OPINION11 April 2017

Best before data

Data analytics Opinion

Mountains of audience data is generated each day and certain measures must be taken to ensure that this information doesn’t stagnate over time, says Ellie Hubble of Ve Interactive. 

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More consumer data is being collected than ever before. Where once businesses had to infer who their audience was, what they were interested in and how they would behave – now, analysts can pinpoint exactly what the user wants and needs.

Scores of data points can now be amalgamated to create the most accurate of buyer personas. But at what point does data lose its value? Are cookies for life or are they just for Christmas? Does data have – for want of a better phrase – a ‘best before date'?

What data is being collected in the industry today?

Short answer? A lot. Everything on the internet is trackable, resulting in countless strands of data. Time on page, demographic, age, gender, best time of day to purchase, location, average order value, basket contents… the list goes on indefinitely.

In terms of types, there are three to be concerned with.

First party data is the information that a company collects directly from its customers. It is therefore the most accurate and relevant data as it is direct from the source. It can be collected from existing marketing campaigns, website analytics platforms, CRM systems, site registrations and more.

When a client works with Ve, we put our signature smart pixel onto their site so that we can perform onsite data collection and learn everything about their audience and behaviour to build targetable segments.

Second party data is a company’s first party data that is sold to another company. This type of data is often traded with another related partner to supplement first party data.

For example, a smart watch brand might trade its first party data with a fitness clothing brand, allowing both brands to get unique audience data sets to analyse as part of a data alliance.

Third party data is the data that you can buy pre-collected from an external provider. It is often compiled from a broad range of sources. As Ve’s head of UK Commercial Operations, AJ Hill, says: “There is so much data available to advertisers out there right now, and this is only going to increase with time. But it doesn’t matter how much data you have if it is not processed properly.

"Everyone has access to hordes of third party data – but is it relevant to you? This is the question that all advertisers need to ask.”

Is some data more valuable than others?

It varies from sector to sector, but using retail as an example, cookies have a life cycle of approximately 30 days. In terms of timeframe, the most valuable data is days zero to seven from the cookie being dropped onsite, as this is the time most likely to generate conversion.

Where most would simply let a cookie stagnate after this period, at Ve we recognise that there’s still life left in it. In the context of retail, we could breathe life into data through post-targeting or upselling, for example. The user that’s been served a set of men’s ties, for instance, might well be interested in a set of men’s shirts at a later date.

In terms of specific data points, for example the URL, gender of a user, or AOV (average order value); no data element is better or more valuable than another. It’s only with context and the intelligent fusion of data points that data has any value.

Can data lose its value?

Targetable audience data can absolutely lose its value as, quite simply, users change. People move house, get married, have kids, change their habits, interests and online behaviour as time progresses. But in general terms, all data is valuable, as when compiled intelligently, it can be used to create a historical footprint and active buyer persona.

How can data processors keep their data ‘within date'?

The best data processors build segments and qualify them over time, so that the data doesn’t stagnate. It’s not enough to be a big data collector, the most important thing is how the data is used.

At Ve, for example, before running any campaign, we carry out in-depth, pre-campaign audience analysis and perform a comprehensive client site audit. So for each new campaign, we have a wealth of historical data to refer to to set internal benchmarks.

But it’s important to remember that data is not linear. We have to create a continuous optimisation loop process. Put simply, we combine targetable audience data with learnings from campaign performance, and reassess and combine these two elements consistently.

As Hill says: “When it comes to managing data, it’s never as simple as having a cookie for life. The recency has to be accurate and users have to be treated as active buyers, not data points. Analysis of purchase patterns is pivotal to inspiring repeat purchases and keeping data from stagnating.”

So, does data have a best before date?

'Yes', ‘no’ and ‘it’s complicated’ all apply as legitimate answers to this question.

In a broad sense, data only goes out of date if it is not validated or used in the right way. It’s for this reason that the intelligent overlapping of data and audience sharing are going to become more and more important.

At Ve, we understand the lifetime value of an advertiser’s audience, but also understand that specific audiences’ buying habits vary across multiple verticals. Data isn’t linear, users aren’t linear. And if as an industry we learn to share and collaborate our data, then that’s more prospecting audiences and more new life breathed into audience data, ultimately benefiting everyone.

Ellie Hubble is a senior trends writer at Ve Interactive