Third-Party Data: A Quest for Quality

As marketing depends increasingly on data, a data quality regimen is an absolute necessity. While that’s been known to most “traditional” direct and database marketers for decades, I sometimes think the world of digital data is dragging along kicking and screaming.

Data mining
“Big_Data_Prob,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by KamiPhuc

As marketing depends increasingly on data, a data quality regimen is an absolute necessity.

While that’s been known to most “traditional” direct and database marketers for decades, I sometimes think the world of digital data is dragging along kicking and screaming. Quality data is a quest, and seeking it out requires a discipline to test sources before appending and using the data.

The only mistake is not to test.

Coming from Data & Marketing Association’s &Then17, where a panel of brand chiefs were discussing perspectives on using first-, second- and third-party data in marketing, it seemed clear to me that the C-suite — to the extent that it is aware at all — appears to lack confidence in most third-party data sources, and how they could or should be deployed. Obviously the variety, volume and velocity of data can be overwhelming — particularly as digital, social and mobile channels churn a constant flow of data to evaluate and onboard – but the need to append and enhance first-party data with observed third-party data is absolutely the right way to go. Once an enterprise is ready to do so.

Still, third-party data has a confidence hurdle to overcome. But overcome we must.

If brands rely on first-party data alone, or second-party data from select marketing partners, and ignore third-party data sources, then advertisers are potentially shutting themselves off from cross-device customer identity recognition and resolution, better marketing attribution models, more refined lookalike, persona and acquisition models, customer journey mapping, omni-channel consumer discovery — and even a more complete customer view.

With all this on the line, it’s obvious (to me) that there must be executive buy-in to investigate and build-in third-party data. And integrating such data with first- and second-party sources. (Of course, first- and second-party data may have data quality issues, too.)

But let’s be clear — such a must is not just a grab-and-go data play. Maybe some brands have been burned on third-party data use. Hence, third-party data suppliers have a must of their own: either prove your quality now, or change your business processes so you can.

“If 2017 is the year of data, 2018 will be the year of data quality,” said Maureen Noonan, sales executive in the retail channel, LiveRamp, last week at the company’s Ramp Up on the Road event in Philadelphia.

On a Direct Marketing Club of New York Webinar two days later, Michelle Said, senior manager, New Marketing Institute at MediaMath, spoke of the TLC MediaMath goes through in evaluating third-party data sources and onboarding. Indeed, much of the Q&A on that webinar honed in on evaluating digital data prior to deployment. She said Data Management Platforms (DMPs) — where data are integrated — and Demand Supply Platforms (DSPs) — where audiences (media) are purchased — might best be merged to increase customer data match rates and improve data quality.

Unfortunately, there’s no industry report card on third-party data sources, nor one of the handful of onboarding players. Thus, it is imperative digital data users must adopt a discipline to test before the buy. If you’re not making time to test, then you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to garbage-in, garbage-out. Right now, the pursuit of quality is driving the data marketplace.