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iHeartMedia: How to Make Sense of All Your Data & What to Do with It

Ashley Sefferman  //  August 14, 2018  //  12 min read

You have a lot of data sources, but piecing them together to get the insights you need to inform your strategy is a complicated, laborious, and convoluted task.

We were thrilled to host Hetal Patel, Vice President of Consumer and Corporate Insights at iHeartMedia, to discuss data sources and learnings at this year’s Customer Love Summit. In her talk, Hetal shares how she makes sense of complex data streams and how to use your findings to have a positive impact on the business.

Specifically, Hetal’s talk covers:

  • Five buckets of data organization most companies use
  • The “Three P’s” of approaching problems through leveraging data
  • How to use storytelling to help data support your big picture

And so much more!

If you prefer to read rather than watch, we’ve included the transcription below the video.


Good evening, everybody. I’m very well aware of the fact that I’m the last thing standing between you and the happy hour, so I’m gonna try and keep this as short, fun, and interesting as much as I can. I’ll take a minute to introduce myself and my role just to kinda put in context what I’m gonna be talking to you guys about today. So I’m Hetal, and I lead the consumer and corporate insights practice at iHeartMedia.

For those of you who are not familiar with iHeartMedia, we essentially are…our assets set within four big buckets. We own about 850 radio stations across the U.S. We have our iHeartRadio app, which has about 100 million registered users. We do about 20,000 events locally and nationally, some big tentpole events that you see on TV, like iHeartRadio Music Awards, iHeartRadio Music Festival, or some smaller local events as well.

And last but not least, we also own Clear Channel Outdoor, which is a lot of billboards that you see around, right? So we basically play in buckets like broadcast radio, digital radio, events, you know, sponsorship, and last but not least, location data from outdoor and billboard. So as you can imagine, the problem I deal with is slightly different. I have way too much data on my hands, and that’s a good problem to have, nevertheless challenging.

It’s challenging from the standpoint of, how do you, A, connect the dots across all different buckets? And when I say different the standpoint of…traditional radio is 100-year-old medium. So imagine the measurement that came with something that was invented before internet existed. And that to be coupled with a digital medium like radio, which…with digital radio, where everything is available based on data. So you have a client and you’re trying to sell this thing which was 100 years old, where I can say, “I can only deliver X and Y. And there’s this new shiny tool that can give you 100 million things, but it’s the target is this small.”

So constantly what I’m faced with, and going back to my role is my alternate title is a chief storyteller. What I have to do is come up with, in a big picture and a big scale from the corporate standpoint, a story of who we are and how do we sit in the marketplace currently versus our competitors in the radio space? Are we a radio company? Are we an audio company, and how do I use and fuel data to tell my story?

And so what you’re gonna notice in terms of the stories that I’m about to share with you today, they might be a little bit too…I’ve tried to make them as specific as possible so you guys understand how data is fueling those decisions or those stories. But sometimes it might be too big picture. So with further ado, I’m gonna start with this.

So, you know, there is a lot of data, like I mentioned. And everyone, you know, because of the fact that data is everywhere; everything has to be data focused. Everything has to be data driven, data first. And so it’s a good place to be in because I think we have the seat at the table. But at the same time, as people in the organization understand the importance of data and want to rely more and more on data, they don’t necessarily know what to do with that data. They want data. They’ll say, “I need data,” but that’s about the question, that is, I need a story. But what kind of data? Who are you talking to? Why do you need this data?

So I know every organization kinda, you know, organizes your hierarchy slightly differently. In terms of data in our organization sits in these five big buckets. So the way we organize this is we have consumer insights, second is analytics, first party as well as third party, third is social data, fourth is bunch of syndicated data, all the way from Scarborough, MRI, comScore, you know, all the tools out there. And last but not least, big data.

So these are the five buckets or key functions in which the current research structures it. And given that there is all this intelligence around our broadcast users, app users, you know, people who come to our events, how do you navigate all this data has been a challenge. I’ve been at iHeart for about five years and I’m still continuing to, you know, figure this out. And as they introduced me saying I’m gonna help you make sense of data, I can’t make any promises. I’m still…it’s a work in progress.

So this has been my mantra in terms of approaching this problem, and I call it the three Ps of data. The first one is product. The first year, year and a half that I spent here was starting to get together, what are all the pieces of data I have? Where does it all sit? How can it all come together? So one is getting all your data in one place.

The second was process, and this took a little bit of self-teaching because this came at the knowledge, or, like, epiphany that made me realize that I have to not let perfect get in the way of good. There is so much changing in the data world right now that if you sit and wait for the perfect solution we’re never gonna make it. We’re just gonna sit in that one spot. So it was extremely crucial for me to realize that I may not have the solution, the perfect solution that I’m looking for, but I have to embrace what I’ve got, and move along, and chug along.

