Clear Channel develops game-changing approach to selling outside ad space

Imagine you’re a media buyer for a clothing store chain and you’re looking to buy outdoor advertising space in downtown Ottawa. You could take the easy route and turn to the usual suspects: well-known neighbourhoods like Sparks Street or around the Rideau Centre. But how can you be sure ads in those areas would reach your target customers? Are there locations that are more likely to grab your customers’ attention and wallet share?

Clear Channel Canada can give you the answers. By analyzing location trade areas according to target audience reach, business proximity and PRIZM5 lifestyle segments, the company’s “street furniture planning tool” can tell you which outdoor advertising assets, such as bus shelter screens, are likely to be seen by which audiences. If, knowing your customers’ personalities, you select “Fashionistas” and “High Earners” as the target audience, the tool brings up a list of assets that match the criteria. You purchase ad space on a dozen shelters chosen not on total foot and car traffic but on the number of your targeted customers found in the area.

There’s a quiet revolution occurring in out-of-home (OOH) media and Clear Channel is leading the way. By providing a deeper, lifestyle-based understanding of the trade areas around advertising assets, the global media company is altering the way brands think about and buy outdoor advertising. Traditionally, companies sold ad space based on the number of people who traversed a particular location using broad demographic characteristics like age and sex. As a result, advertisers viewed outdoor billboards and bus-stop advertising as mass marketing channels. The more crowded the real estate on downtown streets and highways, the higher the cost to advertisers.

But Clear Channel sought a better way to help its clients select the right OOH media to reach specific consumers in the right environment when they are in the right state of mind.

“The goal was to pull together data about our audiences and then, once we get a brief from clients on who they want to reach, we can associate the best assets for the client,” says Natalia Lafforgue, marketing manager with Clear Channel Canada. “With more detailed audience data, we could stop selling our inventory by quantity, but by quality, offering a specific audience profile.”

In 2015, Clear Channel began working with Environics Analytics to build the sales tool. Rather than rely on broad audiences, analysts identified the 12 most valuable target audiences for advertisers, defined by such characteristics as age, lifestyle, average household income, occupation and consumption habits. Called “street personalities,” they had names like Tech Savvy, Dual Income/No Kids and Fashionistas.

Analysts then aligned the 12 personalities to EA’s PRIZM5 segmentation system, which classifies all Canadians into 68 distinct lifestyle types. Every bus shelter was analyzed to identify the location’s dominant PRIZM5 segments, but that was just the start. Clear Channel also wanted each asset tagged with information on businesses and services operating in the vicinity, so sales people would know, for example, whether a location scores low for coffee shops, medium for bars and high for schools.

Analysts also established an area of visibility around each shelter, indicating a high likelihood that people in the area would be exposed to the shelter’s advertising. Areas of visibility vary depending on the specific neighbourhoods. For example, the area of visibility for shelter OT8030CI located in downtown Ottawa was defined as a five-minute walking distance from the shelter. By running a trade area report, analysts identified which PRIZM5 segments were present—and therefore which Clear Channel personalities corresponded to those segments. Around shelter OT8030CI, three PRIZM5 segments dominate: Urban Digerati, Grads & Pads and Rooms with a View. And using PRIZM5, marketers can mine a wealth of information on the buying habits, lifestyle preferences and mindsets of these consumers.

After undertaking this analysis for every shelter in their network—and that would be 1,782 shelters just in Edmonton and Ottawa alone—Clear Channel created a comprehensive database of shelters and their associated street personalities. Salespeople now have a complete picture of which target groups will be found around which shelter. If a client wanted to engage a particular group of Millennials, for instance, Clear Channel would identify screens that reached their Tech Savvy personality.

The company launched the OOH Street Furniture Planning Tool last September, and though it’s too early to quantify its success, Lafforgue has received encouraging feedback. “Our clients are impressed,” she says. “We used to sell boards manually, but now we can profile our boards using a data-based system. And no one else is doing this, providing this level of insight in the market. Our whole approach shifted to where we tell our clients, ‘it’s not about where you want to be but who you want to reach.’”

Now when Clear Channel gets a brief from a client, analysts simply identify the client’s target audiences—or personalities—and the tool generates a list of all the shelters with the corresponding street personalities. Analysts can provide even deeper insights into the target audience, such as how they compare to national averages for purchasing, say, sports equipment or home décor items. Buyers then decide how many shelters to select in the desired market. The result is a targeted, efficient advertising campaign that delivers both effective, measurable reach and improved ROI

“Most TV and radio buys are based on age and sex,” observes Adam Butterworth, president of Clear Channel Canada. “We can give advertisers lifestyles and values. It’s a complete profile of whoever they want to target.” He estimates the company’s use of audience research to sell OOH media puts Clear Channel “three years ahead of the rest of the pack. They don’t have the research to go the extra mile that we can offer today.”

As an innovator in its industry, Clear Channel had to provide training to some clients as well as agencies and media planners who up to now have only had access to basic demographics like age and gender. Internally, change management efforts focused on training and coaching sessions for sales and client service teams. And Lafforgue’s team developed a presentation for salespeople to pitch clients on the advantages of lifestyle-based target groups and “street personalities.”

“You can’t just click your fingers and it’s done,” says Lafforgue. But as the “ah-ha” moments piled up during sales pitches and demonstrations, resistance plummeted. For example, when an analysis of consumers around Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport showed that 66% were members of the Millennials target group, lightbulbs went on all over the company. “Those ‘ah-ha’ moments are encouraging us to dig even deeper into the data,” she notes.

Targeting audiences for outdoor media assets using customer insights has proved to be a game changer at Clear Channel and the company continues to think differently. It’s planning to migrate the planning tool program to all of its other assets and making it accessible on its website, paving the way to selling advertising boards online in all of its Canadian markets. And by offering clients a new, data-driven perspective on how to reach consumers, the company is strengthening bonds with those clients while setting itself apart from its competition. It doesn’t get any more “ah-ha” than that.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.

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