The Marketer’s Guide to Audience Modeling

The Marketer’s Guide to Audience Modeling

Marketers are surrounded by predictive modeling and machine learning that helps shape the audiences included in their campaigns.

Predictive modeling is informing audience selection just about everywhere. Whether it’s audience recommendations in marketing automation platforms, underlying algorithm(s) powering campaigns in DSPs, or a 1st party data look-alike modeling feature.

While a marketer doesn’t have much control over the stock algorithms or modeling capabilities within their platforms, they do have a say once they start entertaining custom audience solutions. And it wasn’t until recently that anyone outside of analytics-related roles really questioned the specifics of their modeled solutions.

Marketers upping their analytic game will help with solution evaluation, foster more strategic discussions with a broader group of teams, and drive better results.

This guide provides the foundation for a deeper understanding of custom audience modeling.

A Quick Look Back at 2021 Product & Solution Updates

A Quick Look Back at 2021 Product & Solution Updates

A lot happened at Alliant over the past year. Here are some quick highlights to help you and your business take full advantage of DataHub Membership!

  1. Reaching quality consumers across all channels is foundational for marketers so we released 350+ new Brand Propensity audiences built from activity across 175MM credit and bank cards
  2. Data collaboration is an integral component of a holistic strategy going forward, so we’ve extended our own collaborative environment through integrations with platforms like Snowflake, AWS Data Exchange and Karlsgate
  3. Connected TV (CTV) viewership has surpassed traditional TV, so we expanded audience distribution with leading CTV platforms like Cadent
  4. Third-party cookies are going away in 2023, so we future proofed the DataHub identity map with refined hygiene rules for hashed email and IP and integrated with leading unique ID frameworks such as UID2.0 and RampID (check out our webinar on how to prepare for the cookie-less future)
  5. The marketing landscape is changing faster than ever so we published 40+ new pieces of content across the quarterly Member newsletter, the Alliant blog and industry publications to help Members develop, activate and refine multichannel data strategies
  6. Data quality matters to all of us so we completed the first full year of partnership with Truthset, adding new data sets for quarterly scoring and improving Alliant Audiences based on report results
  7. Marketers need to have confidence in their partners, so we’ve continued our commitment to transparency and trust with renewed certifications for SOC 2 and IAB Tech Lab Data Transparency
  8. DataHub Members require fast and forward-thinking solutions, so we made significant upgrades to our technology stack that enables our data scientists to leverage even more data with the latest machine learning methodologies

If you’d like to learn more about any of the 2021 updates, or what we have in store for 2022, please reach out to your account manager!

What Marketers Can Expect in 2022

What Marketers Can Expect in 2022

It’s hard to believe but were approaching the end of another year! The Winterberry Group estimates that total 2021 US marketing spend will finish above $410B, representing a return to growth from 2019 levels. To get here, we’ve all experienced a lot of change, and things are unlikely to slow down in 2022. We spent some time catching up with Alliant team members across data strategy, sales, marketing, engineering, and compliance to hear their thoughts on what aspects of 2021 will continue, evolve, or come to an end in the coming year.

Broader adoption and implementation of digital identity solutions

The industry has been preparing for a cookie-less future, but 2022 will be the time to put plans into action. Brands can no longer be in a “wait and see” mode, as competitive advantage will be gained by those who start testing strategies with different identity frameworks. We’ll also start to see more use cases for activation and how performance compares to cookie benchmarks.

Data collaboration will accelerate

As cookies fade and data transparency becomes a requirement, there will be a rise in data collaboration. Marketers have been focused on building strong first-party data assets, and in the next year will likely have an increased interest in second-party data access, finding quality partners that will allow them to maximize the value of hard-won customer data. Continued adoption of collaboration and clean room technologies will occur to accelerate these efforts.

