Everlyn Lee – Breaking Down Data Silos

Everlyn Lee, Research Analyst, Z Graduate Program, Wunderman

As a digital native, I leave behind massive amounts of digital footprints every day, from liking a friend’s status on Facebook to buying a quilt on Amazon. Or even simply by surfing Google. Collectively, this information contributes to my personal identity and to the understanding of me as a unique individual.

When interpreted not as a whole, however, each separate group of information only tells part of the story. My interactions on Facebook provide insights into my social circles but do not say much about my professional identity, unlike on LinkedIn. Similarly, my browsing activities on Google reveal the kinds of information I sought but are inaccurate indicators of the products I bought, unlike on Amazon.

The possibility of capturing consumer data digitally has allowed advertisers to leapfrog from mass media advertising to micro-targeting. Unfortunately, different data is stored with different digital media giants and is not being shared across domains. Advertisers advertising on a particular domain usually retrieve consumer data only from that domain, and as a result, they do ad targeting using information that does not completely describe the consumers. Advertisements then turn out to be less relevant and personalized.

So what do these mean? Indeed, there is an explosion of consumer data in the cloud that can be accessed from anywhere, anytime. However, such data is stored in silos, waiting to be organized into a complete and more compelling story. Apparently, we may be good at collecting data today but not as good at making sense of that data, yet.

But what if these data silos are broken down? What if information is allowed to interact across domains to form a dynamic, holistic and complete understanding of every individual? What if information is aggregated and integrated to form our doppelgängers in the cloud? I think the potential for a new age of advertising is immense.

With our individual profiles built dynamically into the cloud, brands and advertisers can understand their consumers better, faster and easier. At the same time, consumers benefit by receiving only highly targeted and relevant information, and society as a whole becomes less bombarded with unnecessary advertising “noise”.

Of course, there are issues to be addressed and we can start now to prepare for such a future where advertising becomes smarter, better, and more relevant than ever. I believe the technologies required to aggregate, integrate and interpret data across different media outlets can be easily, if not already, developed, but meeting the interests of different stakeholders will prove to take more time and effort before such a future can materialize.

Digital media corporations, on one hand, will oppose sharing consumer data with other players as such data is considered to be their competitive advantages, even if doing so might hamper breakthroughs in advertising.

To align their interests with that of the society, algorithm technologies have to be capable of allocating advertising profits to the different media players based on the amount of data retrieved from their respective databases per advertising effort. More importantly, pilot tests should be conducted to ascertain that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that pooling consumer data translates into improvements in advertising performances that add greater value to all.

On the other hand, there is the age-old debate of the intrusion of consumer privacy. This is especially so when such an innovation makes it even more possible for advertisers to identify the end user and access information of the particular user that he or she prefers to keep private.

To prevent public outcry, consumers should be given the option to opt-out should they not feel comfortable. Otherwise, they should be able to choose the information they wish to contribute to the construction of their doppelgängers. More importantly, consumer information should be made even more secure so that malicious users cannot abuse it. If advertising can become more transparent and gain public trust, consumers might even be willing to input more information into the construction of their doppelgängers, such as their credit card payment histories.

The digital age has brought about an explosion of consumer data in a disorganized fashion. The future of advertising does not have to be out of this world – maybe it can be as simple as breaking down existing data silos, but yielding powerful results.