Insights from the Buy-Side: Gillian MacPherson at Epsilon

By OpenX in Brands & Agencies|February 1, 2022

In our first edition of Insights from the Buy Side for 2022, we spoke with Gillian MacPherson from Epsilon. The conversation covered everything from advice for brands looking to do more with 1P data, to misconceptions around the deprecation of cookies. 

Thanks to Gillian for taking the time!

Gillian MacPherson
VP Product at Epsilon

Gillian leads the strategy to drive revenue of Epsilon’s industry leading data assets across all digital, ATV and emerging channels, encompassing business development, marketing, product development and strategic partnerships. Her team is responsible for building and creating the largest self-reported database in North America, Shoppers Voice. She also leads the Epsilon Consumer Insights team, which conducts customized market research projects on consumer U&A insights, segmentation, tracking studies, performance measurement and thought leadership.

Gillian is a business and marketing professional with 20+ years experience in strategic planning, business management, product management and people development. Experienced in both digital and traditional marketing disciplines in multiple verticals, including CPG, DTC, finance, pharma, retail and telco. Her work experience includes CPG brand management, healthcare marketing, consumer insights and consumer data product management.

OpenX: What emerging trends are you most excited about today? 

Gillian MacPherson: I recently was talking about this with some thought leaders, and we spent most of the time focusing on consumers, since we need to understand consumers to learn how marketers and technology can best support them. 

There were many we talked about, but one that resonated with me was how consumers have been more reflective in the past 18 months around what is important to them and society overall. This is leading them to a shift to focus more on purposeful living and conscious consumption. These are driving different buying decisions and brand considerations for consumers, especially as it relates to DE&I, social responsibility and buying local. More consumers expect brands to have this as part of their DNA, not just a token add-on.

Then thinking of consumers as employees, this is driving big re-evaluations on career, living locations and their company’s values; hence the “big exodus”.  Companies need to have core values that align with the brand, and they need to live by them, and this is important for attracting both consumers and employees.  

So how have brands and companies responded? To start, there have been genuine strides to address internal recruiting practices to be more representative across different ethnic backgrounds and across genders. Next, brands are looking at everything from their creative and messaging to analytics and AI, to carefully examine if and how algorithms may be introducing conscious and unconscious bias. Finally – we’re even seeing brands focus on reducing waste and carbon footprint. 

There are lots of different ways brands are addressing this trend, and I am excited and optimistic to see how aggressively it is being looked at from all angles and entities across the industry.

OpenX: What is a common misconception you see today in digital media/advertising?

Gillian MacPherson: With cookie deprecation, the prevailing thought is that 3P data is dead, and by default, targeting will be less precise.  This is not true. Epsilon data is sourced from the terrestrial world and starts with real people, with names and addresses. Then it is linked to multiple identifiers such as email, MAIDs, phone and IP Address. Our data has zero reliance on cookies, hence it can be used in all channels and, most importantly, it can also augment customer 1P data. Our partnership with OpenX is a great example of this, where we connect our offering based on hashed PII which ensures a more accurate and persistent match. 

3P Data that is sourced from browsing behavior is at risk to be depleted or obsolete with cookie deprecation. It’s important, as we head in 2022, for advertisers and agencies to know the source of the data they are using, and start testing alternate options for those that will be impacted by 3P cookie deprecation.  

OpenX: What are your key areas of focus as we go into 2022? 

Gillian MacPherson: We are always looking at growth areas, and for 2022, this includes continuing to build out our advanced TV business as well as emerging channels such as Digital Out of Home (DOOH), Gaming and Radio. All of these emerging channels have really evolved with the ability to offer improved targeting capabilities and importantly, all of these channels have targeting based on IDs that are not cookies – so they will not be impacted by 3P cookie deprecation.

Second, we have a continued focus on our data quality, coverage and privacy, and this is always a priority for us. 

As consumers and lifestyles change, how data is sourced and business rules are written need to evolve. From a quality perspective, we also work with 3rd party partners to get an unbiased evaluation of our data to find areas for improvement and strengths. We have worked with the IAB to be certified on data transparency with their data label, and we plan to continue this. And we are always on the look-out for partners and opportunities to test the quality and accuracy of our data.

Finally, privacy and compliance are also a key focus. We ensure we are compliant with all existing privacy laws and work hard to stay ahead of new legislation. CPRA is currently top priority as it goes into effect in 2023, as well as other state legislation coming from Virginia and Colorado. 

OpenX: What is your number one piece of advice for a brand looking to do more with 1P data?

Gillian MacPherson: Only one piece of advice is hard. To start, I would say it is critical to step back and ensure there is an integrated tech and consumer engagement strategy or at least a roadmap along with all the use cases for the data – with the corresponding ROI evaluation. With the engagement strategy, it starts with the value proposition to consumers and then how are you going to keep them engaged. The technology also has to be in place to support the desired engagement plan and functionality for evaluation and measurement. Ideally, all the data sources need to be linked and easily accessible to be effective. Finally, be sure to evaluate the ROI of the investment required – is it worth it? Start small then build and ensure there are resources internally to leverage the data and tech.

Coming at it from a Data perspective, I recommend having a clear plan on what data is needed to be effective – and what is available. A brand’s 1P data gives one view with respect to their engagement with the brand – whether that be email, digitally or transactions. It is also important to look outside your own data to optimize activation, insights and measurement. Look to add demographic and lifestyle data, this is very beneficial for insights and personalizing creative and offers. There is also transactional data to understand your customer’s total buying habits across your category and their entire wallet. Often overlooked is linkage data. Given one goal is the ability to reach all of these consumers across channels, having as many identifiers as possible with each consumer is very valuable. Don’t underestimate the value of an address, it helps with unifying all the possible touch points (email, phone, MAIDs) to a single consumer.

Last thought – it is critical to build out knowledge and understanding of data across the organization. And essential to have a few people who can both understand all the data available but more importantly distill it down to the “so what”. What is all the data telling us and what do we do with that information.