Connected TV moves to the forefront

To keep up with shifts in viewership and media consumption, US advertisers are expected to spend $19.1B in 2022, which will be up 32.3% compared to the $14.4B spend this year (eMarketer). Now that 40% of US homes are only reachable via CTV, the question is not if marketers will buy CTV ― it’s how. The CTV supply chain is complex and will require innovation to overcome challenges as it matures, but marketers can no longer hold back on the channel.

Diversification with multi-channel strategies

CTV is important, but as the lasting effects of the pandemic and ongoing supply chain issues reverberate through 2022, a cross-channel approach will enable marketers to quickly respond to changes. Each channel can be dramatically impacted in unexpected ways through material shortages, platform outages, regulatory changes, consumer behavior shifts, M&A activity and more. Brands will begin to create more diversified strategies with a network of partners to mitigate the impact of any changes.

Expect limited regulatory changes

Regulatory fragmentation at the state level and minimal progress at the federal level will likely continue. CPRA and CDPA go into effect January 2023 so businesses will be preparing for new and updated requirements. Like Alliant, many organizations apply CCPA rules to all US citizens, so modifying processes for CPRA should not represent as much of a strain on resources. However, ongoing fragmentation will lead brands to emphasize partners that can guarantee compliance and have rigorous standards in place.

Many opportunities and challenges lay ahead for the marketing industry in the coming year. With compliance at the core, the Alliant team is committed to being at the forefront of industry trends to help our Members deliver successful growth in 2022. Continued investment will focus on strengthening the DataHub identity graph, integrating with leading data collaboration platforms and delivering innovative, scalable audience solutions that deliver reach and performance across all channels.

What are your predictions for 2022? Feel free to reach out and let us know what we missed!


Mareena Maki, Marketing Manager

Mareena supports Alliant’s Marketing team in developing engaging content, lead management, and event sponsorships. Prior to joining Alliant, Mareena served as the Business Intelligence Manager for NBC Sports Group and has experience leading a digital engagement team in pharmaceutical marketing. Mareena earned a Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Economics degree with a minor in Business Administration from Colorado State University, where she is currently working towards receiving an MBA degree specializing in Marketing Data Analytics. When she is not studying, she enjoys long walks at the beach with her pug Quasi.

How Brands Can Re-Imagine Facebook Ads Audience Modeling in the Face of Controversy

How Brands Can Re-Imagine Facebook Ads Audience Modeling in the Face of Controversy

Facebook is currently enduring a storm unlike anything it has had to weather in the past. An hours-long outage across its apps trailed after a whistleblower statement accused the company of valuing profit and revenue above the safety of its users. And just days before this, Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) updates forced the social network to warn advertisers that their conversion data is likely off by about 15%.

Bombarded lately with negative press, Facebook, a dominant force in the ad world, may be losing some of its power.

While advertisers may re-evaluate their ties with Facebook following the fallout from the outage and the whistleblower claims, the privacy changes are already having lasting implications. With most commentary on this topic focused on ad performance and attribution, none have zeroed in on the impact these changes will have on Facebook’s first-party lookalike modeling feature that so many are accustomed to using. Thankfully, the ATT updates don’t have to result in catastrophe, but rather can create an opportunity for brands of all sizes to reclaim some control over their audience modeling approach.

What does this mean for Facebook’s analytics capabilities?

Recent stats show about a mere 17 percent opt-in rate for users who installed the iOS 14.5 update. This significant drop in data flowing into Facebook’s platform will negatively affect its ability to create effective look-alike audiences.

In the short-term, applying historical data may be able to sustain performance. But as the data degrades over time, the drop-off rate in performance will accelerate. Brands with a dependency on the platform and its data will have to respond to these new challenges and find creative solutions for continued accurate audience targeting within the social platform.

This is not to suggest that brands abandon Facebook as a channel – consumers are still there and are not leaving the platform. But, it is time to find a new way to engage with those audiences without the dependency on Facebook data or its modeling methodologies.

Re-imagine how you use data for Facebook

The key element of a creative solution is adjusting and learning how to capture and leverage audience data in a way that doesn’t leave advertisers at the mercy of Facebook, or any other big tech companies.