And thirdly, people. I’ve had to hire people for jobs who nobody went to school for, you know? Two years ago, or three years ago when they started to launch the first music awards my CEO said, “We’re gonna do social awarding.” And I had no idea about, except for having a Facebook account for myself and a Twitter account for myself, I had no idea how to measure social. I didn’t study that, I didn’t have an education in that. I had to go figure out how to do that.

But what I realized was that you can’t really hire for skills. You have to hire for passion. You have to hire for attitude. And I’ve had people who’ve gone and figured stuff out. Because what I knew three years ago is something that I’m not using today. And so these are the three fundamental units which kinda have helped me get to the point of making sense of this data.

So having set the context with that I’m gonna take a few specific examples and case studies to talk to you guys about how I’ve taken few data pieces across the different five functions that I spoke to you about and actually made a business decision or impacted a business decision. So one of the ways…so still continuing in the social media space, right? We have a very interesting relationship, being a radio company, with the artists.

So, you know, the artists that…think about the first time…before the Spotify world. Think about the first time you heard about an artist, or you got to know about Taylor Swift, or you got to know about a new artist. You hear a song over and over for a few number of times on the radio and then you go, “Yeah, that sounds familiar.” So that’s how artists kinda get popular. The less known artists slowly, slowly start to…the promotional power of radio gets them to known and being familiar. And so we have this really interesting relationship with artists, and so we’ve started to leverage that relationship and take it from the traditional radio world onto the social media and digital world. And I’ll explain that in a little bit.

The second engagement that I’m gonna touch upon was actually a very, very interesting activation that we’ve done in the social media space. This is to do with the iHeartRadio Music Awards where we were the first awards to say, “Let’s have people vote on the different nominees and decide the winners, instead of people sitting in a room and casting a vote on who should be the best pop song of the year, who should be the best collaboration of the year.” And so we took voting on different categories and nominees onto the social media space.

And thirdly, tailor strategies to different mediums. There are so many newer mediums, like five years ago, I’m not on Snapchat, right? So there are newer, newer social media. It’s not enough to know Facebook, not enough to know Twitter. While there are the bigger ones you’ll start to see there are younger, and smaller, and newer platforms. So it’s constantly you have to evolve yourself to be there where your audiences are. So I’m gonna quickly skip a few.

Okay, so with respect to the first one, so what we came up with was we took a bunch of social listening data from syndicated tools to understand that our engagement on Tuesdays was the lowest of all weekdays. And so we were trying to increase our engagement on Tuesdays on certain networks. In this particular case it was Twitter.

So what we came up with was…so this was based on a data point that was noticed when we were doing some kind of analytics to understand, you know, patterns across different social networks. And we came up with what was called, and I don’t know if you guys have ever seen this on Twitter, but it’s the iHeartRadioTwitterTuesday. What we do is different artists, on Tuesday for 30 minutes, will take over our Twitter, iHeartRadio’s official account, and you’re able to Tweet your questions to that particular artist, and then that artist writes back to you. So that’s a two-way communication between a fan and an artist.

So you remember back in the days you could call into the radio and talk to the person. So we took that traditional radio interaction, two-way communication and put it on the social media space. What was fantastic about this was there the fan would call the radio station, talk to the artist, and back. It was a two-way communication. We took that two-way communication, put it on the social media space, and so now what happened is if a Ryan Seacrest is writing back to a fan all the other followers of a fan and Ryan Seacrest’s fan are able to write back on that chain. So from a two-way dialogue we went onto what’s called the omnilogue.

We created these conversations between different people that were not even a part of the original conversation. And so that’s a much deeper level of engagement that the social media was able to bring to the table, versus what we were doing earlier. So that’s just an example of that.

Similar to that, we are, again, in the vein of, you know, redefining our relationship with artists, we are coming up with creative and different ways of how we can help artists launch their new albums, singles. And with Shawn Mendes we did exclusive release of his single. And this example was a full-day takeover for Snapchat because he resonates better with younger audiences. Data shows us that 80% of our Snapchat audience, so iHeartRadio is on Snapchat Discover, that’s the place for brands on Snapchat. And 80% of our audience in the Snapchat discover is between the ages of 12 and 17.

And so based on that data point and what Shawn Mendes’ manager wanted to resonate with in terms of a target audience, we recommended that partnership for him to take over our Snapchat channel for the day and do an exclusive release of his new single. So that’s where you’ll see that. And Elvis Duran improved that.

And so now moving onto the second piece of actually fueling social voting for an awards show. We came up with the strategy to say, you know, everybody was talking about influencer marketing in the social media space. And we say, you know, people hire influencers to talk about your brand to, you know, further evangelize your brand. We said, “Why don’t we start…” There were five fan voted armies that were created looking at different cohorts within the social media space, looking at the number of engagements, how people, you know, what artist are they related with, or are they actually fans of? And we created ambassadors who then acted as further fueling.

