Male; 29; married; lives in Dubai; interests: travel, tech and cookery. So, go on, target me. If you’re wondering what my angle is here, there is none. This is my data profile, but truthfully this could also belong to any number of adult males living in the country. It’s standard enough to enable some level of personalisation, but beyond that? Well, ‘Male 29’ (as we’ll now refer to him) remains fairly generic.
Given the general feeling of distrust among users right now, to them at least this is probably a good thing. For us it shows we still have a long way to go as an industry to prove that a fair value data exchange is not only possible but essential to remove this deadlock and establish what the next advertising frontier will look like.
It’s not an overreaction to say that trust in the online world is eroding. Ongoing data breaches, a rise in fake news and more industry-related privacy probes have put the collection and use of data firmly in the spotlight. As we all grapple with the CCPA coming into effect to join GDPR and other regulations that govern the use of data online, this is a topic that won’t fade from view any time soon. If anything, it’s only going to gain more momentum as we come to fully appreciate the implications of living in this ‘new’ privacy-first world.
Data is the most important and valuable currency of our time, yet for too long our focus has been on how we collect and consume rather than exchange and combine – that’s the real way to create worth. And that’s the thing with data. It’s become the blanket term for everything, both bad and good, within the ecosystem, creating a muddled opinion of what it means to be compliant.
We have reached peak ‘data’ in the traditional sense, with outdated clichés and misinformation the two biggest factors to contend with when it comes to underscoring our own purpose and value within the ecosystem. However, data isn’t finite. We’re only going to produce more as the connected world continues to take shape, with latest estimates from The World Economic Forum putting that number at around 2.5 quintillion bytes of information each day. As such, our role needs to shift to focus more on identifying the ‘value add’ when it comes to data on multiple fronts – for people, businesses and, to a certain extent, society at large.
Things are already changing; you only have to look at the crumbling third-party cookie as a sign of the times. Yet, as more restrictions come in we’ll need to empower publishers to take the lead, helping them identify the right technology to extract and understand how to leverage their own data for the best possible outcome. It’s a win-win scenario that will allow them to achieve greater control down the line by cutting out the middle-men and let them build a direct relationship with their consumers.
Ultimately, digital progress is necessary for our evolution, but we’re still a long way off establishing digital equality for all. For now, better education and greater transparency in this space will embolden stakeholders to make the right kind of investments, matching the right technology with an equivalent human counterpart. DMPs can read and process reams of data at the speed of light, but they have limitations. It’s the people behind these machines that can read between the lines to ensure context, relevance and ultimately value in each and every campaign that’s executed.
Automation, once considered the greatest threat to the workforce, is now being properly put to use – not as a cost-saving exercise to replace the human element, but as an investment safeguard to keep pace with an ever-evolving industry. What’s perhaps not so easy to grasp is that there can never be a direct offset to any data investment; there are just too many moving parts and alternating factors at play.
Think of it in this way: Data is like seasoning, something that enhances your campaign by helping it stand out from the crowd, adding ‘character’ to make it a more appealing option. Without this reasoning, you have a bland and impersonal offering that doesn’t quite hit the spot, resulting in waste. When you simplify it like this, it’s easy to see how this essential ‘ingredient’ can inflate revenue, yet it can’t ever be properly quantified, at least in a monetary sense.
With this in mind, let’s go back to ‘Male 29’ again for a minute. Finding out what makes him tick doesn’t mean collecting more data, nor does it mean a loss of anonymity. Instead it’s about using the data at our disposal more effectively. That’s it. No tricks. No ulterior motive at work. We can easily tie ourselves up in knots when we talk about compliance and consent, overcomplicating what advertising essentially is: answering a need. In future it will come down to an exchange, a marketplace where users are the gatekeepers to their data, trading access for a price, and that price will be respecting their privacy.