When lastminute.com Group created its media business, The Travel People, it brought data management in house and built a full-service trading desk.

At the Festival of Marketing 2018 this week (Oct 10-11), lastminute.com Group Chief Commercial Officer Alessandra Di Lorenzo with be discussing how the company has boosted its audience through data management reform.

You can still get last minute tickets to the festival (no pun intended, click the link above). But we thought we’d provide a little teaser by asking Alessandra a few questions.

What have been the biggest changes/developments in lastminute.com group’s approach to customer data?

Alessandra Di Lorenzo: Personalisation is at the forefront of what we do at lastminute.com group, touching every part of the business. But where it has made the most impact is in our media division, Travel People.

At Travel People, we have rich insights into the 60 million monthly unique users of the Group’s sites, which include lastminute.com, Volagratis, Rumbo, weg.de, Bravofly, Jetcost and Hotelscan, as well as our Travel Alliance partners’ sites.

We use these insights to target our customers with helpful and inspiring messages from brands both in and out of the travel sector, which improve their experience on our sites – while also bringing in an additional revenue stream for us, outside of our core business.

But, as proud as we are of our offering to advertisers, we wanted to make it bigger and better. Earlier this year, we partnered with travel publisher Rough Guides to combine our first-party data and targeting capabilities, as part of our new Travel Alliance – a consortium of platforms that allows marketers to reach a bigger and more robust audience. By allowing us to paint a bigger picture of our audiences, this partnership is just one of many that are paving the way for even smarter, more accurate targeting of ads. And we’re always on the lookout for other publishers to join force with!

What have been the biggest challenges faced when investing in and building a better data management platform?

Alessandra Di Lorenzo: While lastminute.com group is a digital-first company, it’s not always been data-first. The data manager’s dream is to be able to tag customers with a unique identifier, creating a single view, and to have systems that communicate effectively with each other. But it’s a lot harder to do this than you’d think, especially for established businesses with legacy systems in place. Developing the tools and infrastructure to manage data effectively requires time, money, expertise and, most importantly, company buy in.

A huge challenge with any new technology is finding a team with the right experience to manage it. Data management platform (DMP) expertise is like gold dust – so, rather than hunting for the right talent externally, we grew our own team in-house.

We hire for attitude rather than skills at Travel People. After all, many of the tools and interfaces we use can be learnt by anyone who understands enough about digital – but we can’t teach a way of looking at the world. And we were right with this one. We upskilled one of our traffic managers to manage our DMP, and today she is doing a brilliant job as Travel People’s Audience Manager.

How do you ensure a value exchange for audiences, and to ensure that their data is being used in a valuable way?

Alessandra Di Lorenzo: Data is a token of exchange for relevance and, post-GDPR, consumers will continue to share data as long as they’re seeing quality content in return. Ads become content if they’re relevant enough, and data is the key ingredient that turns ads into good content, allowing them to live on sites harmoniously. On this basis, GDPR is a blessing because it enables us to create a partnership with consumers that results in relevance.

Serving customers with helpful and inspiring content is a priority for us – whether it’s a deal for a guide book to Barcelona two months before departure, or an offer on baby milk formula a couple of weeks before their family holiday, everything we engage our customers with must enhance their online experience. As we work more with intelligent algorithms, machine learning and predictive analytics, our content will only increase in relevance in the future.

What have been the benefits of bringing data management (and programmatic) in-house?

Alessandra Di Lorenzo: Programmatic is becoming a commodity, which is why many brands are no longer relying on agencies as much to buy digital advertising. In fact, over the next five years, every brand that has the skills in place and the desire to cut costs will take programmatic in-house – with digital natives leading the charge.

If you’re a digital company, in-housing programmatic just makes sense. As well as gaining greater control and visibility over ad spend, it means you’re not out-sourcing something that should be a core competence, and not losing power to third parties.

As well as taking programmatic in-house on the buy-side, there’s an opportunity for publishers to use their know-how to maximise their revenue potential on the sell-side too, and keep their inventory fresh and healthy.

That’s what we’ve done at Travel People. As well as bringing data management in house, we have built a full-service trading desk across the buy- and sell-side.

And because we’ve done this so successfully for lastminute.com group, we’ve been using our tech and expertise to help some of our Travel Alliance partners to create their own additional revenue streams without cannibalising their core product, too.

How has data helped you shape a better understanding of your core customer?

Alessandra Di Lorenzo: Data takes the guesswork out of advertising. Our rich first party data means we don’t just know where our customers like to go, we know what they love to do when they get there too. And these insights mean we can delve deeper than demographics and target by passion – serving consumers with ads that we know will interest or inspire them.

For example, let’s take hypothetical ‘Hannah’, who books a hiking holiday through us every summer. We don’t need to serve her with ads that might be relevant because she’s 28 or lives in Birmingham. Instead, we can serve her with ads we know are relevant – like a lightweight raincoat or an altitude-tracking smart watch.

Our data also helps us to distinguish between customers who are booking, and those who are simply browsing – and then alter the type of content we serve them accordingly.

Are there any other brands who you think use data (or execute personalisation) in an impressive way?

Alessandra Di Lorenzo: I personally love the way that AutoTrader uses data. The company has brought programmatic in-house and built its own DMP – and, with vast amounts of first-party data at its fingertips, it has created some fantastic campaigns that demonstrate its understanding of its customers – and a real desire to connect with them.

For me, the campaign that really sticks out was from earlier this year. AutoTrader partnered with Fiat and Instagram to build an impressive personalised creative campaign. Together, they were able to build 20 different video creatives informed by user interests, and by overlaying AutoTrader UK’s audience with Facebook and Instagram interests, they tailored the targeting to people searching for a new car across Facebook and Instagram Stories.

I love this smart use of audience segmentation, programmatic and dynamic creative, and I’m looking forward to seeing more brands experimenting with campaigns like this in the future.

How do you foresee data-driven marketing evolving in future?

Alessandra Di Lorenzo: Data is the lifeblood of the advertising industry, and the future lies with predictive analytics. The more data we can analyse, the more accurately we can predict future outcomes, which is incredibly exciting.

Instead of just targeting people with ads for products or services we know they’ve expressed interest in previously, this technology allows us to predict who else might be interested in those products or services, based on historical behavioural patterns.

And when we have enough data to make ads super relevant, we create the ‘nirvana of advertising’ – that is, content which enriches consumers’ online experience, rather than detracts from it.

Get tickets to the Festival of Marketing 2018 and join 4,000 marketers over two days in London, October 10-11.