Digital’s Worrying Data Addiction

The digital media industry has a problem: It’s addicted to data. No one seems to have enough; everyone is chasing the best suppliers.

As with any drug, when dependence deepens, taking more of the drug actually helps us less and less. In this case, more data on top of data is not helping. We become more focused on the numbers that dance before our eyes and pay less attention to what they mean. Obscured is the reason we wanted all this data in the first place: to possess a deep, accurate and thus evolving understanding of all consumers so we can motivate them to buy our products, love our brands, stay loyal and spend for years to come.

No doubt consumer data is the right starting point. Digital media upped the ante giving marketers the tools to create exponentially larger consumer databases. Digital media is the Medellin of data distribution, spinning out numbers without end. But piling on more data won’t help. Here are the steps of the path to recovery:

Step 1: Acknowledge that more data does not equal better data.

Step 2: Stop equating data with insights. Counting results is not the same as understanding why they occurred, nor will it lead anyone to a method for making them repeatable. Describing a consumer cannot be done on a spreadsheet; it only starts the process of understanding why they act, care or don’t. This is when insights are required, insights such as women who buy high-end beauty products, values innovation over self-image, and moms who are brand loyal, put climate change at the top of their list of society’s problems.These are insights that go beyond the spreadsheet.

Step 3: All data is not created equal. Data can lead to these insights, but once we go down that path we must begin to evaluate and discriminate among our data. Here’s a little tough love for the data addict: Getting to an authentic understanding of the consumer means parsing data to get to the good stuff.

Step 4: Insights must be actionable. Understanding the consumer is good, understanding their values is great, but if this understanding stays on a piece of paper or in a meeting room, then the opportunity is lost. Making insights actionable means having the ability to buy media that reaches consumers defined by their values.

I’m not saying we need to quit data cold turkey. But we can change our relationship to data. Instead of passive absorption of more, more and more, we can start to make our own demands. Clear away the haze and graduate to defining the data we want and re-defining how we use it. Otherwise the digital media industry’s data addiction problem will only get worse.

Bryan Gernert is CEO of Resonate, an online advertising technology company that targets consumers based on their values.

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