John Connell-HG Data’s New VP of Digital Strategy-Shares His Vision for Data in the Rapidly Evolving Performance Marketing Landscape

HG Data is pleased to introduce you to John Connell, our new VP of Digital Strategy.  John is an experienced digital product and marketing executive – most recently with QuinStreet Enterprise. He is now bringing his expertise in content marketing, Account Based Marketing and programmatic media placement to HG’s product development and our customer services.

It’s good to speak with you, John. Given your experience, joining HG Data seems like a big change. What attracted you to leave the front lines of media and performance marketing for the data side of the business?

JC: I’ve directly seen the benefits of how HG’s datasets can positively influence – sometimes dramatically – campaign performance and insights.  I’ve seen this in both direct response and branding scenarios through display.  I’ve used the data and I’ve seen how it can influence the metrics that matter.

At the same time, the empirical assets – the company’s platform, its talent, expertise and ambitious plans – instinctively tells me that HG Data will help transform how B2B marketers execute their data-driven sales and marketing initiatives. I see this dataset emerging as one of the reliable sources in a very confusing and crowded terrain.

How so?

JC: The data is extraordinary.  Where typically you’ll see segments defined or pitched by broad categories of interest or intent, HG Data enables something a little more concrete.  By definition, this data is not aspirational; it’s not diluted by some of the soft spots inherent in intent as we know it right now. I won’t say that the data is inalienable but the integrity is especially strong.  That’s part of why I’m drawn to the company.  And I see my role as influencing product development, service development and participating with others on the team in how we go to market with our offerings.

Your experience also gives you a clear understanding of both the challenges customers face with content marketing, programmatic ad buying and Account Based Marketing (ABM) and the potential from using our dataset.

JC: While I don’t particularly like the phrase, it’s apt to say that I expect we’ll be very gluttonous in eating our own dog food – something that will benefit our prospects and customers.  In framing our strategies around the marketing and ad technologies, we can engage prospective customers in a personalized and precise way.  Not only will we shorten the sales cycle considerably, we are demonstrating how they, in turn, can access and execute our data.

We can go into situations forearmed with information our prospects need. If we know that a certain organization is using Krux as their data management platform (DMP), for example, we may know the best way to help them activate our data.  That’s a sales advantage as well as a value-add for the customer.  Similarly, if we don’t see a lot of signals about an existing DMP or existing programmatic discipline, we may need to enable that customer in a very different way.

I’m excited about our ability to achieve the same things that our customers can achieve with our data and our services.

Content marketing and programmatic ad placement are growing and evolving rapidly. Could you share a little perspective on its evolution?

JC: The evolution has been quite rich and interesting, with characteristic phases and a few surprises.  It’s far more complicated than this but, essentially, digital content marketing – in particular content syndication – was built on the traditional publisher model and landscape.  That’s running banner ads and syndicated content on B2B publisher sites, where we believed the decision makers to be exclusively.

Along the way, technology vendors increasingly engaged directly with B2B decision-makers.  Their databases filled, data started to mature and, in time, aged out.  With the emergence and preliminary adoption of marketing automation tools (one of the surprises, at least the pace of this adoption), we had insights coming in at a reasonable cost and direct response marketing becoming a little more sophisticated. We started to understand a bit more about what was happening with our marketing dollars and where leads or engagement were coming from.

In the last five years or so, the acquisition of tools in the hands of the IBMs, Oracles and Adobes of the world has validated marketing automation. It’s also given us an aha! moment as we’ve all stepped back and realized that these tools are only as good as the data we feed them and the insights we glean.  That’s where we are today.

So what’s our path going forward?

JC: We can expect a preliminary shift in marketing efforts from quantity to quality – be it lead generation or impressions.  Although that’s only going to intensify, the emphasis on quantity doesn’t go away overnight.  For one thing, not everyone knows how to get quality.  Also, many organizations are still operating under a quota or volume-driven equation with people held to those standards.

But here’s the challenge: Some are trying to achieve quality by going tighter and tighter with their segmentation and their lead profiling. Drilling down too far in personas or specific functional attributes like job role is making marketers’ worlds too small.  To be clear, I’m not talking about the ABM effects of making the world more narrowly defined for a marketer, which has a lot of merit.

