A topic that garnered a lot of attention in our industry last year, even to the point of getting airtime on a number of holding company earnings calls, centered on the relative value of owned data assets, as opposed to renting data from third-party providers.
Framed that way, the conversation risks missing the point entirely, because when the debate becomes about “rent versus own,” the data in question is largely third-party data. And while there are certainly trustworthy companies that sell access to valuable third-party data sets, the most valuable data that any company or brand can put to work is what they already own — first-party consumer data.
For most marketers, this data resides within their organization, although generally it is held in a siloed, decentralized fashion. However, what every company is looking for is ways to make their own data work harder to drive business results, and to do so in an increasingly regulated and secure environment.
At first glance, our acquisition of a company like Acxiom might look like a “vote” in favor of owning data. It’s true that Acxiom brings us a best-in-class data set in InfoBase, but buying Acxiom was above all a strategic investment in the expertise and the tools that will allow us to help clients responsibly create value from their own first-party data.
An organization’s most valuable asset
Over the past decade, and even more so the past few years, the massive changes and disruption driven by technology have elevated the importance of data, making it an organization’s most valuable asset. That means every company needs to inventory, understand and architect its data so it becomes actionable through a full range of business processes, which include media campaigns and other marketing functions.
As an industry, we’re facing increased competition to play a meaningful role in this space. Other sectors, whether ad-tech, marketing technology, or consulting, are also looking to help companies solve for this fundamental business challenge.
Yet being a trusted data partner is a high hurdle, because managing data is anything but easy. Ultimately, the real owners of personal data are (and should be) individual consumers.
This means anyone handling data must be able to address a number of major issues. Three in particular come to mind. The first is the ability to build systems that are resilient to external threats, to protect a client’s most precious asset.
It’s also essential to stay in front of the regulatory landscape, ensuring transparency when consumers are providing their data, and checking on the compliance of the various partners and providers of data in your ecosystem. This is particularly challenging across international markets, where data can be scarce.
Last, you have to build data privacy into your culture, and your product development and engineering processes. Ideally, all three of these have to happen before you even get to the point at which your curated data sets and custom database solutions can be used to power marketing programs, whether they are CRM, media, creative, or experiential.
The fallacy of “owning” versus “renting” data
In order to deliver on this vision, we need the skills, and the ethics, to deliver safe environments for the value exchanges that can be created with data to take place. In the end, that has very little to do with who “owns” the data. In fact, data sources must (and will always have to) be variable.
The best data sets for a given marketing or business problem are often not the same as for one in a different industry, or at a different stage in a product’s life cycle.
What building customer-focused solutions does have everything to do with is putting data and technology first. Then putting the resulting business intelligence and insights to work with all of the right tools from our palette of marketing and communications disciplines.
When it works, and you make your data work harder, you get more efficient marketing -- faster, better, cheaper, or some combination of all three. We’re beginning to see this play out in pitches now, where sophisticated clients, especially in the media space, are asking us to pressure test our ability to link their first-party data with an external data stack (whether ad-tech or mar-tech) to deliver better business outcomes.
In this evolving world, anyone can “rent” data. However, that’s nowhere near enough.
To succeed, you need to know how to knit data sets together, making them consistent and accessible across a client’s business. You have to understand how to address and sequence communications with tightly defined audiences, as well as how to work across the media partner chain to deliver the best client solutions. And you’ve got to demonstrate the experience and the track record to be a trusted partner in the sourcing and application of data to a high ethical standard.
In the end, what’s worth “owning” is expertise in first-party data management.