Why marketers still struggle with data infrastructure

The data infrastructure that powers global e-commerce is so hopelessly bulky, convoluted, and outdated that it threatens the health of the digital economy.

In fact, lack of access to data and inadequate tools and technology keep some 85 percent of CMOs from implementing an omni-channel marketing strategy, according to a recent study by the CMO Club and Visual IQ.

Think about it. The process most everyone uses for collecting web-user interaction data hinges around tags, cookies, and browsers. Our browsers run trillions of these one-off data connections that must be continuously maintained.

Twenty years ago -- eons in internet years -- there were no logical, scalable alternatives to the tag/cookie/browser triumvirate. But this infrastructure wasn't developed for today's consumer behaviors in a cross-channel environment. Of all the places where behaviors and interactions can be captured, a growing number have no relevance to the tag/cookie/browser construct. Think about mobile devices and apps, point-of-sale systems, call centers, televisions, and digital out-of-home, and it's clear that your customer is well beyond your current data connectivity approach.

Many marketers are confused by the siren song of tag management. "Won't that solve my data needs?" they ask. The simple answer is no. Tag management is addressing the mid-1990s idea that centers on tags, cookies, and browsers. It does nothing to help to prepare you for the world your consumers live in today.

What is needed is a solution that addresses the issues of both data collection and integration to enable marketers to keep pace with their ever-connected, mobile customers. That solution lies in a new infrastructure where the cloud supplants tags and cookies, where servers and API connections, not browsers, form the hub of data integration.

Through this approach, cross-channel data is connected in real-time to create a cohesive, intelligent view of the customer. No more worries about lengthy IT cycles, cookies being accepted, or tags not firing. Vendors and advertisers can reach consumers with more relevant and timely messages. They can do more important work than managing a tired infrastructure.  

This new technology foundation must be built around several key premises.

For starters, it must be created in a way that generates more trust and transparency around the data being collected and shared. The lack of both is a critical flaw in the browser-centered infrastructure. It's hard for consumers, policymakers, brands, and vendors alike to have confidence in a system where there's uncertainty over what's being collected -- and shared.

Moreover, it must be open. It's not just the oligarchs of data like Google and Adobe that should benefit by the new infrastructure. The young companies with great ideas need access, as well. That's how continuing innovation, by vendors and brands, will be fueled. The notion of "innovation on demand" is at the core of an open infrastructure -- something that's blocked by the IT cycles and lock-ins that are a function of legacy data-connection approaches. 

The issue of our aging data infrastructure is coming under increasing scrutiny in an era when big data is just getting bigger, increasing the pressure for more effective connectivity. It's time to remove the silos that are trapping data to facilitate a better understanding of customers across devices and experiences, in real-time. The next 20 years of the internet's evolution start today.

Mike Sands is president and CEO of BrightTag.

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Brad Hawk
Brad Hawk April 24, 2014 at 8:07 AM

Really interesting thoughts. To your point, eCommerce and brands were years away from consideration when these web standards were created.

When it comes to brand marketers, many don't realize how limited their data structure is. Some feel the second they have a tag management or digital attribution tool, they have checked the box on 'data'. From that point, there is still much more work ahead to integrate cross-channel, non-digital efforts into a media mix.

From a consumer perspective, you are absolutely right that their needs to be more transparency and trust gained around how data is collected. 'AdChoices' next to display ads (and other methods) are not clear and don't inspire confidence for users, nor do privacy settings buried in menus. And this is from someone who works in this arena every day. We can't enable a better infrastructure without clearly giving consumers equal power in opting in or out of it.