There’s a topic that keeps pop­ping up among the Adobe Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing team. It’s noth­ing new; other mar­keters have already tack­led it in umpteen blog posts, panel dis­cus­sions, reports, and water cooler con­ver­sa­tions over the past few years. Yet, despite the buzz, very lit­tle has actu­ally been said. So lit­tle in fact that most folks in our indus­try are still scratch­ing their heads, embar­rassed to admit they’re no wiser than before.

The topic is third-party data—alright, the title prob­a­bly gave it away. If that sounds bor­ing then you might be read­ing the wrong blog. Third-party data is quickly becom­ing essen­tial to every­thing dig­i­tal mar­keters do, from brand build­ing to adver­tis­ing cam­paigns to con­tent per­son­al­iza­tion. At the same time, these new data streams are car­ry­ing us into uncharted waters. And that’s exactly why we keep talk­ing about it around the office.

Are You Sail­ing With­out a Compass?

The ocean of Big Data is call­ing for more sophis­ti­cated nav­i­ga­tion tools. Data inte­gra­tion apps and soft­ware are rapidly devel­op­ing to answer that call. This is a cru­cial moment. Right now—before the tech­nol­ogy is fully formed and the indus­try set­tles on a few stan­dard tools—we have the oppor­tu­nity to shape the future of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing. Our ques­tions, con­cerns, demands, and pref­er­ences can steer devel­op­ers. After all, we are their future customers.

At Adobe, we’ve come up with 10 ques­tions to help nav­i­gate the ocean of data and find out if it leads to new worlds, or a sud­den drop-off in con­ver­sion rates.

Why Bother to Ask?

The abun­dance of data now up for sale presents an oppor­tu­nity to fully real­ize the con­cepts dig­i­tal mar­keters gush about: pre­ci­sion tar­get­ing, nuanced per­son­al­iza­tion, and attention-grabbing con­tent.  Yet most com­pa­nies are using third-party data the same way they used the first-party stuff. They’re ask­ing it the same ques­tions, run­ning it through the same bat­tery of tests, and expect­ing dif­fer­ent results. And if their con­ver­sion rates don’t go through the roof, they con­clude it’s a waste of money and go back to their comfy, pre­dictable, lit­tle data pool. That may or may not be the right con­clu­sion, but we’ll never know unless we truly put third-party data to the test.

Maybe this has hap­pened to you: You get the green light to pur­chase third-party data. Great! While you’re still cel­e­brat­ing the sud­den influx of cus­tomer infor­ma­tion, the execs come down with a ques­tion: What are you gonna do with it? You del­i­cately explain that you—ahem—have no idea.

Read on for 10 ques­tions that will help you avoid these awk­ward moments.

Where Did the 10 Ques­tions Come From?

At Adobe we’ve been using out­side data providers with some suc­cess. When we lever­age third-party sources in our tar­get­ing strate­gies, we typ­i­cally see a 30–40% increase in lead gen­er­a­tion and con­ver­sion rates. Peo­ple also stick around and dig deeper into the site, prov­ing that it’s worth the added cost and effort. If that’s a typ­i­cal result though, it’s also an indi­ca­tion that we’ve only begun to real­ize the full poten­tial of third-party data. We would be crazy to stop there with­out test­ing new strate­gies to find record-breaking results.

Although these results are encour­ag­ing, we are far from sat­is­fied. There are holes in our first– and third-party data inte­gra­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion bar­ri­ers between online and offline data sources, and tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions that hin­der our abil­ity to solve these issues.

We’re not the only ones. A recent Acx­iom and Digi­day “State of the Indus­try” report revealed that

  • 70% of mar­keters haven’t fig­ured out how to inte­grate their online and offline cus­tomer data,
  • 80% don’t use cus­tomer value scores to drive per­son­al­ized sales efforts, and
  • 74% can’t rec­og­nize cus­tomers in real time.

In other words, dig­i­tal mar­keters are strug­gling to under­stand their cus­tomers as indi­vid­u­als and pro­vide them with rel­e­vant expe­ri­ences in real time. That’s our num­ber one goal at Adobe, and the source of our ques­tions. Each of the 10 ques­tions has come up in our day-to-day trou­bleshoot­ing, strate­giz­ing, and daydreaming.

10 Ques­tions for the Future of Third-Party Data

  1. How can we use third-party data to sup­ply the right con­tent to the right per­son at the right time?
  2. How can we con­vert generic third-party data into detailed and rel­e­vant con­text for our customers?
  3. How can we vet third-party data com­pa­nies to ensure data is reli­able, accu­rate, and up to date?
  4. How do we deter­mine which third-party providers are best for our unique needs?
  5. How do we sep­a­rate the tran­si­tory data from the sta­ble data to make sure our third-party invest­ment has last­ing returns?
  6. How can we rebrand data accu­mu­la­tion and behav­ioral tar­get­ing to earn trust and keep pace with cus­tomers who are increas­ingly savvy to—and wary of—these practices?
  7. How can we assim­i­late third-party data to real-time mod­el­ing so our entire data pool is con­tin­u­ally adaptable?
  8. How can we cre­ate and man­age a pro­file for the indi­vid­ual uti­liz­ing all the data that we have available?
  9. How can we effec­tively inte­grate our offline data (i.e., make our Web ana­lyt­ics talk to the call cen­ter too)?
  10. While tools and tech­nol­ogy are still devel­op­ing, how can we unify the mul­ti­ple tools we have in use and ana­lyze our data as a whole?

All 10 of these ques­tions might boil down to this: How do we effec­tively inte­grate third-party data into our per­son­al­iza­tion strate­gies? Or, at the risk of bela­bor­ing the metaphor: How do we turn this vast, rolling ocean into many vig­or­ous, tar­geted streams?

Your Turn…

I invite you to respond to these ques­tions, or offer your own, in the com­ments. Here’s hop­ing they pro­voke some fruit­ful dia­logue that will ben­e­fit us all.