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The Data Monetization Dilemma

  • Jed Mole

    Jed Mole

    Chief Marketing Officer

Created at December 13th, 2016

The Data Monetization Dilemma

It’s time to face facts. Data has value, you know it, and I know it. With economic turbulence not likely to settle any time soon nor, for that matter, the rate of innovation in our industry, businesses have to be ever more creative in making money with their assets and one of the fastest appreciating is customer data. The value a brand’s data has to another or to an intermediary like Acxiom who can help them monetize it is now something most senior marketers simply have to have a stance on. The thing is, while everyone seems to be interested in it, far fewer are willing to openly admit to practice it or claim to have mastered it. So why is this?

A key issue seems to be consumer trust and, linked to it, perception. Last year’s DMA/Future Foundation study into ‘What the Consumer Really Thinks’ (about data privacy) revealed that people are more accepting of the notion that data is just part of today’s world; it’s just the way it is. However, these same consumers told us they expect to see harder benefits in return for us being able to use their data and over 80% of them, believe industry benefits more than they do from the exchange; exploitation?

The thing is, as consumers, we do benefit from the new data economy far more than we realize, perhaps the best example being the fact we all benefit from free email, search, social media and more; all subsidized by the data-driven ad industry. However, the fact remains that most of us don’t see or appreciate the full equation and this is what companies are worried about.

How would it look to consumers who already feel that they’re getting a raw deal, even if they’re not, were to find out that a brand they trust had provided their data to another party in return for money? It’s all too easy to imagine the story headlines from the ‘data fundamentalists’ – those who refuse to accept their name going through any database. Yet, what has really happened?

It’s not too difficult to see how a manufacturer of serious outdoor clothing could possess data of real value to a manufacturer of off-road cars; regardless of whether either product will ever see the mud. So, the question is, why wouldn’t that clothing company sell it to the car company?  It’s true there may well be company privacy policies that prevent this, but these are increasingly written in more entrepreneurial ways, which means so long as the deal was mutually attractive the only issues would be around reputation or something else which is key, and I will come to, which is ‘know how’!

Perhaps a better way of looking at this is to consider what it means to the consumer. In this example, it’s possible they’d get more relevant offers, better deals, save some money and the like. Whether they would attribute that to data sharing is another matter entirely. Many would still expect that first use case to have resulted in a wave of unwanted additional marketing. The default concern would seem to be that if data is shared, it results in “more marketing” rather than “more relevant marketing”.

As I write, there is a candle burning next to me. I genuinely did burn my fingers, just a little, when lighting it. I think a major issue to tackle is assuring consumers whose fingers have been burnt by overly-entrepreneurial or perhaps at best, unenlightened marketers in the past. You see, when we think of data being shared or monetized, we imagine our details getting onto a mailing list only to be direct, email or telemarketed within an inch of our lives. Not true of today’s contemporary data monetization. Trust is everything when it comes to brands, to marketing and to consumer data. It’s never been easier to build or burn a brand through data and when it comes to this hot potato of data monetization, I can’t help but think that the trust will come from transparency that leads to understanding.

Every industry will continue to struggle to fully eradicate the greedy or unethical but what we should do is emphasize that, when data is monetized today, it happens in two main ways. Both of these benefit the consumer. Brands might share directly, or (as is more common) through a trusted ‘safe haven’ provider, or using a data or audience monetization partner.

Along with trust, I mentioned a second key issue being know-how. While most will happily consider the potential of data monetization, it really is an area that’s largely unexplored. Even if you ‘get’ data, how you actually share it and then govern its subsequent distribution, use and remuneration for it, all in privacy safe ways, represent a series of complex challenges for an marketer, even a data-savvy one. Data or audience monetization as service (AMaaS) allows these data-owning marketers to make their data available alongside other information, to create new, more accurate and highly targeted specialist segments. Importantly, it is the expertise along with proven capabilities and processes that will give the marketer the confidence that they can make the most of their data asset, while retaining control, ensuring privacy and not only protecting their brand but also the interests of the consumer. It is this governance that ensures data monetization delivers more accurate segments and more relevant marketing that the consumer values, the marketer wants and the data owner deserves to be paid for; not simply more marketing for the weary consumer.

There are some fundamentals around privacy and data security, but as we enter this new data economy, we can be more creative in our possibilities and more effective in our execution when it comes to how we can bring together data to drive value to consumers. And, it’s that mindset that must be uppermost in all we do. Ultimately, effective monetization is not about trying to make a quick buck. Done properly and professionally, it requires rigorous processes including data validation, identity resolution, ingestion, curation, governance to distribute and commercialize it. The title doesn’t reflect this process or complexity, because it speaks only to the value to the data owner, whereas the enlightened among us know, all of this will only be sustainable if we can drive consumer value; otherwise why would a data owner or buyer do any of it?

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