*Originally appeared in Target Marketing

Why is there such disparity between TV and digital video ad spend today? The amount of online channels is nearly endless, and digital ads have far more potential to be interactive and engaging than traditional television ads. Online advertising is expected to grow by leaps and bounds, yet many marketers still are hesitant to increase their investments. In 2013, $2.8 billion was spent on digital video ads. That’s double what was spent in 2010, but it is still dwarfed by the $74.5 billion spent on television ads in the same year.

The reason for the chasm in ad spend is that until now, marketers simply haven’t been able to accurately determine whether their ads were effective in driving sales or even being seen on digital platforms.
Currently, the marketing industry is abuzz with the impact of data onboarding practices. This term describes the way marketers are able to bridge an offline medium (those precious, valuable customer “silhouettes”) to an online medium (a database of online “personas”). Data onboarding is an enormous opportunity for marketers to take their offline data and transfer it online to more easily and accurately connect to potential and future customers, providing brands with the ability to reach them instantaneously and serve targeted ads, messages, emails and relevant content. Here are three reasons why the practice of data onboarding is completely invaluable to modern marketing.

1. Make offline databases actionable for online audiences and extend existing investments with CRM software
Marketers spend years—decades even—cultivating data to create CRM silhouettes of their customers that provide them with valuable information on their preferences, habits and demographic categorizations. This data is created from a combination of in-store behaviors, loyalty memberships and other such services.

The ability to extend CRM databases to online tactics is a major step in the collective movement to bridge this offline/online gap. Data onboarding allows marketers to make their various—and often disjointed—databases actionable, drawing critical insights and using them to create and deliver highly targeted campaigns.

2. Adjust campaigns in real-time
Speed is critical—marketers need to know if their ad worked so they can adjust their spend, creative and placements in real-time. Data onboarding allows brands to apply campaign insights almost instantaneously to re-configure their targeting or creative approach.

For example, when marketers are executing in full swing for holiday sales campaigns, they want to know what’s working as fast as possible. With a matching and onboarding process done in real-time, marketers can see, as quickly as the next day, helpful data, and use that information to make adjustments in creative or budget. So when big online shopping days like Cyber Monday comes around—which, in 2014, US sales grew 15 percent compared to 2013 according to Econsultancy- marketers will be able to send the right message to the right customers at the right time, and continue to serve accurately targeted ads throughout the season. If this opportunity is missed, money is left on the table and competitors who are onboarding can jump ahead with a lead.

3. Answer that pesky, but fundamental question: Did my ad actually work?
Last, and most importantly, the true promise of data onboarding allows marketers to accurately determine whether the message they are delivering to their target audiences are actually impacting any change in behavior.

As marketers, we distribute our messages and advertisements, hoping they stick to our targets, and cross our fingers that they aren’t just getting lost in the ether of the open Web. But now that can change. We have the ability to leverage massive, interconnected databases of offline and online customer information while doing so in a way that protects customer privacy without relying on the use of cookies, which many browsers are moving away from utilizing.

With 94 percent of transactions still occurring offline or in-store, it’s nearly impossible for marketers to determine whether the ad drove a purchase unless they have built in this data onboarding functionality. Being able to complete the cycle of the targeted customer message is the true promise of data onboarding. The primary difference between digital advertising and television advertising is that advertisers can identify actua—not estimated—audience numbers and measure true return on ad spend.

Effective data onboarding doesn’t only occur when the data is uploaded successfully. It occurs when a marketer captures multiple customer signals (clicks, views, purchases, etc.) and integrates them into a sophisticated system that drives the understanding of how online advertising impacts offline behavior. Only then can we fine-tune our strategies and creative, and protect our digital investments. And only then will digital video ad spends start to rival their television counterparts.

Jon Schulz is the Chief Marketing Officer of VIANT, the premier technology company providing marketers the entire digital advertising ecosystem in the cloud. The VIANT Advertising Cloud™ is the first comprehensive, cloud-based, technology platform that empowers advertisers by allowing them to engage with real customers and measure actual sales results – both online and in-store.

Read more at Target Marketing.