The dark age of data suspicion is giving way to a new age of data transparency

the Data funnel / Pixabay

In today's tech renaissance, data is everywhere and it seems like it can do everything. It flows in torrents from tens of billions of connected devices and empowers brands to offer truly customized advertising, marketing, and customer service. But does data have a dark side?

The limited understanding of how data is used - and occasionally abused - has rightly earned its skepticism. This data dark age has been characterized by ignorance, suspicion, poor measurement, high-profile fraud, and cybersecurity failures; big breaches last year at Equifax and Yahoo put the personal information of billions of consumers up for sale, and are only two examples among hundreds.

Show me the data

From industry analyst reports to thought leaders like Mary Meeker, it seems like everyone is talking about transparency as the next trend for the world’s data. Consumers and businesses will demand it. They want to know where it comes from, why it's collected, and what it's being used for. We also know that the younger generations are more willing to share their personal information than ever, they just want to make sure there is a clear value exchange.

But we must admit that small pockets of the marketing and advertising industries have been part of the problem. From click fraud to misreported video viewability to relying on outdated metrics, our industry has experienced its fair share of data scandals. If a new era of data trust is in order, we must embrace it and lead the way.

Here is how advertisers and marketers can begin.

Tighten up measurement models

Just like consumers, advertisers are rightly demanding a better understanding of their data. They're tired of the fact that metrics like Cost Per Click (CPC) and Cost Per Impression (CPM) are the only proxies for real value. These measurements favor ad platforms who, whether through error of commission or omission, have allowed brands to squander as much as 20% of their digital advertising budgets on fraudulent impressions.

Advertisers who want more transparency and simplicity in their ad spend need to demand accountability from ad vendors. By using external data signals that can't be faked, they can pay for genuine impressions only. One such signal is location data, which when leveraged through a performance-based model like Cost Per Visit (CPV) can promote better accountability, since the responsibility to deliver results is on the vendor, and not the buyer.

Measurements like CPV, which directly map to tangible business impact, are essential because fraudulent activity is never designed for that outcome. While in previous years it has been difficult to optimize for identifying business impact at this level, smartphones, IoT devices, machine learning improvements, and other technology trends are enabling data scientists to draw clear correlations between digital behavior and offline actions. In fact, the industry increasingly demands transparency because it increasingly understands that accuracy is finally within reach.

Define 'data'

As the push for transparency intensifies, third-party data use is destined to come under scrutiny. The best thing brands can do? Lean in and talk candidly about how they intend to use data, both internally and externally. They'll have to take stock of their third-party data processors, from CRMs to programmatic platforms, to ensure complete compliance.

It's also time for vendors to stop grading their own homework – they must embrace third-party regulators to provide a neutral perspective. And finally, executives will need to lead the way. Companies must ensure that they are educated on the nuances of the new regulations and prepared to break with old habits.

Use data for good

With so much focus on the dark corners and quantitative difficulties of data, it's easy to forget its potential for good. Just as data helps brands understand consumers, data can help people understand each other. If brands want to encourage everyone to continue sharing their data, they should show them the good data can do.

For-profit companies like Mastercard are very public about using their data to tackle the world's "greatest social challenges" says Shamina Singh, president of Mastercard Center. The SAS Institute, an analytics firm, uses data to help refugees in Nepal, and the telecommunications group GSMA helps first responders deal with infectious diseases, pollution, and earthquakes.

Data can be good for everyone. As we exit the dark age, brands must show the world that sharing is vital, and that in the age of transparency, your brand is leading the charge.

Dan Silver is the vice president of marketing for GroundTruth

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