How do we get quality without zeroing out our lead generation?

JC: In addition to our over-filtered performance marketing, people also have drifted away from having an organizational conversation (talking to the company) and focused only on individual decision makers.  They’re ignoring the committee effect on decision-making in organizations.  With so many cooks in the kitchen, we’re going to see people stepping back and trying to expand by talking with companies rather than specific individuals.

As we embrace interactive Account Based Marketing people are striking conversations with organizations. The pendulum has started to shift and it’s started to create some good results.  But it needs to swing further back, and the organizational conversation is going to become imperative because it allows people to achieve their goals for both quality and quantity.  It’s still a very segmented and targeted conversation, but not overly filtered or too broad.

Marketers also are going to discover ways to achieve greater demand-generation, performance-oriented results through display advertising channels, which was once thought infeasible.  We’re moving toward generating quality and performance at decent scale and suitable economics through display advertising.

I also think the market is going to engage in greater discussion about what it means to convey intent in the ad tech and marketing tech data landscape. We’re going to see some evolution and refinements in intelligence data and what is considered reliably actionable and predictive.

You mention performance-oriented results.  Are our metrics and analytics up to the task?

JC: The theory of measurement is alive and well, and we are increasingly seeing agency partners and vendor marketers coming to meetings, pulling out devices and commenting on recent campaign results.  But in practice most marketers confess that they’re not able to do as much as they’d like.

It takes know-how to stitch these things together and make sense of the results. Perhaps even more prevalent are the gaps in the feedback loop, which make it hard to walk away with a picture or attribute outcomes to a particular campaign or initiative.  Furthermore, despite the importance, it may simply be too much work and not a priority when you have to keep moving.

One counter effect of metrics I’ve noticed is that people are getting distracted by the prospect of achieving performance-type results through display channels.  As such, the fundamental merits of branding and awareness may be a little bit overlooked. So alongside the key performance indicators (KPIs), we need to refocus on branding and awareness.  They’re just too fundamental and important. And those tactics are just as emboldened by the ad technologies readily available to any and all advertisers.

How would you define HG’s role in the martech/adtech/data ecosystem?

HG Data can simplify the ecosystem on the merit of the integrity and power of the dataset.  It’s straightforward and easy to understand.  This is important in a very dizzying area.  Yet how the data is derived and arranged and fastidiously maintained is sophisticated and complex.  Strategically, that’s how we fit in the landscape – easily accessible data-driven targeting with incredibly complicated data science underneath.

Tactically, we’re not a standalone product. But whether an organization has an extensive tech stack, relies on a few essential tools or has compressed its stack by adopting a marketing automation system, we aspire to enable reliable access to our data for customers from a broad range of knowledge and experience.  That’s part of the evolution as well; it’s how and why programmatic is enabling smart, effective display advertising for a lot of customers that thought it was only for the Fortune 500 with marquee-grade agencies.

There’s a lot of discussion about the buyer’s journey, and we know that it’s critical to get the right information to the right people and organizations at the right time. Can we use the data help us meet those requirements throughout the buyer’s journey?

The power of the right message is absolutely inarguable.  The data is fundamentally capable of forging the right message. When it comes to advertising or content marketing, the power of HG Data is enormous because you can personalize and contextualize your messaging in significant ways.

Whether you’re trying to 1.) send messages about an existing installation and make a case for a different solution or 2.) help validate someone’s existing installation and support it, enhance it, renew it or anything to extend the relationship, you can craft your message accordingly for display advertising or direct response.  And creating a dynamic, personalized message is getting easier with the tools and services available.  That is a positive experience I’ve had as with the data with very good results.

Thank you, John. Do you have any last thoughts?

Clearly we’re all still evolving – both with practices and technologies.  Soon spray and pray tactics will be a distant memory for everyone.  I do think HG Data provides a significant next step in this evolution, helping to move us beyond basic firmographics.  Marketers and advertisers really need several levels of data to realize their objectives optimally.  There’s a lot of data out there and HG is a rib within the whole structure.

Learn more about HG Audience and how it can help you target better today.