The Data Management Conundrum

At the end of last month, my company announced its plans to merge with Donovan Data Systems, another company in the media management technology space. This isn't the venue to discuss the merger per se. But I do think it's a good place to raise awareness about the fundamental  data problem that we hope to solve -- a problem that, of course, has enormous repercussions in how we deal with metrics and information management throughout advertising.

That problem is as follows. Simply put, there's a lot of information out there. And the industry has done a remarkable job of providing "point solutions" that solve very specific data problems -- whether you're talking about DSPs for display, regionally specific media management technologies, or businesses that help advertisers dynamically generate audience-targeted creatives.

That's the good news. The bad news is that it's very difficult to roll the data points together into a holistic view. That's why we're still stuck in a conundrum of last-click attribution that views display advertising in a vacuum. That's why global CMOs are almost universally frustrated over the difficulties of rolling worldwide regional data into a single, global view. That's why the most basic connections between social and traditional media remain an enigma.

Which isn't to say that no one is working to "connect the dots." Some of the world's most powerful business are doing phenomenal work acquiring and building across the entire solution stack of products, creating end-to-end solutions that bring all the points together. I'm referring to companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft -- and, to an extent, others like AOL -- companies that stake their futures on assembling everything from yield management to mobile devices to dynamic creative, all under a single roof.  When you see the opportunities these companies make possible to, say, offer dynamically generated rich media creative that's influenced by search results, you'll see just how good these companies are at bringing all the points together.

But there's a serious drawback to the fact that the best work in organizing the industry comes from precisely these companies. That drawback is that the players doing the most to help advertisers connect the dots on ad data are also among the largest ad sales enterprises in the world. Google, AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft are all in the media business to sell advertising -- and if the businesses that advertisers rely on most for help with ad data management are also selling inventory, what develops is a highly problematic lack of neutrality within the advertising technology the sellers employ.

For now, this is just a problem in the digital space, since the large media technology players haven't delved too deeply into traditional media. But the lines between "traditional" and digital are getting thinner every day, between addressable TV, long-form video online, and the ability to use mobile technologies to insert digital measurement in traditional media --whether that's through QR codes in print ads or TV spots that trigger mobile coupons. From Google TV to Microsoft's Xbox to Yahoo's purchase of mobile/TV technology IntoNow, it's clear that these companies are gearing up to position themselves as leaders in the digitized traditional world.

As of yet, the progress that these companies have made in traditional media hasn't come close to the success they've achieved in the digital space. But we're only in the beginning of the transition from traditional to digital/traditional media. And few businesses but these have both the incentive and resources to connect all the dots in that new hyperconnected media landscape, while the traditional powerbrokers (like TV networks) have only proven their ability to achieve their hegemony in a single modality.

Which is why the present and future of holistic data management seems to belong to the businesses that already have a proven track record in bringing the points together. One would hope that the companies offering advertising technology solutions would be independent third parties that can guide advertising businesses through data and inventory, and that are designed to openly interface with other technologies, to boot. But in reality, the industry's main solutions come from the unified systems that sell advertising as well. That's unfortunate; it's a problem we need to work together to solve, today.

1 comment about "The Data Management Conundrum".
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  1. Eric Brown from Dataium, October 7, 2011 at 10:26 a.m.

    Great blog this is precisely why our company was founded as an independent data utility. And the problem of "broken attribution" is a big part of the problem and one we have largely solved.

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