So to give you an example, I’m gonna do a better job at this, one second. So Arianators, right? So that’s Ariana Grande’s fanbase on Twitter. The name that we came up with was Arianators. What that does was is there was a group of 8 to 10 girls and boys that were fans of Ariana Grande, and they Tweeted and re-Tweeted and created this engagement of voting, ramping up things like, “Oh, this is the last day to vote. Let’s get her on there. I want her to win.” And so we created a fan ambassador for each of the five artists that were nominated, and they were almost pitting against each other to create that level of voting and engagement for their own artists.

And all those five brand ambassadors were then invited to the award show, and then we were measuring the voting at the backend. So through a social media listening tool we were able to count the number of votes based on the dedicated hashtag that they use to vote, and then they were given an award for the most amount of votes that were created for that artist during that show by the artist. So this was an example of actually taking your influencers from your own fanbase, from your own fans and followers on the iHeartRadio page, versus finding a new paid influencer to do this kind of push for you in the social media space.

And then to go back, this actually happened because this was rooted in the idea of a piece of work that I had done earlier in the year, which was a primary research study, a consumer insight study where we did some generational word for Gen Zs, millennials, so on and so forth. And one striking thing that I’ve actually heard in a couple of talks this morning, too, in Mike’s keynote this morning saying, you know, “Not only build for your consumer but build with your consumer.”

And so what you see about Gen Zs and millennials is that they love to co-create. They don’t wanna be recipients of culture, they wanna be culture creators. They want a voice at the table. They wanna be part of the strategy that you’re crafting for them. And so you’ll see that for Gen Z and millennials, they wanted to be a part of the process. And in taking this insight we actually came up with the idea of doing the fan ambassador for awards. That’s just talking about the best fan army and that’s how it was created. So it was Beliebers, Directioners, and Harmonizers, those were the three that were created. And you’ll see those were the ambassadors that were selected. So they would go on Twitter, they would ask their fans and followers to go and ramp up their voting.

And last but not least, you’ll see, like I was mentioning, there are new and emerging platforms. So in your social strategy be mindful of including the new and emerging platforms and don’t focus all your energies on Twitter and Facebook. And the reason these three strategies worked is because there was a core defining consumer insights that defined each of those. And in the first one there’s a core need of connection between fans and an artist, and we took that and we created a dialogue to an omnilogue.

The second one around fan ambassadors were the younger generations, like Gen Zs and millennials. They like to be influenced but they also wanna be influencers themselves. And in terms of the more emergent platforms, they have an expectation to be live and relevant. If you continue to keep pushing your content out on just Facebook, very quickly you’re gonna start losing younger audiences because they’re starting to associate that with older audiences. And so that was one example of how consumer insights focused few initiatives within the business, especially in the social space.

The second one that I’m gonna quickly talk through is how we are starting to take our digital and broadcast data and starting to merge the two. So like I was saying, radio is a 100-year-old medium, and digital radio has enough data. However, their targeting, or the size, is much smaller compared to radio. Radio reaches 93% of America in a given week, right? So it has huge scale.

And so what we started to do…but it has its restrictions given it’s an old medium, so you have to still rely on Nielsen, and the meters to give you any sort of measurement. What we were able to do is a form of lookalike modeling. We took a bunch of people from our digital 100-million users. We mapped their listening habits onto the broadcast radio listening habits, and created these cohorts. Because digital has changed the way…I’ll jump one more to talk about this.

Because digital has changed the way people are buying media now. Even for traditional mediums now, buying is based on cohorts and kinds of audiences, different types of audiences. So for those of you who are familiar with media, usually radio or television gets bought on, “I want 18 to 34, prime time, a.m. drive and p.m. drive.” But those days are gone. Now you want someone who is an auto intender who’s planning to buy a car in the next six months.

So to be able to give that level of granularity of data to radio or broadcast radio, how do you go about that? So we came up with a lookalike modeling based on our digital data because we are able to look at our 100-million users and map them back to our on-air listeners based on demographics and certain other criterias, we were able to create cohorts which can then be served up from a programmatic standpoint. And then they can also be optimized in real time. We are doing this for the industry. iHeartMedia is doing that and other players are starting to embrace that as well.

So my last parting words for you guys are gonna be, and I’ll give the credit for this to Jonathan Mildenhall, who used to be the ex-CMO of Airbnb. He said, “Don’t let your strategy be data driven, because when you keep your strategy data driven you leave no room for surprises. What consumers want is delight. What consumers want is surprise, so let it be data inspired. Use your data. Use your data but leave a little room for surprise in there.”

So that’s all I’m gonna leave you guys at. Any questions? Thank you.

About Ashley Sefferman

Ashley Sefferman is Director of Marketing at Apptentive. A digital communication and content strategy enthusiast, she writes about multichannel engagement strategies, customer communication, and making the digital world a better place for people. Follow Ashley on Twitter at @ashseff.
View all posts by Ashley Sefferman >

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