In other words, it’s time to decouple data from a single platform and focus on strategies beyond Facebook. With changes coming to third-party cookies, some larger brands may already be well on their way to doing this, but smaller brands may need some lightweight investment ideas to get the ball rolling.

Consider looking into the following ways to amend a Facebook-focused approach to a more diverse alternative.

First-party data collection

Brands need to first solidify the data that will serve as the seed data for modeling. The immediate opportunity is for brands to invest in collecting more first-party data. Data collection should be considered for many online and offline sources, including–but not limited to–mobile apps, website conversion points, social media, SMS, email surveys, point of purchase, direct mail, and in-store purchases.

It is critical that brands understand how to truly ingest and own these data assets, addressing everything from compliance to data management infrastructure. Taking ownership of this process ensures brands can act on their audience data when and where it is needed.

Create your own audience analysis

When using first-party data, brands can implement test and control groups for marketing initiatives such as messaging, offers, spend levels, or other metrics which factor into overall incremental lift. By deploying and testing campaigns using first-party data, brands can clearly evaluate the good and bad, adapting accordingly to boost campaign performance. More advanced segmentation and testing will help identify and create stronger second- and third-party partnerships to fill in any missing data.

Implement machine learning and build your own cohorts

Google and Facebook offer look-alike audiences, but there are some flaws in their black box solutions. Therefore, these groups do not always align with the desired outcomes or provide the flexibility and transparency required to adjust. By accessing other analytic data platforms and machine learning options, marketers can build more custom solutions and have more input and control over the model objectives and methodologies. As a result, they can then deploy more refined audiences.

These ideas can lead directly to Facebook campaign success. Modeled audiences built from more robust first-, second-, and third-party data assets can be pushed directly into Facebook. But to get to this step, brands must focus on their first-party data asset as the foundation for decoupling from big tech in general, not just Facebook. As the landscape evolves, these changes will continue to prove their value and create a future-proof brand data strategy.


Vonnet Kwan, Director of Analytical Data Processing & Analysis

A certified SAS programmer, Vonnet oversees the data preparation and day-to-day management for all data processing projects in the Data Science team. She is the central point of contact for communications related to client data assets and analysis — and she ensures the timely and comprehensive delivery of all clients’ analytic requests. Prior to joining Alliant, Vonnet served as senior analytics manager at Morgan Stanley, and has held analyst positions with The Analysis Group and William O’Neil + Co. Inc. She holds a BA in business economics and an MA in economics from University of California, Los Angeles.

How Triggered Direct Mail Campaigns Can Perform Better

How Triggered Direct Mail Campaigns Can Perform Better

Advancements in technology and solutions have modernized the direct mail channel, enabling many of the beneficial features of its digital counterparts. Triggered direct mail, also referred to as programmatic direct mail, allows brands and advertisers to follow up with targeted mail pieces in response to consumer actions. While this approach is great for a variety of reasons, like providing an additional conversion or branding opportunity in the physical world, it can also be costly over time if the consumers are not actually the right fit.

There are many points throughout the customer lifecycle where brands are integrating targeted direct mail pieces. Some use cases are straightforward, while others beg for more strategy and optimization. Visitors signing up for content, potential buyers abandoning a shopping cart, an upcoming birthday, and expiring subscriptions all present opportunities to connect. These will help prospective customers progress through the funnel or engage and build relationships with current and lapsed customers.

Where to Start Optimizing Triggered Direct Mail Campaigns

Use cases in the mid and lower funnel are inclusive of consumers who have already proven some level of value to a direct marketer. However, actions taking place in upper funnel awareness phases are different. Utilizing a brand’s web traffic, or a flow of various lead sources, can result in a large volume of unqualified prospects going into the mail, with a huge margin for error.

Recently a major online pet retailer sent me several direct mail postcards at home after I visited their site for business purposes. These multiple fold cards promoting pet products were beautifully printed. Yet, I do not currently own a pet nor have I ever owned a pet as an adult. Had this brand taken the time to know more about me, I would have quickly dropped from the mail campaign, saving money and resources.

