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3 Creative Ways to Use Public Data for Digital Marketers

  |  July 25, 2013   |  Comments

For small businesses, agencies, and corporations, "public data," like event dates, can help you make smarter decisions.

Super 8 is the world's largest budget hotel chain, but on November 18, 2012, Super 8 was able to charge over $500 per night in Austin, Texas. How? On that day, nearly 120,000 fans from around the country crowded Austin to attend the first Formula One race in the U.S. since 2007. Talk about supply and demand! And on November 17, 2013, odds are good it will happen again.

The November race day was publicly known and posted for months (if not years) in advance. For small businesses, agencies, and corporations, "public data," like event dates, can help you make smarter decisions. Let's dive into a handful of scenarios that apply to marketers.

Large Events Drive Profitability in Travel

Formula One is an extreme example, but this same pattern plays out across the world. On January 21, 2013 at least one million people attended the 57th Presidential Inauguration, driving up hotel rates in Washington, D.C. And just this week in Seattle, hotel room rates, which are usually $150 in some areas, increased to $300 due to a Paul McCartney concert (47,000 in attendance) and a large technology conference.

Large concerts, sporting events, and conferences are booked months in advance, making them predictable and measurable. As the number of available hotel rooms shrinks as demand surges due to a large event, profitability goes up. This means bids and budgets should be adjusted for performance marketing campaigns.

You should think differently about inventory. Before you sell your hotel rooms six months in advance for only $100, scour publicly available data to ensure you're not overlooking a predictable surge in demand.

Back to School for Retailers and Family Vacations

When do your kids go back to school? You likely know because the date is published months in advance.

We can break down the back-to-school season by looking at the first day of school in districts across the country and continents. In Hawaii, 180,000 K-12 students will go back to school on August 5, but New York City's 1.1 million students won't go back until September 9.

Since there are over 15,000 school districts in the U.S. alone, there are times when it might be more cost effective to let someone else compile it - in this case, MCH Strategic Data. The image below visualizes how the first day of school will spread across the U.S. from Late July through September in the upcoming school year (the bigger the bar, the more students).


That's quite a difference in time and geography. So what are the digital marketing implications? There is an opportunity to build more effective campaigns by geographic targeting. This campaign design will provide more freedom in messaging, timing, and bidding.

A nationally targeted campaign won't allow you to differentiate your message to cities or states that are already in school midway through the back-to-school season. For example, even if Los Angeles' 640,000 students go back to school on August 13, you'd have to have the same ad messaging and bids until New York City's 1.1 million students go back on September 9.

Hitting LA customers with a back-to-school campaign 26 days after they've gone back to school may prove ineffective.

Targeting for Local Delivery: Pizza, Plumbers, and Take-Out

Public data can exist in many different forms, from a CSV, Excel file, app, or service. One great application can help a business with a limited service area (say a plumber or a restaurant that delivers) zero in on where to target their online ads. Many local services need to deliver to customers within a certain timeframe, like 30 minutes for pizza or emergency plumbing repairs.

This useful interactive visualization of traffic and mapping data shows commute times in many major cities compiled from open data by Trulia.


Other Open Data Sources

There has been an explosion of data, but sometimes knowing what data to look for is the biggest challenge. It can be a small collection of manually reviewed convention center calendars or a rich data set from the open data movement - my personal favorite source is Data.gov.

Data.gov is a one-stop data shop from the U.S. government, providing access to data from all government agencies, including the Census Bureau. There are countless others; here are some I've been playing around with:

Public data includes open data from government agencies or open source communities, but also includes unstructured data that can be found on the web, like convention center websites. It may be difficult to compile and it might take some creative thinking on your part to reveal true insights. But ignoring this resource means missing out on a big opportunity to create value for your company and customers.

This is about modeling the real world in advertising campaigns with extra rigor and an opportunistic mindset. I'd love to hear your successes, ideas, and resources in the comments below.


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John Gagnon

John Gagnon is a Bing Ads Evangelist (aka “search nerd”) at Microsoft. He has worked for both Bing Ads and Google AdWords, and is a frequent speaker at digital marketing conferences such as SES, SMX, and others. He has advised hundreds of clients ranging from Microsoft teams like Windows and Internet Explorer to small businesses like local garage door repair shops just getting started.

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