Big Data’s Big Omission

I just got back from Phoenix, where I was attending the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting. This year’s theme was “Big Data and Big Ideas.” So I had some big expectations about this conference, and for the most part I wasn’t disappointed. I met some great people and participated in some fantastic conversations.

One thing we all learned is that historical data isn’t always predictive, especially when it comes to the weather.

It’s usually comfortably warm in Phoenix this time of year, so everyone planned for temperatures around 80 degrees, except for the folks from who were smart enough to trust their own big data and were prepared for the unseasonably cool climate. Google sponsored a lovely – but lonely – village of cabanas provisioned with ice cold drinks to demonstrate its hot new “Pixel” Chromebook. Adobe sponsored a dinner under the stars that was so cold the dinner was actually held under heat lamps. For the first time in the recorded history of trade shows, everyone actually wore the fleece that was given out as swag at the OpenX party (thanks Tim!).

Since everything was already turned upside down, I thought maybe we could expect to hear something about email at an advertising conference about big data.

Fat chance! It was cold, but hell didn’t freeze over in Phoenix this year.

Now don’t get me wrong. Randall Rothenberg and the folks at the IAB put on a fantastic conference. But they put out a proverbial buffet and forgot the plates.

How do you have a big data strategy without including email?

If you spend any time building marketing databases, you know that customer identity management is a critical part of your strategy. Customer identity and relationship management is built upon the foundation from three pieces of data: email addresses, postal addresses, and phone numbers. Have all three and keep them up to date and you are golden. Even if you have just one of these you can still succeed in marketing. Phone numbers and email addresses are long-tail identifiers that comprise two of the most reliable primary keys within most companies’ databases. Postal addresses form the basis for householding and are the cornerstone of demographic and geographic targeting.

No one can deny that cookies are important in today’s web economy, but they are simply not enough. Cookies are not the cornerstone of a long-term customer data strategy. They are the cornerstone of an anonymous web display ad targeting economy and they are dropped, crushed, appended to, bombed, and targeted, but they have not provided you with the unified view of your customer that email, phone, and postal addresses can. Furthermore, now that it looks like Firefox is jumping on Microsoft’s “Do Not Track” bandwagon, third-party cookies will be even less reliable.

The IAB has recently sharpened its focus on the concept of “brand,” a notion that might otherwise be considered quaint. But we live in a shifting advertising world that is still trying to move past click-through rate (CTR) as its key measure, and this is a wise move. Bravo.

So as long as the IAB is focusing on big ideas like “brand,” it should consider another big idea: an email-centric big data strategy will help your brand communicate more effectively over the long haul. Keep buying your cookies, but for best results don’t forget the email.

Big Data image on home page via Shutterstock.

Related reading