Investing in further qualification with data enrichment and real-time optimization allows brands to filter out unqualified leads and mail the best prospects. Return on investment will quickly improve with a lower cost per acquisition and even greater value will be recognized down the line with higher lifetime value customers.

How to Get Started Optimizing

Mailing smarter is more important than ever with the challenges facing direct mail, such as supply chain delays and increased postage costs. More personalized, targeted campaigns are a start but there is more that can be done.

Here are data-driven ideas for brands to ensure they are mailing high value consumers who are truly ready to engage with their brand and product.

1. Establish Smart Segmentation Rules

Make sure triggered workflows are set up based on source and other pre-set parameters. Organic and direct web traffic may behave very differently than web traffic from affiliate sources or social media. This will provide a foundation for subsequent steps, helping optimize each source differently.

Additional segmentation parameters can be set around traffic, using metrics such as bounce rate and time on site to set definitions of an engaged visitor that is worth mailing. Someone who engages with content over the course of a few minutes is more likely to be qualified for follow up than another that looks at one page and bounces in less than a minute.

2. Data Enrichment for the Win

A brand’s 1st party data will only tell them so much about a current or potential customer, particularly in the upper funnel stages where a relationship is yet to be established. Data enrichment can fill in more detail on these consumers, creating a clearer picture. Additionally, to take web traffic to direct mail, brands will need to match digital identifiers like IP or email to a physical address. Enrichment can provide additional link keys that will increase match rates across channels. These incremental data attributes will help marketers decide who might be qualified for direct mail while also informing which products to highlight and other creative decisions.

Another benefit of enrichment is that it can be tailored to the needs of a particular business. Additional data points can be delivered in real-time to power programmatic decisioning, or in daily batches for on-going analytic initiatives.

3. Model for Performance

Speaking of analytics, predictive modeling is another step beyond enrichment that will lead to better performance. Not all web visitors are well-suited for direct mail promotions and models can predict which visitor is more likely to respond to direct mail promotions, have a propensity for specific brands or products, or order multiple times.

Modeling can be done in-house, through partners like Alliant, or a hybrid of both. By using an external partner, a brand can tap into their expertise in data and analytics and quickly activate on-demand solutions. If a customized solution is preferred to solve for business-specific needs, they can serve as an extension of an in-house team and create powerful bespoke models.

Keep in mind that while we focused on the upper funnel use cases here, enrichment and optimization can impact all stages of triggered direct mail. The Alliant DataHub incorporates over 15,000 predictive attributes in analytic solutions to determine the best multichannel audiences. Interested in learning more about how our solutions can improve your campaigns? Reach out to our team and we will be happy to schedule time with you!


Kaitlin Dunn, VP, Marketing & Customer Experiencee

Kaitlin leads the Marketing and Creative teams at Alliant, supporting sales and product in communicating what we do and how we do it. Kaitlin’s career includes managing acquisition for Martha Stewart Living magazine and Director of Marketing, Merchandising. After working in some of the country’s best restaurants and honing her hospitality skills, Kaitlin joined the Alliant team in March of 2019. She graduated from Franklin and Marshall with a double major in Art History and Business and has an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts from the Culinary Institute of America. 

Direct Mail’s Short-term Obstacles Could provide Long-term Benefit to Marketers

Direct Mail’s Short-term Obstacles Could provide Long-term Benefit to Marketers

Originally published by AdWeek360 in September 2021.

In March 2020, when the ad industry slowed to a crawl, there were many questions about what the future held. The uncertainty of the pandemic spilled into everything, and there were questions swirling about when advertising would come back, and what it would look like. More than a year later, recovery is underway. But the changes to the ad and marketing world weren’t uniform, and some channels have felt the pain worse than others.

