your complete customer experience – then backfilled by touch point activation and engagement based on what the data is telling us.  

The right place to start is not with the touchpoint or technology first but rather with planning the data architecture.  How does data get captured? How can it be passed from point to point? How can it inform smarter interactions?  Then build the experience on top of that architecture.

 Here are some steps to get there:

  1. Begin by mapping out the data that can and should be captured: behavioral, engagement, demographics, technographics, segmentation, transaction patterns, product purchase, preference, sentiment, etc.
  2. From the data set, understand which data allows you to build smarter experiences: decide what will allow you to build towards more contextual and personal experiences, and play out these scenarios in prototypes through the lens of the consumer.
  3. Push the limits of how data can flow: start with an architecture of touch points and technologies modeled after the scenarios to create a version of how data needs to flow from point to point to inform better interactions and enable the experience vision.
  4. Identify the barriers and gaps that exist in capturing and passing data from point to point. This will inform data requirements that should inform technology platform and configuration decisions, as well as the DMP (data management platform) housing the data and where it should “live.”
  5. Come back to the experience layer and focus on engagement value (content, utility, social, etc.): knowing your data architecture means nothing until it is manifested in smarter, more personal, and more contextual interactions which is a creative exercise.

Trade has executed this work in the finance space and can guide you.  It’s not a one size fits all approach but once you understand the required outputs to get to the right answer, it’s just about doing the work.  Interested in learning how to get started? Please contact Jeff Blackman

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25 Feb Yes. Now How About “Editorial Analytics” for Brands?

The Real Issue

If we had more marketers talking about how to adopt “editorial analytics” as a primary practice in communications planning we’d be further along in brands creating more meaningful content with purpose – to reach, engage, and drive real business value.

It’s not to say there is a lack of content, of course, or there isn’t enough engagement data flowing around. It’s to say brands still lead with paid media as the organizing principle for all communications and don’t understand which content is actually worth creating and which isn’t.

This report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism underpins the issue and can teach us marketers a lot.  The good news is, even in an industry that lives and dies by the quality of content there is still room to grow and no one has it all figured out.  The bad news: we don’t hear brands talking the same way about better holistic planning outside of optimizing single channels like Facebook or their website in silos.

At Trade, we look a lot at how brands can behave more like publishers to tell their story across ALL channels more efficiently and effectively.  As such, understanding how to interpret your content analytics is a major element of successful storytelling. But understanding your data starts with knowing why it matters in the first place and giving it structure.

The report sheds light on the idea of editorial analytics as a practice in the newsroom and for journalists.  We’ll look through the lens of how editorial analytics are needed in brand planning and for creatives plus a simple framework for how to do it.

Making Sense of the Challenge

Below are some key points from report with a relevant twist for marketers and brands.

Content creators must customize their analytics models. This means doing the hard work of establishing a bespoke framework for how to organize the layers of data that matter.  It starts with knowing what it is all for – what the business is trying to get out of the content effort.  Is it cost effective reach?  Better SEO? Pure engagement? Is it sales?  Is it all a test for where to spend big in TV or experiential?  Establishing the business case is key for why content exists in the organization is key.  From there, your metrics are structured to gain better understanding at each phase of the story journey.

Rally around a true view into data.  We’ve all been in the board room when the data portion of meeting comes up (usually the last segment) and everyone says, “Ok, that’s interesting.” Then promptly the meeting ends and a few ads get tweaked as the result.  The reports, the dashboards, the conversation walls, the simple tweaks to a banner – these are the easy parts.   Ingraining in brand culture a starting point that begins with the editorial framework is the hard part but necessary to provide meaning. If at the end of the day a brand essentially exists along an editorial calendar of touchpoints big and small – some better than others – with their audience, then it’s imperative to confirm that model before evaluating the data.

The need for journalist involvement in the analytical process.  Journalists equal “creatives” in this context – those that have ownership of the idea.  They have to be a part of the process to understand the true meaning in the data story. It’s one thing to share results with a creative and say, “This ad is not working, try something else.”  It’s another to bring them to the table in an active, participatory way where true understanding is fostered. Getting creatives used to interpreting data is about making sure that their time spent in reviewing it has real value to them and makes their ideas better.

