In A Market With No Ratings Standards, How Can the Best Data Win?

Data-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 Greg Herbst, vice president of programmatic data solutions at Bombora.

Oil, steel, movies, games, credit, alcohol, stocks and bonds: They are all bought and sold, and each is rated by independent agencies using standardized grades so that the buyer – be it a consumer or a business – knows what they are getting.

But audience data, the foundation of the global online ad industry and central to the growth of programmatic advertising, has no system of impartial quality determination.

Data within digital advertising is scrutinized, yes, but mostly with outdated metrics like click-through rate. As the industry buzzes about cross-device capabilities, omnichannel campaigns, location-based targeting, offline-to-online data and predictive marketing plans, there needs to be a major improvement in rating the efficacy of data for ad campaigns.

If you work in digital advertising, you need performance reporting, regardless of whether you are on the marketer or publisher side. Wouldn’t it be great if a neutral party tested the audience data partners and reported the results? Sure, this happens when individual brands run their own bake-offs, but we need an entity that tests providers that offer similar data sets and announces the performance or results.

Regular ratings on dimensions such as quality, recency, depth, detail, origin, commercial rights, utility and privacy would make evaluation easier for buyers. From there, vertical-specific studies and overall rankings would be helpful to all who play in the industry, across both the buy and sell sides.

In this kind of system, confident and strong data providers would race to compete head-to-head on performance, while others would avoid such ratings. There is no shortage of players who have taken shortcuts to enter the market and then provide lower pricing to get rich quick on a transaction. Meanwhile, new data providers increasingly enter this space, opaquely repackaging the same data sources and causing conflict and confusion in the market.

Independent ratings would also put an end to the data sales pitches that have come to feel repetitive. Let’s face it: The players on the data provider side can frequently sound the same, and many offer very similar data sets. Marketers need data, but they don’t have time to dive into the nuances that differentiate the many companies competing for their budget, nor can they test each and every one.

There are plenty of organizations that could own these ratings, but there is no obvious choice. Traditional analyst and market research firms, such as Gartner, Forrester and SiriusDecisions, already occupy positions of authority, but do they have capacity to become ratings agencies?

Is it a chance for their upstart challengers, including G2 Crowd and TrustRadius, to displace them? Data marketplaces like Oracle, LiveRamp or AppNexus have a wide view of what data is available and how it’s used, but they also face conflicts because they sell their own data.

Industry advocacy groups such as the IAB, Digital Advertising Alliance, BPA and others would seem like a natural fit, but it raises questions about whether they can reach a consensus among their constituencies before rolling out universal ratings. In all likelihood, a separate, independent body would split off from any one of these groups or companies to lead this charge.

The time has come for these kinds of ratings. The digital ad industry can continue to scream about the problem of too much data and feel anger that it is unjustly scrutinized, or it can become a problem solver and adopt measurement means to identify the quality data providers and share the results.

The more analytics a brand has access to, the more easily they can monitor their data sources and determine which resources are “good” data and which will not be as helpful in reaching campaign goals. There are many ways to measure performance with the ever-improving technology, but how about an old-school Roman gladiator challenge, in the form of a bake-off, to add to the mix?

Follow Bombora (@bomboradata) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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