Direct mail in particular has felt the pull of the pandemic in various ways. TV ran into production issues, but there’s airtime to hold those ads once they are shot and edited. Direct mail marketing has fallen victim to the supply chain issues gripping countless industries, making it hard to find the very material that mailers are printed on. Those lucky enough to get their campaigns into print may then find it hard to maintain stock of the items advertised within those mailers and catalogs.

These issues may only seem temporary, but the more likely outcome is that it will require direct marketers to turn to new solutions to maintain their long-term marketing goals. Direct mail has been trending toward a more modern era for a long time, and marketers should use this current hurdle as the impetus to adopt more careful planning and begin to experiment with how they reach their audience.

Lack of paper? Get creative

The biggest short-term challenge for direct mail is the supply chain. Printers are going out of business because they can’t meet clients’ needs. Rising prices on Facebook and Google had pushed many direct marketers back to direct mail, but the inability to print catalogs is throwing a wrench in those plans.

While mailings aren’t possible as planned, that doesn’t mean they should be scrapped altogether. Postcards and mini-mailers remain in supply and are a viable alternative to full-size catalogs for the second half of the year. While postcards may be the most viable, efficient way to approach direct mail given the supply-chain issues and postage raises, many marketers may not have a deep experience with them. Quick tests will be critical to get a sense of response and engagement rates, and marketers may find that they need to more tightly target their audience and optimize their mailing lists to drive better results with postcards.

This is even more important as we get closer to the holiday season. There are major concerns that the paper shortage will continue into the late part of the year. Marketers have two options: mail earlier, or plan earlier.

Mailing earlier ensures the mailer is delivered as planned, but runs the risk of getting there before consumers are ready to spend. But planning in advance allows marketers to build in flexibility, in the event that there are paper issues, or even supply issues for the products they plan to offer.

Focus on addressable audience

Direct mail has slowly been shifting away from a volume-based strategy toward one more focused on audience granularity, and the supply chain issues should finally push marketers toward audience once and for all. Rather than blanketing consumers with mailers, it’s more important than ever to hit prospects that are most likely to be interested in a brand or offer.

This is critical for many of the industries that are now leaning heavily into direct mail right now. Insurance and Medicare are preparing for big Q3 enrollment periods, so this is primed mailing season. These two industries are likely looking at a growing audience as well, as baby boomers reach Medicare age. Marketers have an opportunity to go even deeper into their audience segmentation, in order to not only find age-appropriate prospects, but those who are likely to respond to offers.

Meanwhile, there are brands that rode the pandemic to direct mail success that will need to adjust their audience strategies. Food delivery brands are now going to see performance declines as consumers return to pre-pandemic dining habits. Where they may have previously gone really wide with their campaigns, they can now focus on smaller segments that are likely to keep taking advantage. Meanwhile, other verticals, like children’s content and crafting, seem to have caught on permanently. These brands can continue to use the insights gained during the pandemic to expand their audience pool and investment.

If necessary, look beyond mail

Direct mail is effective, but it’s not the only direct marketing option. For marketers whose plans have been altered by supply chain issues, Connected TV and email represent great opportunities for hitting some of the same audience profiles, in a granular, measurable fashion. DTC marketers are already investing more in these two channels, and other performance-based marketers should experiment as well. They may find that they’ve found a new optimal channel for their messages, even if and when the paper supply returns.

Direct mail marketing is the midst of recovery, and marketers will undoubtedly continue to see performance within the channel. However, the lingering effects of the pandemic are creating the kinds of issues that require marketers to think creatively. By maintaining flexibility and spending more time focusing on audience, mail-heavy brands may find that they develop a new media mix that translates well into the future as well.


Rene Hamill, VP, Client Engagement

With over 20 years of marketing and service experience, Rene inspires her team’s consultative approach to data strategy and custom solutions for every client’s unique needs. Her deep data and marketing acumen stem from positions with Reader’s Digest and Direct Media, where she delivered “out-of-the-box” strategies that increased the marketing performance and profitability of her subscription commerce clients.