Stumbling Badly In The Next 12-24 Months?

My friend Cory Treffiletti asked in his SPIN column this weekif I was "developing (a) data strategy?" Well, he wasn't asking me per se, because when he does that, it's more like "How is the weather in Connecticut?" and "I think Omar Tawakol parked in Mark Hurd's private space -- do you think they will let the air out of his tires again?"

But it got me to really think about my data strategy -- which consists largely of me emailing my clients and saying "If you don't give me the data, I can't develop an effective strategy." Cory says that "Data is hot -- and if you’re not using it for your marketing and advertising needs, then you’re likely going to be stumbling badly in the next 12-24 months."

I tend to stumble badly when I get off the barstool too quickly, or try to say something clever on social media or to one of my kids, so I am used to that. But if data can help, who am I to question?

When people talk about data, they talk about which party it comes from. Although this sounds similar to dinner conversations at Downton Abby, they are not talking about political parties, but rather who has the best data: first, second or third parties.  First party means that you are directly tracking what folks do online. Kind of like the NSA, but hopefully not for the same reasons. Because you own this data (well, let's just say you permanently borrowed it from unsuspecting visitors to your Web sites), when you tell marketers that it is "first-party" data they will act like schoolgirls who just got a smile from Trevor Donovan or James Van Der Beek. Doesn't mean it will appreciably raise the response rate, but you can produce artful PowerPoints that say your data "achieves a 300% lift" (just don't say the baseline was .1%).

Second-party data means that you and some guys in the incubator shared office space got together over some beers and traded cookies that each with a straight face swears is "awesome data." Doesn't mean that your definition of an in-market car buyer is remotely similar to his definition of an in-market car buyer, but you get to add them all together so buyers think you have "reach." This is a highly technical advertising industry term meaning "lots." Putting second party on the table is not as cool as that first-party data, but it beats having to say the dreaded "third party" in your pitch.

Third-party data is kind of like buying vacation property in Montana that you never went to see -- and when you finally did, found out it is in a major floodplain, inaccessible to roads, and the average daytime temperature in January is -25o.  But just like the broker never disclosed all that to you, you don't tell the buyer where your third-party data is coming from, except to use vague terms like networks, platforms and "providers."  The good news is that nobody who buys third-party data cares if it is any good, because they can buy a lot of it for a 2 cent CPM. So they can spam the entire Internet for about $250, and if they get two solid leads, they are ahead of the game. You get to call this "performance."

Fair warning: if you decide that Cory is right and that "Data is hot," you can't go out and hire some kid who just graduated in January from Wisconsin with a degree in computer science. In the interview, be earnest and say things like taxonomy, SPARQL, Structured Query Language and Hadoop. If, when you look up, the kid is still sitting there: Ask for references.

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