There’s reach, then there’s REACH. To reach someone means more than just targeting and impressions.  Having an understanding of how your content speaks to an audience means you were able to truly reach through and connect. Editorial practices for brands are all about connecting and driving participation. Like newsrooms, a brand’s editorial practices should embrace that and develop the tools, processes, and culture necessary. This has to come out in the analytics and how brands build their own custom models.

A Starting Point for a Solution

To analyze editorial data like a publisher but through a marketers let’s start with a basic hierarchical outline for editorial content and a logical flow for processing performance.

How an Editorial Content Hierarchy Can Give Guidance


Themes –  Born out of an understanding of audience emotional drivers, themes are the conceptual articulation of motivators that are intrinsic to influencing or activating people.

Story Domain – Story domains are broad categorizations that cover related topics like recreation, family, health, and personal finance.  They are organized under various themes.

Story Concept – a collection of content pieces that make up a specific idea or concept with a domain.  The sum is the entirety of a story that can take place across channels and/or over periods of time.

Content Piece – Content formats user engage with; multiple content types can be combined into one experience that the tell the story (think infographics, text, video, images, tools).

Measuring Success – Asking the Right Questions About Content Performance

Once the hierarchy is established that makes sense for your brand, this includes the logical processing of data that comes from each level.

Are we increasing exposure to the brand?

  • Views and impressions across all channels (paid, earned, owned)
  • Share of Voice – PR, social, influencer
  • Authority on relevant topics via search


Does the content resonate the way it should?pie chart

  • The ways our users engaging with content


Which audience segments are responding, which are not?

  • Getting smarter about audience profiles


Where are we engaging our audience most effectively?

  • Up funnel, mid funnel, low funnel


How are social channels driving conversation?

  • Shares, likes, mentions, comments, retweets


Are we effectively driving users to desired destinations?

  • Website, eComm, Application, In store, Event


How does the content result in conversion?

  • Successful applications, CRM sign-ups, Online sales, Physical sales, Call center


To learn more about our point of view on editorial analytics and how they can help you be a better marketer contact 312-909-2800.

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04 Feb What Walt Disney Can Teach Finance Companies

We loved this article by Melissa Bell, journalist and co-founder of, which is based on a meeting with the Niemen Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. She talks about many facets of what it takes to be a successful publisher in the modern media landscape from culture to diversity to ad experience to Snapchat.  But this excerpt stuck out to us because it embodies an inherent challenge with brand content publishing:

Walt Disney had an interesting idea about how his brands supported each other. The theme parks came from the movies; the movies came from his animations. The merchandise allowed for stores to be built. Some of the rides have become movies. Movies have influenced the rides. They all rely on each other. I think about that when I’m thinking about our newsroom.

She goes on…

Our Snapchat stories are inspired by the articles that we write on Our videos are inspired by the articles we run on Sometimes our videos are turned into graphics; sometimes the graphics are built into longer form pieces.

What Walt Disney understood is that every great story has an arc that can live across many different media channels and if these channels work in concert there’s a compounding effect that adds up to something greater.  In his world this meant more physical and analogue space, when applying this to our current digital landscape it’s even more critical to get it right.

46% of people managing their finances online switch between devices before completing the activity. - Google

This is important for finance companies to understand because of the nature of who they are and what they do.  Few things are as personal as money.  Due to the rise of technology disruption and the frictionless relationship consumers want with their money, the lines between what is a product and what is a channel to communicate value are blurring. That is to say that the touch points for how finance companies need to now offer services to their customers are correlated with, or at least expanding as fast as, the touch points for marketing those same services.

Summarizing the point:  Finance companies have to exist efficiently and meaningfully across more and more touchpoints to not only find customer experience alpha (the equivalent of Walt Disney’s compounding effect) but to stay relevant and not die.


Are we seeing progress?

This recent data point published by IAB got us thinking there’s movement in the marketplace towards understanding that point:

The report, conducted through an online survey of 120 IAB special-interest council members, found that 58% of survey participants believe cross-channel measurement and attribution will command significant time and attention in 2016.

Call it what you want (cross-channel, omni-channel, multi-channel), but it comes down to how brands are activating integrated communications to enhance marketing performance.

ROI will always be critically important but what brands really suffer from is an inability to craft and plan stories for campaigns across channels.  If they did, they would be able to construct the measurement plan of format and channel to draw attribution conclusions.

