From Attribution to Activation: How Cricket Uses Analytics to Drive Double-Digit Growth
Pursuing a marketing strategy based around the customer journey is no longer a pipe dream. Advances in marketing attribution offer valuable insights for marketers seeking to become more customer centric. But multi-touch attribution (MTA) alone is, at best, backward looking if the learnings it produces can’t be activated against to optimize your efforts in the future. And while DMPs give you insights into last click, they aren’t the integrated end-to-end system they purport to be. So what, then, is a better ROI-enhancing way for marketers to put strategic measurement plans into customer-centric practice?
Getting answers to those very questions was the subject of a packed panel discussion at this year’s Advertising Week New York, titled “From Attribution to Activation: the Customer Journey Comes to Life.” The panel, moderated by Neustar’s Julie Fleischer, VP of Marketing Solutions, learned how AT&T’s Cricket Wireless is using advanced marketing analytics to better engage customers across the entire buyer’s journey. AT&T’s Salim Sitafalwalla, Director of Consumer and Competitive Insights, Cricket’s Kristin Volkmann, Director of Media, and Cricket’s in-house agency, Hearts and Sciences’ Mike Venables, Executive Director Digital joined Fleischer to reveal the secret to their success.
Some background: Since acquiring Cricket Wireless in 2014, AT&T’s prepaid portfolio group has become the industry’s fastest growing prepaid provider, doubling its base of 15 million customers. So how did they achieve this epic growth so quickly?
Sitafalwalla said that while the wireless provider had a broad understanding that customers wanted a simple, affordable, friendly experience – it was the research and analytics they implemented that revealed more directional clues about how to deliver against their customers’ needs.
“For a while now, Cricket has been on a journey to understand the customer path to purchase,” Sitafalwalla said. “But beginning in Q2 we really doubled down on everything we had learned and focused on activating what we believed would be our most incremental audiences, which we call the gross adds. The key word here is ‘incremental’ because it’s our core focus. We’re not just looking for any new sales or increases in revenue. We’re looking to grow incremental contracts.”
Getting a clearer picture along the customer journey
Understanding the value of customers, not just at a single point in time but along their journey, allows Cricket to be actionable, as well as tactical, when delivering an experience at a particular time through a particular channel.
“The ability to know what type of engagement influences a consumer, increasing their incrementality, is very valuable when marketing efficiency is so important,” Sitafalwalla said. “We can get very granular, down to specific messages to see what is providing the greatest lift for display advertising vs. social media vs. search, and then make adjustments to optimize for the most efficient use of our budget.”
With so many potential ways for a prospective customer to interact with a brand, the customer journey has become more complex, with an ever-proliferating assortment of channels and touchpoints to consider. A consumer might see a display ad, view a video on Facebook, and then search for a retailer’s closest location. While a majority of activations still occur in stores, digital channels play an ever-influential role in the path to purchase. With this level of complexity, says Volkmann, comes opportunity. But only if a near real-time analytical model is used to both guide and provide justification for and feedback on those decisions.
“We wanted an audience targeting system that provided equally strong activation as it did intelligence,” Volkmann said. “We wanted one that could be shared by our insights team, our marketing team, our creative team, and our media team. The approach we work is one that Hearts and Sciences can pick up and plug into their platforms to scale, decision and serve.”
The power of data for planning and optimization
All of Cricket’s data goes into a sophisticated simulation tool, which allows them to plan scenarios and additional optimizations at a very granular level. “Tracking and refining the target audiences that we activate for new campaigns and promotions will be ongoing in our continuous test and learn process,” Volkmann said. “We try to use our propensity-based segmentation model wherever we can, which means we use it for addressable media like digital, but also for walled garden channels and even linear TV. We’ve even taken the audience output of their MTA model and matched those at an individual level to be able to activate across addressable TV.”
Sitafalwalla said they use MTA instead of last-click attribution because it skews their marketing toward consumers who already have a high propensity to purchase. Some channels (typically organic search) wind up getting overvalued in the customer decision-making process, while those that build awareness and consideration get undervalued. This leads to ineffective budget allocation. Plus, it wastes media investment on users who were likely to buy anyway.
From a media-planning perspective, using MTA was a game-changer, said Volkmann. “Since I have far more intelligence around audience incrementality, I can do a better job stewarding our marketing investment toward campaigns and channels and audiences that drive gross adds – real financial return to Cricket.”
Making customer intelligence a priority
Cricket also knew that to analyze and measure data with the greatest impact, they would also need to make a strategic shift to double down on customer intelligence. “We use incredibly detailed, granular audience targeting overlaid with propensity, and we work with our agency to ensure we reach that target with both addressable and non-addressable media,” said Sitafalwalla, who added that they then measure using unified marketing analytics , which adds marketing mix modeling (MMM) for planning.
“MMM gives us the benefits of nested models that let us understand all our key drivers of brand impact across all of our channels, both digital and traditional,” Sitafalwalla said. “We bring in our offline sales data to understand the value of our strategic marketing decisions, incorporating the impact of uncontrollable factors as well, such as seasonality, pricing, competitive activities and the like.”
Beyond analytics, Cricket wanted an audience targeting system that provided equally strong activation as it did intelligence. The problem with most segmentation approaches, though, said Sitafalwalla, is they are static and operate in a vacuum. “You develop a view of your target consumer using attitudinal or behavioral approaches that can’t really be activated. You can’t scale them. You can’t define them geographically beyond regionality or DMA. You can’t translate them to media buy, you can’t activate them across channels. Audience targeting is done in isolation.”
Another challenge is integrating these findings without losing fidelity and a clear view of the customer.
“We don’t want to be using one view of the market for sizing the opportunity, a different view to execute a media strategy, and then a third view to measure whether we were successful,” Sitafalwalla said. “All of the systems and process we have in place that are meant to help us track performance and optimize on that success need to be speaking the same language. They each need to have the same customer view, be working off of the same blueprints to ensure that the intended message, experience, or measurement is not distorted by bad or incomplete data.”
Breaking down the silos
Along those lines, Volkmann said that to mitigate media planning silos, they looked for segmentation platforms that could be shared between their insights, marketing, creative and media teams. “The approach we work is one that Hearts and Sciences can pick up and plug into their platforms to scale, decision, and serve,” said Volkmann.
Venables added to this, saying the approach his agency uses is based in identity. That means they can take detailed target media and behavior profiles and ingest them into Hearts and Sciences’ agency audience graph to further deepen those customer profiles. This approach also enables Cricket to get a richer, more accurate picture of customer targets that they can then extend with segmentation and look-alike characteristics.
“We built activation mechanisms using various extension methodologies across display and social media, and we were even able to develop our strategy for connected and linear television based on our tiered target profiles,” he said.
“By developing a view of the customer and models that became the single source of truth, we were able to sort through all the data to find that which is most relevant, and inform tactical and strategic decision making across our internal teams,” Sitafalwalla said, adding that this also enables them to quickly implement MTA audiences most incremental to media across channels, requiring a DMP with the same built-in, person-level identity as the MTA model.
Impressive results to back up the investment
So what’s the net impact of this end-to-end system, starting with customer intelligence analyzed and measured using a unified MMM and MTA model and activated with an identity-grounded DMP? In addition to doubling its customer base, Cricket has seen a double-digit boost in marketing ROI, driven by both topline improvements in gross adds, as well as efficiency improvements in cost-per-incremental gross add.
“Being able to have one common platform between segmentation, activation, and measurement has made this kind of thing seamless to us in a way that it wasn’t before,” Volkmann said. “The measurement is better, but so is the integration. It changes the way we address the journey and makes us more agile and effective.”