Can We All Stop Beating Around the Bush When We Talk About Data?

adampaulisickData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Adam Paulisick, chief product officer at Commerce Signals.

We should stop confusing everyone about how we enable data.

I’ve seen press releases from data providers describing the data they use and how they use it with such long explanations that there’s no way anyone will hang in there long enough to understand what is actually being used. And if they do, making sense of it is a whole different story.

Or what about companies that say they have the “best” or “largest” data set for a specific purpose but won’t actually tell anyone what data they have access to?

Advertisers rely on data to deliver better, more relevant advertising and precisely measure the results. But the way companies talk about their data and how to enable it can be almost indecipherable.

This is especially true when talking about closed-loop advertising, which is when a certain number of folks, referred to as an exposure group, are shown a piece of advertising creative on a site, in a TV program or within a mobile app. After the exposure group sees the ad, the critical question is whether it caused anyone to buy something that they otherwise wouldn’t have purchased.

But to connect a consumer who watched an ad to the payment method they used to buy something, marketers have to know it’s the same person. I’ve heard of companies claiming to make anonymous matches but they are mum on how they do it. In some cases, it is impossible to match consumers without asking trusted and secure partners, such as Experian, TransUnion or Acxiom, to match raw personally identifiable information from two parties and create a common language to exchange insights with.

Even though many company spokespeople will claim to not want personally identifiable information, the truth is that everyone who makes money with advertising or on audiences wants it. It makes life a lot easier. Increasingly, industry leaders like Amazon aren’t pulling any punches with messages like, “You know you’re not anonymous on our site. We’re greeting you by name, showing you past purchases, to the degree that you can arrange to have transparency combined with an explanation of what the consumer benefit is.”

So why are so many companies still beating around the bush? Funny enough, I actually don’t think a breach or leakage is the biggest risk to Bank of America, Citibank, PNC and other data suppliers. Sure, a breach could potentially cause public mayhem, but those situations are rare and unintended. The element I would be more concerned about is the derivative products that come from the data, which, to be absolutely clear, belong only to those banks. They do not belong to the matching agent, the enabler, the insights partner or the agency; it is purely the financial institution’s pot of gold at the end of the marketing and advertising rainbow.

See, the problem emerging is that when there is a common language of IDs, even if they are “anonymous,” they are still persistent in many cases, at least for some period of time. When you have a persistent ID, at a minimum you can amass insights about that ID or person over that short period of time. Sometimes third parties use this information to create questionable products. I would not want to find out that my data was powering a billboard or combined with other complementary data, such as location, to form completely new products. But it can happen.

My hope is that companies start to speak in clearer terms that explain exactly what’s happening and where the data is coming from. If I could build a wish list, I would wish data enablers would start to proactively disclose what payment methods are included, what the coverage is, how fresh the data is and other useful information.

Without it we are all welcoming a wave of “I can measure ads with sales data” claims without any real understanding of where it came from and how valuable it is, even if it sounds safe and secure.

Follow Commerce Signals (@CommerceSignals) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. Ryan Peters

    If the partner cannot explain how the match is done, or it seems shady, then don’t use them. There are plenty of reputable ways to do closed loop reporting with data sets and partners that fully disclose the entire data path and the measures they take to ensure privacy compliance. If someone says they aren’t using a match partner, or claim to serve media using a financial institution’s data without a go-between , you’re right to be suspicious. As with selecting any vendor, kick the tires, and kick them hard. Measuring sales lift based on ad exposure is entirely possible, you just need the right partners.

  2. Drew Thimme

    The post points out the unfortunate reality that vague, unproven claims cloud the data and marketing tech space. It has elevated the importance of objective evaluation by companies like Forrester and Gartner. A legitimate partner needs to be able to explain data and identity linkages to be part of any consideration set. A good partner is willing to Pilot / Test / Proof of Concept to demonstrate those linkages and value in delivering sales lift measurement or whatever the use case / KPI.