Data Enrichment – Enhancing Online Data

We closed all X Change Registration at the beginning of last week – sold out and then some! Next Sunday I’ll be heading down to San Diego and Monday things get started with Think Tank Training and the Opening Reception Cruise. Can’t wait!

Before I get too derailed, however, I wanted to put out the next installment of my series on Database Marketing and Web analytics.

I often show a slide in my presentations that shows two big Venn-diagram circles. One is for Web Analytics and one is for Database Marketing. It looks like this:

DBMarketing to WebAnalytics1

In talking about it, I try to explain how our mission at Semphonic is to take the good stuff from the Database Marketing circle and move it over into the channels that actually matter these days (Digital).  So with a little animation, I slide everything over to look like this:

DatabaseMarketing to WebAnalytics2

 

I don’t think anything better illustrates this dichotomy or serves as a more visible proof of how little use Web analytics data actually gets than the almost complete absence, until quite recently, of any attempts to really improve online data.

Contrast this with the huge market in data enrichment of traditional data. There are companies (very large companies) who have built a business of taking any piece of data you have and matching it up with what they have and then giving you back a whole bunch more data than you started with. Companies like Acxiom and Experian can take a single identifying piece of data (phone, address, email) and give you back hundreds – literally hundreds – of additional data items. To do this, they’ve built up vast Household databases drawn from almost any conceivable public (or acquirable) source. From census data to change of address records to phone  books to professional associations to property records, they have scoured out potentially interesting data and added it to their vast files.

Where data is worth something, companies INVEST in it.

Along with all this data comes, of course, a variety of services for cleaning and combining it. You can household records together (combining members of a family), scrub addresses and phone numbers, add gender (based on known data or even derived from your first name), age, income, occupation, ethnicity and even append a whole list of potential interests culled from catalog purchases, magazine subscriptions, and credit card data.

Until fairly recently, however, you couldn’t do much with online data and nobody was much interested in investing to improve it.

That’s changing.

Companies like Blue Kai and Blue Cava (not sure why Blue is a common motif) have created interesting data enrichment services around online data. Using these services, you can track (via 3rd Party cookie and other device identification techniques) a users site interests and you can weld together their behavior across multiple devices.

Services of this sort have come under fire from the privacy community – and certainly they come much closer to the “line” than traditional Web analytics. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ve always disliked techniques like “flash cookies”  that seem like willful attempts to bypass consumer control. It doesn’t seem to me, however, that 3rd Party cookie tracking falls into that category. I do worry that Web analytics practices will get conflated with the aggressive collection and sale of browsing information and that traditional Web analytics will end up the proverbial “baby” flying out the window with the bathwater. Still, I have to wonder if the online privacy community understands how much offline data has been made public, aggressively collected, and marketed wholesale. Like airport security, it doesn’t always seem like the lines we draw make much sense.

 Indeed, the traditional Database Marketing companies haven’t been quiet in this realm. They’ve built up formidable email databases (email is the de facto key when it comes to online communication) and can provide a full range of services around this – from email append (you add emails to customers in your database where you have only traditional offline information) to full HH lookup services (you have an email and they provide everything else). Given legitimate collection and use, I don’t see how this practice is distinguishable from the collection and use of address or phone data and seems eminently acceptable.

In database marketing, data enrichment is a key part of the value chain. Adding, appending and cleaning data based on this type of enrichment greatly extends the value of each core piece of data. And for proof of how valuable such data is, you need look no further than the marketplace it supports.

For online data, however, the enrichment of data is even more useful.

To explain why, I’ll hearken back to one of my first posts in this series. The core method in marketing analytics is to create a bridge between the behavior we track and the customer and his intentions. This entire 2011 series has been an extended effort to explain how that can best be done with digital data. No matter how successful you are at this endeavor, though, it will still leave gaps in understanding – both about the visitor and the visit type. Data enrichment can fill those gaps – particularly around the visitor. If we assume that visit-intent is best assessed using behavioral techniques (and I think that’s right), there’s a strong argument that visitor-type is best assessed with a combination of your internal data (the Customer Data Warehouse) and external data via enrichment.

That’s the traditional path for segmentation based on visitor type and I see no reason why it shouldn’t hold true for online customers as well. It’s particularly important for online data because we often know so much less about our online visitors than our traditional offline customers.

Currently, we’re in the odd position of working hardest to enrich the data about the customers we already know the most about. That’s not entirely foolish (those are often the most valuable customers too), but it’s certainly not a comprehensive strategy.

At Semphonic, we’re starting to see vastly increased interest levels in the full range of online data enrichment providers. That’s the best evidence I’ve seen that companies are actually getting serious about online data.

So over my next couple of posts in this series (probably interrupted by X Change posts), I’m going to cover some of the types of data enrichment services worth considering and the companies who provide them.

[For a recap and links to most of the posts in the series, click here.]

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By Gary Angel

Gary Angel is the author of the "SEMAngel blog - Web Analytics and Search Engine Marketing practices and perspectives from a 10-year experienced guru.