Marketers Should Treat Data As A Pre-Tangible Asset

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 Dominique Shelton Leipzig, partner at Perkins Coie.

Major data breaches can tarnish brand reputations and call into question the safety of their data practices. And given the bevy of privacy and data security compliance laws in Europe, Asia, Latin America and now, California, it is difficult for companies to know if they are obeying all the rules.

While data poses many challenges, it also presents opportunities for every brand. Whether they know it or not, every company is already a data company.

Companies must approach data as a pre-tangible, or unrealized, asset. By “pre-tangible,” I mean that data holds much value for companies that can be leveraged for product development and increased revenue, but the lack of proper management leaves this data as yet not meeting its full potential for companies.

Take stock and leverage

Like any other asset, you need to know what you have. Taking an inventory of a brand’s data will best position it for the future and eliminate inefficiencies and prevent other parts of the company from purchasing the same type of data.

For example, a health care company may have four different divisions purchasing enhanced customer profiles from data brokers, such as Acxiom, to improve its existing records so it can have better visibility into its customers’ offline purchases. Instead, the company could save money by purchasing the consumer profiles from the data broker once per year and sharing them within its divisions versus incurring the expense and inefficiencies of four different divisions purchasing the same data four times.

The best way to inventory data is to enlist at least one person to lead the effort. From there a combination of surveys, interviews and technological tools will generate the best results. A simple survey can help determine the data being collected that is most critical to growth. Often this relates to the personal data of customers, employees and business partners with whom companies interact regularly, in addition to IP and other business tools.

Once a brand has identified via surveys who touches its personal data, group or one-on-one interviews are helpful to understand how the data is used and for what purposes. After specific critical data sets, such as credit card numbers, are identified, companies can train a data leakage program or other similar tool to crawl their systems to locate where those data sets reside.

Brands can then figure out what products or services can be improved with the data their teams are storing and have already amassed. For example, many companies use social listening as a way to hear about how their brands and competitors are being discussed in social media. While marketing teams ingest this information, this data can be very helpful for product development.

For example, after the release of GoPro’s Hero3+ camera, customers voiced online a number of suggestions for features that could improve their experience. It appears GoPro took this information to heart and incorporated some of the feedback into the GoPro Hero4.

Build and sustain

Beyond improving products and services, brands can expand their business through their use of data. They can work with their digital teams to develop dynamic platforms that actually build community through their products or services or via appropriate M&A. For example, LinkedIn discovered that adding online learning to its platform enhanced its content offerings. Rather than start from scratch, it purchased for $1.5 billion, instantly boosting LinkedIn’s online learning platform with the integration of Lynda’s 267,000 video tutorials and a community learning portal for users to share insights.

Data can also help companies sustain their growth. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can help them understand their businesses better, what is working well and what can be improved. For example, Samsung is using Crimson Hexagon’s AI-powered audience insights platform to understand the preferences of its existing and putative EU customers. Hexagon’s more than 1.2 trillion social posts are instantly accessible via the platform for Samsung and other customers to use for product launch management and other business purposes.

Protect that asset

Brands should not delegate their data asset protection solely to the chief information security officer. Just as the C-suite gets reports about other critical assets of the company, so should those at the top be aware of their data strategy.

As is true with any asset, multiple parties have a key role in protecting the data. All employees that touch critical data need to be trained on how to avoid compromising it, and there should be internal policies and procedures that govern how a company treats its most critical data to prevent inadvertent leakage or unauthorized access. A fulsome approach that involves awareness, technical controls, governance and corporate philosophy is needed to truly protect data.

Companies should review their insurance portfolios to ensure that data is covered, in terms of how they collect it, use it and store it.

Brands would never think of putting their company’s most valuable product at risk by failing to pay attention to legal requirements. They must apply the same standard to their data and stay abreast of legal developments to avoid data-related scandals or other reputational hits. This is particularly salient in the digital advertising world where transparency around data collection management is critical to prevent brands from being accused of privacy violations.

Thinking of data as an asset is particularly important for companies engaged in digital advertising. Far beyond marketing, the data that brands are collecting may very well be the key to their future. By reframing the situation, brands may be pleasantly surprised by what their data has in store for them.

Follow Perkins Coie (@PerkinsCoieLLP) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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