Audience Data Quality Control – 4 Tips to Help Marketers Navigate Third Party Data Providers

In the last three years, integrating audience data to improve the targeting for online ad campaigns has become an industry standard. Unfortunately, not all audience data is created (and sourced) equally.

On July 27th, in an article about Google and 3rd party data, Laurie Sullivan interviewed Colette Dill-Lerner, the VP of Internet Marketing at leading direct marketing company Guthy-Renker, who said that when she reviewed data files, she found nearly 50% of their gender data was wrong. In essence, the data used provided as much value as a coin toss.

In the same way that a few spammers hurt the entire email marketing industry, providers of inaccurate data hurt the data targeting industry.

So how can marketers ensure that they’re getting quality data to enhance targeting for their online advertising campaigns? Here are a few tips for conducting your own audience data quality control:

  • Buy data which has been verified by an independent 3rd Party. In 1914, the Audit Bureau of Circulations was established to verify magazine circulations by advertisers, agencies and publishers in order to end deceptive pricing practices in the magazine industry. Today, most advertising vehicles have their reach/frequency/circulation data verified by an external body. So why isn’t audience data verified? The same companies which verify online traffic data also have the tools to verify audience data to ensure that the gender data is correct. Seek certification when you can.
  • Buy data from a data provider which purchased the data directly from the source. With the growth in audience data usage, more and more vendors have started incorporating audience data into their offerings. To ensure the quality of the data they purchase, agencies and marketers should buy data either directly from the source OR from a data provider who purchased the data directly from the source. This way, there will always be someone accountable for the data. You shouldn’t have to be a detective to sniff out a source.
  • Buy data from a provider with enough range, volume and activity to support your campaign goals and enough of a track record to vet the data. When buying audience data, the audience segment you think will perform best is not always the one which actually performs best. The best results come from testing and analyzing campaign performance, and optimizing the data segments as the campaign progresses. That’s why it’s important to purchase audience data from a provider with a broad enough range of data segments to enable testing and analysis, and enough scale to reach your campaign goals. Plus, a long history of successfully performing campaigns at scale provides feedback to ensure that segments are regularly vetted and put to the test in the real world.
  • Make sure that your verification methods match the data capture and targeting methods. If you are buying data that is derived at a household level and your campaign goals are targeting at an individual level, you have a data/performance mismatch that will not only result in poor verification scores, but also poor campaign performance. Ensure that your measurement criteria match with how the data was sourced and what your targeting efforts are trying to accomplish. A great place to start to understand data definitions is the IAB’s Data Lexicon, a detailed primer on the who, what and where of data sourcing. Additionally, it is critical to “test your tester” – dig deep into the methodology and check that it too complies with industry standards. As accuracy standards still aren’t “standard”, incompatibility between data collection and verification processes are rampant, and can unfortunately provide both false positives and negatives.

Audience targeting data is driving huge gains in campaign ROI. But, as its use proliferates, agencies and marketers need to take the necessary quality control measures to ensure their data sources are transparent, the data product is regularly vetted at scale and that campaign goals and performance metrics are aligned.

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