The Neutronian Manifesto: A Call to Arms on Data Quality

29th January 2020

When it comes to data, we in marketing technologies find ourselves at a crossroads. From CMOs to agencies to platforms to data providers, we have a choice to make.

Either we embrace “quality” in the true, comprehensive sense of the word and as a result grow the ecosystem with the trust of both brands and consumers.

Or we continue to allow opacity and “performance irrespective of source” (our industry’s version of “the end justifies the means”) to breed consumer mistrust of all forms of digital tracking (what we refer to as MarTech), inviting further regulation and shrinking options for reaching customers.

If we chose the quality route, an enormous opportunity lies before all of us. Indeed, the long awaited merger of linear TV and digital has arrived with connected TV, enabling more actionable and valuable data sets than have ever been available to deliver consumers better experiences across more devices. Moreover, the tools at brands’ fingertips have also become more powerful, whether in the realm of attribution, large scale machine learning, or AI-based targeting.

It’s because of this massive opportunity that we have founded Neutronian. We think together, we can help reinvigorate an entire industry, and help the practice of data-driven marketing achieve its full potential.

But first, we need a reality check. The climate surrounding consumer data has changed dramatically in the past two years, making the current path all the more fraught:

  • Tech companies large and small have been hit with data breaches and privacy scandals, driving consumer awareness of digital data collection to an all-time high and resulting in a rise of cookie deletion alongside soaring opt-out rates.
  • We’re still waiting for a broad-based viable alternative to cookies that will enable identifying consumers across devices, leaving brands no choice but to “spray and pray” with their campaigns, or relying on suspect device graphs or lookalike models.
  • Regulation has forever altered how data marketing companies can operate in Europe, and soon in the US with the looming California Consumer Privacy Act.

Beyond these macro industry shifts, there remains a more tactical issue: MarTech data buyers have long been faced with the fact that they have very little idea what they are buying. It’s not unlike financial traders in the 1920s buying stocks on the NYSE knowing the companies have no audited financials (and we know how that turned out). Today, every brand has to act as its own data auditor in a buyer-beware world.

As a result, much of the marketing technology world is shrinking. Many brands have decided, for good reason, to reign in the use of digital data. They are betting that reducing the number of data sources and partners is better than possibly doing something wrong and damaging their brand.

Given that scenario, high quality data providers that invest in their data science teams and source their data by putting consumers first aren’t rewarded for their efforts. Companies that are doing it right are being lumped together with those that aren’t. That unfortunate set of circumstances drives high quality data firms from the ecosystem while rewarding low quality data providers that remain — any revenue they get is pure profit given they often just aggregate existing data and slap a new name on it.

Now we are hearing sentiments such as “person-based marketing is dead” or “targeting is over, digital media is going back to contextual only”. Fundamentally, we think this extreme point of view is wrong and the pendulum has swung to an irrational negative. We’ve gone too far.

In fact, we couldn’t be more excited and optimistic about the future of data-driven marketing. We just need a data quality standard that is built to showcase the power of data, while doing so in a positive, transparent way that will help grow the entire ecosystem.

To be sure – we believe that the marketing industry’s reaction is understandable and brands should exercise more caution than ever. But at the same time, relying on just a few data sources other than the massive players is not the best option and paints an entire industry with the wrong brush. Data isn’t inherently bad, only bad data is.

First party data is a fantastic tool and should be viewed as a critical investment from brands and publishers alike but first party data needs to be verified for quality as much as any other source of data. (Who hasn’t used false information to register for a site or rewards card?) And as controversial as this may sound, third party data is far from dead. In fact, we believe that it is potentially the most powerful tool in a brand’s arsenal and one that’s only getting better. But we need a way to keep score. And that need is urgent.

Enter Neutronian. Our mission is to bring clarity in the form of data quality standards to the murky, dark corners of the data universe — enabling brands, marketers, and agencies to safely utilize their untapped super powers.

Before we get there, however, we set forth our fundamental beliefs:

  • “Data quality” means everything that a brand may want to know about a data segment before using it — not just how it may perform or how accurate it is. User consent, how the data was modeled, and how it was sourced are just a few of the many points that need to be included in a comprehensive definition of quality.
  • This isn’t about shaming data providers, shouting about mistakes made, or creating a data blacklist. Instead, the entire ecosystem wins by highlighting the positive. By creating data quality standards that enforce and spotlight the good players in our ecosystem and their best practices, it will raise the bar for all players and they will need to either adapt or lose revenue.
  • We support the IAB Data Label and the various marketing cloud platform disclosure requirements but the ecosystem needs to move beyond disclosure efforts and embrace a viable audit and measurement standard when it comes to data quality.
  • The source of data must be transparent. Full stop. When it comes to acquiring digital data on consumers, brands are literally flying blind. We estimate that 40% of third party data vendors do not disclose their sources. This is unsustainable.
  • Independent verification brings the trust the ecosystem so desperately needs. While data providers shouldn’t have to disclose their sources to every buyer or platform, a trusted auditor can independently and confidentially verify source transparency with no risk to the seller or buyer.
  • Consumer consent is paramount. How brands know what they know about a consumer must be clear to consumers from the get go. That also means consumers have the right to know everything about what brands are collecting on them.
  • How data is described needs to go beyond the basic dataset characteristics such as ‘first party’ or ‘third party’ data. Data recency and how the data is modeled are among many key factors that should be considered.
  • Quality standards will evolve with input coming from brands, platforms, and data providers. Though just as performance metrics are tied to a brand’s unique KPIs, data quality will also be based on the brand’s specific needs.

Given our comprehensive approach to data quality, you can think of Neutronian as the “FICO score” for marketing data. This data quality approach will reward high quality data providers by reducing their sales cycles, increasing their revenue, and eliminating the “tax” imposed by low quality providers tainting the ecosystem.

Data quality will set an entire industry free. Beyond helping brands from wasting time and money on using low quality data, we see this as unlocking billions of dollars in new and more effective spending.

Yes, we at Neutronian see the stakes are that high. Essentially, if we don’t get data quality right, the market will shrink. But if we can nail this, we’re talking about a complete reordering of the marketing landscape.

Once brands have assurance about data quality, the more they’ll experiment — and the more success they’ll have via data driven channels. And once that happens, you won’t see a shift in marketing budgets toward data-drive vehicles. You’ll see a tidal wave. We think billions in marketing budgets will be reallocated as a result.

Part of that shift will happen because quality data providers that are currently on the sidelines will benefit by providing brands a safer, transparent, and more secure data ecosystem. But it’s so much bigger than that. In this new data world order, the good guys should win and the overall data marketing pie should balloon. The marketing world just needs the courage and conviction to choose the right path.

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