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Data management platforms and why you need one

Data management platforms and why you need one Josh Dreller

At a conference a few years ago, a speaker lamented the constant loss of data exhaust that is rampant in our business. There is a ton of data generated when we run digital campaigns that is simply not being captured or, more importantly, not being harnessed and repurposed for later use.

For example, a furniture retailer spends millions each year on banners to drive traffic to its site. So, in the instance where we're able to track a user who just visits the bedroom furniture section, if we are able to serve a post-visit impression to that person, logic dictates that we should show the person bedroom furniture creative, right? How about a major online insurance provider that knows that lead scoring, to quickly funnel the right leads to the right salespeople, is crucial? Being able to apply all of the data a company has on hand can mean the difference between success and failure to the business.

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The aforementioned are just few scenarios in which we can use data exhaust to our benefit. But when you sit down and really think about how your first-party data and purchased third-party data can really be applied, it becomes obvious that, as an industry, we're not doing the best job we can. By bringing these data into a centralized platform, we can then plug it into analytics platforms, media environments, optimization tools, attribution models, etc. This is the inevitable evolution of our industry.

Thus, enter the data management platform (DMP). Yes, another acronym to add to the pile in an industry that loves its acronyms. Right now, the DMP is in its larvae stage with a handful of vendors at the front edge of what is bound to become one of the most vital tools in the digital marketing technology stack. The rules are still being written on what a DMP is, how it should look and feel, and what features are crucial to include. A handful of vendors, such as Demdex (recently purchased by Adobe), Lotame, BlueKai, and others, are pioneering this space.

Certainly, the major catalyst that has generated a deeper interest in data handling has been the recent rise of biddable display buying through the exchanges. Data are critical in advanced cookie-buying, and marketers know that better data means better buying decisions on these delivery platforms. But with new solutions, there are new challenges. Data management platforms will help marketers navigate these new waters.

To get more info on DMPs, I turned to Dan Reich, a thought leader in this space who presented Lotame's DMP, Crowd Control, to me late last year. Reich (now with social commerce startup Spinback, which he co-founded) helped me understand that one of the biggest drivers of DMPs is the need for portability. "If you're a buyer working with multiple DSP or media environments, you're limited to what's plugged in to the DSPs already," he says. "If you use a DMP, your data assets are portable. You can use it however, and wherever, you want for analytics, reporting, optimization, etc. One of the worst feelings you can have as a marketer is when you realize that you can't leave a bad vendor because they have a stranglehold on your own data."

Another thing Reich brings up is the need to manage the security of your data. "What happens when Agency X works for both Coke and Pepsi? That presents a real issue," he notes. "DMPs are going to play a crucial role to firewall those data networks. It's going to be hard for brand managers to justify working in a media environment that doesn't have that architecture in place."

Someone who has certainly spent a lot of time thinking about data is Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai. His company has been one of the major trailblazers in the audience data space and is helping to lead the DMP charge for marketers and their agencies. He says that there are four distinct problems that need to be addressed. "First, we know that a marketer's first-party data is gold, and it's leaking," he says. "You have tags from 20 different vendors on your site -- how is your data being used without your permission is a major issue that marketers need to think about. Secondly, data gives us a good way of measuring how our marketing is performing, but advertisers are hampered by the fact their data is spread across so many different platforms and you don't have any way to bring it all together.

"The third issue is that people want a unified view of their audience across not only their own data but across third-party data," he continues. "The reason they want this is that retargeting works -- but is often limited in scale. Third-party data sources tell them about their own audience, but to work with them individually is a nightmare. Finally, the fourth problem is that marketers want a common way to segment their audience and then project that across multiple media channels rather than dealing with black box segmentation."

What really impressed me about BlueKai's DMP direction is that it has built up a deep technology stack to tackle all of these issues. For example, the company recently acquired the reporting and analytics company TrackSimple, which excels at aggregating data from multiple sources into a single, streamlined dashboard. Tawakol says the solution begins with a tag management system, which is a server-side tool that enables marketers to remove all of the various tracking pixels from their sites. "This effectively stops the data leakage, and we give our clients security tools so they now have the power to choose what they want to share with their partners," Tawakol says. "Then we'll take your content and classify it to the most granular degree using an editorial team of library science specialists with machine assist to generate rules that produce a taxonomy for the site. From there, you can create segments with your own taxonomy."

The data management platform discussion is just beginning. There will be new tools popping up in the next few years -- some with full, comprehensive solutions and others that tackle specific issues that marketers want to deal with. There will be new challenges as our industry evolves, and DMPs will adapt with the times. Regardless how this channel shakes out, data will always be a key contributing factor to the success of digital campaigns, and marketers will gravitate to the tools and platforms that help them manage their data in the most effective way.

Josh Dreller is VP of media technology and analytics at Fuor Digital.

On Twitter? Follow Josh Dreller at @mediatechguy. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

As a media technologist fluent in the use of leading industry systems, Josh Dreller stays abreast of cutting edge digital marketing and measurement tools to maximize the effect of digital media on client goals. He has achieved platform certification...

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