Recently, an industry giant passed away, Erwin Ephron. One of his greatest contributions was the simple idea (Erwin LOVED simple!) that delivering an ad impression closer to the purchase was better than one delivered further away and that this principle of recency offered a better way for a marketer to spend their money than via heavy frequency and flighting.
I first met Erwin from my days as Chief Research Officer at the ARF but our relationship really blossomed after that. One day in 2011, Erwin and I went to lunch at City Crab and I drew the following chart on the paper tablecloth.
I said to Erwin that it is obvious that the general average return to advertising is actually a grand mean of a higher average rate of return for those impressions delivered close to the upcoming purchase (the blue box), and the lower return of those delivered far from the upcoming purchase (the pink box). Erwin commented that unfortunately, analog scheduled TV is a fairly blunt instrument at creating rifleshots into the blue box so this principle was hard to act on.
Then I said, but Erwin, in digital, with the proper predictive analytics, you actually CAN direct rifleshots into the blue box. There are a collection of digital markers that are likely to indicate someone is in a shopping process such as:
- Consuming content that is relevant to the category (e.g. looking for recipes indicates an upcoming grocery shopping trip)
- Search for certain terms
- Visiting a retailer’s website
- Digital and potential social media conversation merged with frequent shopper data allowing us to model the likelihood of…and target…upcoming purchases (what is also called “propinquity”).
Through the use of big data analytics we can find many other clickstream patterns that become forensic digital markers of an upcoming purchase, allowing the marketer to act on digital recency. Now with the match of set top box data and frequent shopper data, it is even possible to do a better job of this for TV ad delivery.
This simple idea became the basis of our collaboration until he got ill. Erwin and I designed a framework and experiment plan for “digital recency” which unfortunately we were not able to act on in time.
Oh one other Erwin story…he wasn’t just about business simplicity and media brilliance, he was also one of the most giving souls I have known. When it was announced I was leaving the ARF to go into consulting, Erwin immediately came into my office and offered words of advice which turned out to be quite brilliant. He continued to mentor me to help me succeed.
Last week, there was a memorial service for Erwin and the room was packed with people who were touched by Erwin’s ideas and kind spirit. Thanks to Bill Harvey, I am able to include a link for the videos of the tribute speeches.
In closing, consider these words…
“The acceptance of Recency, (or closeness to purchase), as a key variable in advertising inspired sales makes the point. The digital…messages reach the ‘readier’ to purchase consumer.” Erwin Ephron, 2011