Agencies Data & Privacy Data

‘Companies don’t trust each other’: how InfoSum brokers data peace between brands


By John McCarthy | Media editor

February 15, 2022 | 5 min read

InfoSum is touting data cleanrooms as a way for brands to share first-party data insights without fear of off-platform leaks. The Drum questions Nick Henthorn, sales director at InfoSum, about its approach to data processing after pharmacy giant Boots signed up.


InfoSum is allowing partner brands such as Boots to pool data without actually sharing it or taking it off-platform

The data collaboration firm is serving as an intermediary between brands and is pushing its ‘non-movement of data’ tech as the diminishing effectiveness and legality of the third-party cookie blinds the market. With the partnership, Boots is using its first-party data on premium media owners such as Channel 4, ITV and Global to target select audiences in bespoke ways.

Henthorn says: “Companies do not trust each other to control and manage their proprietary customer data even if it paints a more comprehensive picture of their audience – and history has proved that they shouldn’t.”

Additionally, he argues the public has never been more aware of “data misuse, hacks, leakage stories and mainstream documentaries.” As a result, the goalposts for privacy-first advertising are shifting (as evidenced by m/SIX’s launch of a data ethics team earlier this week).

InfoSum is allowing partner brands such as Boots to pool data without actually sharing it or taking it off-platform. You can read more about the cleanroom technology here. But in short, each partner has a data ‘bunker’ in the cloud, accessible only to them. The data is stripped of identifiable information and mapped into the bunker where it can’t be removed. Companies are then free to offer others access permissions to analyze bunkers without removing data. Multiple bunkers can be stacked for greater scale, and those that share common customers can garner great targetable insights. There’s also a degree of data noise added to obscure possible identification.

One use case – one Boots will adopt – is in creating a retail media ecosystem where it can collaborate with brand advertisers, media owners, data providers and identity providers to “power shopper marketing activities, off-site activation and measurement use cases.”

Of particular value are the 14 million active Advantage Card members it can target across these media, reengaging lapsed customers or prompting another visit from the hardcore. Boots can also run these campaigns on behalf of CPG partners via Boots Media Group (BMG). Initially on the slate were opportunities in the Boots app, website and in-store.

While the CPGs have generally been looking to build their own first-party data assets, they likely lack the broader market view that say Boots would have. Now they can match their data with Boots’s data to enable targeting across Boots’s various media properties and external partners, i.e. “a nappy brand targeting Boots’s buyers of baby products across a VOD platform.”

Henthorn argues said data can also inform media agencies about what platforms they go to market on too. “It can be used to identify specific behaviors across a media platform, e.g. customers who buy baby products tend to listen to specific stations at specific times on audio platforms.”

This comes as many retailers look to unblock additional value from their first-party data insights, most prominently in the UK’s Tesco.

But the question is why are companies now just starting to play ball and work together? Henthorn says: “This is not just about replacing the third-party cookie but finding a better way to target and reach consumers – with a customer-centric and privacy-focused approach ... a majority did not have (enough) first-party data to use it for accurate targeting.

“Our hope is that data cleanroom providers will fully embrace end-to-end decentralization, ensuring that data matching happens without the movement of customers’ personal data into a central location.”

Boots is fast pushing into new targeting opportunities under chief marketing officer Peter Markey, who adds: “We are thrilled that with InfoSum we have found a solution that puts data privacy first and enables us to collaborate with brands, offering them our unparalleled insight into our customers’ needs and shopping habits without actually having to share that data.

“By unlocking the power of our first-party data and giving brands access to our marketing channels, we can help accelerate ROI by delivering relevant experiences to customers and ultimately enhance the shopping experience for them.”

InfoSum was founded in 2016 and has operated its data collaboration platform since 2019.

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