ThinkstockPhotos 179693002In order to acquire and maintain customers, it’s vital for brands and marketing teams to leverage social media and guide customers down the purchasing path. By Jason Beckerman

Social media is ingrained in all shoppers’ lives. Well aware of this phenomenon, marketers are increasing social advertising budgets faster than any segment of the paid media mix. In fact, in 2018 social advertising budgets are expected to swell to over $50 billion.

Retailers of any size and industry must keep this number in mind; it signals the explosive growth of social media marketing—and the impact it can have on retail shoppers. In order to acquire and maintain customers, it’s vital for brands and marketing teams to leverage this massive ecosystem and guide customers down the purchasing path. But before they can do this, they need to ask “Do I have access to and control of my data? What if I don’t?”

Be Smarter (From the Beginning)

To successfully capitalize on social advertising, brands must first own their data. What does this mean? If you own your data, you have total access to all your social advertising data, no matter how many agencies, vendors or partners you are working with. Without data ownership, retailers can’t access the information they need, when they need it. And without that access, they can’t make informed, effective decisions about their social media. A lack of direct access to accurate performance information can lead to business decisions based on incorrect or incomplete data – putting social investments at risk.

Additionally, social is the perfect pair with the first-party CRM data retailers are spending large amounts of resources cultivating. Brands who take ownership of their social data, are able to integrate it with first-party data at scale, innovating in areas like targeting, creative and audience analysis. Without data ownership, marketers are not getting the most of their first-party data and leaving a ton of value on the table.

What Owning Data Looks Like

In short, data ownership provides retailers with both the security of accurate information and the assurance that they won't lose anything when changes are made.

Think of it like this: you know that serving customers social coupon ads builds foot traffic. Based on that information, your marketing team develops a new, winning campaign that drives hoards of customers into stores. Weeks after this campaign, you switch agencies. Your marketing team searches for the performance data from this last campaign, but it belongs to the old agency, and you cannot access it any more. Now you don’t know which targeted groups responded best to which ads, which dates performed best – you don’t know anything specific about that successful campaign. But with data ownership, you retain all the information you need.

Retailers who own their data can mine and map it to create powerful insights. No past learnings or best practices are lost. Adopting measurement standards and leveraging technology can ensure that you are accessing the right information on what was spent, who spent it and how it performed. This creates a holistic, trusted data repository that will enable you to continuously create successful campaigns.

Data ownership can also provide visibility into your social supply chains. Retail brands have one of the most complex supply chains; they can have coupon vendors, ecommerce solutions, creative agencies, and more working on a single social media campaign. With so many players in the mix, brands often face teams working in silos, hidden fees and limited visibility.

With data ownership, retail brands can gain the complete transparency they need into their entire social supply chain, allowing them to make better decisions on both campaign and partner budgets.

Getting the Full Picture

When conducting a campaign, marketers must see the whole picture from beginning to end, and data ownership can provide that kind of transparency.

By leveraging social media to reach audiences at each shopping stage, marketers can exceed goals at every step including delivering prospects, customers and loyalists. However, when brands rely on "wrap-up reports" about campaign performance after the fact, they miss out in the real-time intelligence they need to truly move the needle and drive the best results. On-demand transparency into total performance is critical, and the retail brands succeeding with social are tapping into it early and often.

Retail marketers must take advantage of social advertising technology that provides data ownership and transparency, and is interoperable with any campaign, team, tool or channel. Such technology completes the picture, allowing brands to control data accessibility, assure certainty about investments – and dramatically limit risk.

Jason Beckerman is the CEO and co-founder of Unified.

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