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How Data is Changing HBO

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Data has accelerated HBO's marketing campaign strategy from planning 2, 3, or even 6 months out to optimizing in some cases for the next day. At Advertising Week New York, the company talked about how data is giving it the ability to react in near-real time to consumer intent. Why is this important? If you are marketing a series, you can see what's resonating, who else to reach out to, and what's not working in your marketing strategy with a lot more precision.

"HBO started out testing, using data to promote shows and inform the promotions. I think the real shift came in early 2015 when we launched our standalone streaming service HBO Now. We had a big business shift where for the first time we were in a business where we were interacting directly with consumers." said Diana Pessin, HBO's vice president of user acquisition & programmatic buying.

HBO uses data to identify which audiences it wants to reach, the size and the scale of that audience, and the right tactic for reaching that audience. It now looks at audience data daily and adjusts its marketing campaign for the next day and beyond.

"We started looking at our audiences, and it became very clear that we were optimizing our campaigns for the Now side, but there were principles and things we could do to start leveraging across the tune-in side. That's where it starts to get interesting," said Pessin.

"We do a ton of optimization. Part of the campaign launches and we see how it performs and we are immediately reacting. It's almost like we never stop planning because of it," said Pessin. "Our first use case (for media planning) was 'If we don't send messages to people that already have HBO Now, we will actually save X million number of impressions, which equates to X millions of dollars.' The exclusion use case was the easiest one to explain internally."

What's not as easy for HBO or any media company is reconfiguring to work with data across the organization. This is not like starting to use a new platform or SaaS in one department.

"I think if you're starting to talk about data, so much of it is about internally, are you set up to run that way? Do you have a way to collect your data and store your data and analyze your data? Do you have resources that are dedicated to helping you draw those insights?" said Pessin.

Getting resources in place to build a data-based organization is one of the biggest challenge. The first question is "What is a data management platform, and why am I standing it up." "All of a sudden, the staff that used to be a quarter of the size of what it is today needs to multiply by four just to manage and grow the work," said Matt Naeger SVP, client partner at marketing agency Merkle. "I have 7 or 8 departments inside of the organization (to coordinate) because you have the data team, the insights team, the people managing the customer records, payment processing, subscription length, and retention. [Those are just a] few areas involved."

Data can also show surprising trends you may have suspected, but had no empirical evidence to support. For Pessin it was how important one segment of HBO's content was. "It was surprising how much theatricals were driving acquisition and trust," says Pessin. Whether other media companies are using data to drive marketing campaigns or content creation, data is fundamentally changing the way HBO does business today.

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