In focusing on outcomes first, they’re missing an important point that a strong narrative that drives participation will weave channels together to enable the right measurement to happen. It’s that exercise that often proves to be the hardest for brands and their agencies.

But we should look no further than Walt Disney, the ultimate storyteller and master of driving participation, to show us where to start with a solution.


For the finance industry it starts with narrative first.

We wrote a post titled, “The New Relationship with Money,” about how commerce is becoming a series of touchpoints driven by financial services; that transactions are fading to the background and are now more fluid with how consumers want to live, thereby becoming more human.

This is the starting point for the entire finance industry.  This is the new global narrative that will guide how finance brands should craft their own stories across channels for a compounding effect that drives participation and better performance.

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06 May Why Trickle Down Media Planning Doesn’t Work in a Content Driven World

When integrated media planning means your message just lives in different channels versus being truly built into partner channels, you have a problem. You will soon let your creative and message become dictated by media spend allocations and not soon after that marching to drum beat of placement specs to trickle out the ads – little context, less relevance, poorer performance.

One of the reasons I have been a big believer in Trade from the beginning is the view we’ve formulated and stuck to about the role of paid media in a content driven world. We’ve never been the ones to say that earned media could or should replace paid outright. Clearly, Facebook’s preferential treatment to those with budgets has proven that’s not a strategy worth sticking to. We also don’t live in a “build-it-and-they-will-come” world – never have. Owned platforms need a little juice, too.

So our message is not about abandoning paid media, it’s about understanding how to use paid the right way in specific scenarios and getting the best value out of publisher partnerships in a world where content traction is more important to the brand than ever.

It starts with an understanding that brands must look at communications channels through the personal narrative lens of their consumers. When narrative comes first, it guides where and how the brand’s message should live in media and it helps form the basis for how the brand should view the role of their media partners. Establishing the narrative and identifying thematic open space leads to how to leverage the media spend and establishes the core criteria to evaluate media partners that can make it happen.

Media Objectives to Support Content:

  1. Introduce & Seed Stories – Our objective was to look at content as the center of our experience. We created the plan for a “content hub” and looked at paid media like Outbrain and Nativo to seed stories that were starters for engagement that would ultimately lead to places where deeper engagement could happen
  2. Amplify Earned Conversations – Publishers have invested a great deal in optimizing their social channel distribution. Brands need to optimize in the same way, but there is a difference between owned social and social overall. Recently, Vox came out about their devoted strategy for video content on Facebook. Understanding how Facebook rewards publishers creating content specific for their platform to get traction is key. Brands need to be investing in the same approach, but smart media partnership leverages the publishers that are already investing in this experimentation to benefit from what they’re learning.
  3. Leverage Creation Power – Ultimately, the best media partners bring their full capabilities in terms of content creation to the table on top of the media spend. Of course, brands need to invest directly in their own content, but the costs of production to reach scale can be mitigated by including content creation as part of the deal. Ensure they have agreements to distribute that content in brand owned publishing channels.
  4. Evolve Story Narrative – Narratives are not single moment, they span over time and place. The ability to progressively tell the stories through dynamic units and programmatic buys within the context of a publisher platform can be hugely powerful for engagement and moving consumers closer to consideration and conversion.

After setting the stage for what we needed our media plan to do, we set out to choose the right partners. Beyond audience relevance, we wanted to establish the basis for true partnerships and the foundation of our expectations in what would be brought to the table during the RFP process.

Authority and brand equity was key, as we needed content to improve natural search ranking for GE products. Publishers that have brand equity are easier to spot. CNN Money, for example, had a lot of brand influence in the category of personal finance. However, brand equity doesn’t always equate to authority from a search perspective. Using search data and tying that back to the themes we needed to own, we could identify which publishers already had established a strong rank and authority for certain topics. Our partners’ authority on key themes related to GE became a must in our assessments.

Secondary impressions from sponsored content published through social channels were more than value–add for us. We emphasized the partners that successfully optimized their own publishing channels to get significantly more reach. Working with the publisher to apply your own content search strategy is key, as well. Applying keywords and phrases to how articles are being published in their social channels and the pass through of search equity should be mandated.

A good story platform has a hook that works in pure editorial as well. A publisher that is serious about the native content program will also believe in the editorial potential and support the brand’s earned exposure. There are fine lines that some publishers don’t want to cross and will want to ensure that sponsored editorial content is labeled as such. But what you want is content published with editorial sensibilities. NYT made clear that consumers don’t care where the content comes from as long as it’s good.

Devoted space to publish. I look back at this example of Adobe’s and WSJ, where Adobe had their own devoted space to publish to. Just having the space to distribute content is key when it lives within a valued and trafficked space by users. There are ways to work around some technical limitations that exist within publishers’ systems by leveraging dynamic ad units. The best partners will work with you to make it happen.

Truly native. Native is about as widely used a term as they come. What is key here is that the user experience allows for your content to be distributed within the flow of the overall editorial content. Time’s platform is a good example – where content articles are listed in the rail on the side and seamlessly fit with editorial.

Data Data Data. Publishers need to align their reporting to support the needs of the brand. Not just to know behavioral data related to your branded content, but to help brands understand how certain topics and themes are getting traction within the broader content ecosystem. Combining reports of your custom metrics with broader metrics of their content across platforms will help brands understand how to optimize earned and owned channels.

Our friends in the media world are putting out better and better content all the time, continuously optimizing, perpetually innovating, and forever redefining the way in which we all consume content. As we know, sites like BuzzFeed, HuffPost and Refinery29 are experts in getting significant traction on content. So while we’re all helping brands create their own viral moment, it’s smart to leverage paid as a catalyst for content…but in the right way.

To learn more about how Trade can assist your organization, contact 404-900-5592

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04 Feb Search Data is a Treasure Trove of Story Potential

It’s no surprise that global search trend volume increases dramatically every year. Google now gets an average of more than 40,000 searches every second, more than 3.5 billion each day [1]. Total yearly global search volume across all search engines is in the multiple trillions [2].

Yes, these numbers are astronomical and confounding in and of themselves. They represent the bane of much existence of search and marketing executives alike. A lot of energy, resources, and dollars (equally perplexing figures, I am sure) go into figuring out how brands and products can improve rank and authority for their sites and pages. And every time Google updates the algorithm it’s all hands on deck to adjust the content strategy to match the new practice standards.


New Daily Google Searches

Percent of brand new searches per day


This is all noble work. A strong search strategy and a sound understanding of how the engines work is imperative to any integrated marketing plan these days. After all, we know the best place to hide a dead body is on page two of search results (shout out to my Trade partners on that gem). It’s really a page one or none game but how to play the game is shifting [3] and there’s a broader view of the story behind search data that represents something larger being missed.


First, let’s carve out a number that exemplifies something core to the point and tells us about how people now use search as a tool. In 2012, we learned that approximately 20 percent of searches Google sees are brand new [4]. Thinking about that in the context of trending global search data and extrapolating for the fact that Google has about 70 percent of the market share [5], that equates to about 400 billion annual key phrases generated by users that are brand new unique queries.

Yes, that’s the coveted long tail, which can be fruitful traffic driving territory with the right content strategy at the right scale, but it’s more than that. It represents an expanding universe of insight into the consumer’s needs and intent – their interest categories that can be tapped into by the savvy brand marketer.

Consumers are actively using search differently as a tool, evolving in sophistication, and giving us, as marketers, signals about their frame of mind and what is important. Thank you searchers, point taken.

So now that we got the memo, this gets right to the importance of the content approach. The Panda updates by Google have proven that it’s more important to focus on the relevance and quality of content. Whereas in the past it was about keyword loading and link building, the search engines now reward the brands that truly understand how certain topics are relevant to users and create quality content that gets shared [6].

To win nowadays, brands must exist not only in the topics directly related to their product, but also in the adjacent themes where consumers are spending more and more time in the search world. If you think about the core product message and its directly related keyword topics, understanding the adjacencies “up-funnel” and what can drive meaning for the brand is open field and where new turf can be claimed.

In the next piece I’ll share more about our method to create narratives, themes and stories from search data.





[4] Mitchell, Jon. “How Google Search Really Works.” Readwrite. February 29, 2012.



To learn more about how Trade can assist your organization, contact 404-900-5592

To contact the author

Jeff Blackman

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