With that in mind, here's a quick primer on how to use data to drive your digital strategy.
Explore all available data sources and channels.
First-party, web-based data (the information you can learn about visitors to your sites) is often the most accessible and valuable. Visitors are generating useful signals with every action they take. These data sets belong to you, meaning you don't need to pay third parties to use them and you may use them as fully as the rights you've secured through your user terms.
Start with an inventory of the audience data you're generating through your sites; then identify how to grow and groom that pool. This will likely include adding more granular data collection, refining how you organize and segment the data, and incorporating tools for activating your segments (as I describe below). Data-management platforms (DMP) are available to maximize the value of this data.
Next, explore all the data-collection sources available, including customer-relation management systems, mobile sites and apps, and even offline transactions. Your mobile-optimized sites and apps will power cross-channel insights and targeting capabilities, while CRM data and offline transactions can provide additional attributes drawn from within your universe of first-party sources. All of this data can be combined in a privacy-friendly way, when properly de-identified in the process through which it's aggregated into anonymous audience profiles.
At the same time, consider supplementing your first-party data sources with third-party data -- you can learn even more by understanding how your consumers behave outside your domains. This data can both expand the size of the audiences you design and improve the performance of the advertising, e-commerce and content you promote to these audiences.
Identify valuable patterns.
Amassing a large amount of data is useless, of course, if you can't spot repeatable trends and act on them. After identifying the quality data points you've collected or licensed, you can convert these disparate points into audience segments and insights. Through a capable DMP partner (or proprietary systems you may have developed internally), you should be able to "slice and dice" these segments in virtually infinite ways -- designed to match your specific analytic and audience-marketing objectives.
Activate your data, for advertising and beyond.
After you've mined all relevant first- and third-party data sources, and culled your data into custom audience segments based on quality and relevance, it's time to put those audience segments to work. The most common way publishers and marketers have used these audience segments is to improve the targeting, and therefore efficiency, of online advertising campaigns. This makes good sense as a starting point. Ad-tech systems and players -- including DMPs, demand-side platforms (DSPs), networks, trading desks, agencies, ad servers, exchanges, ad-verification systems, etc. -- are all now integrated in ways designed to enable you to turn your smart audience segments into effective audience-targeted ad campaigns.
But don't stop there. If you're a content publisher, you need to deliver relevant and engaging content to your site's visitors. And your smart audience segments stand at the ready for you to use in meeting this objective. By mapping these segments into your content-management system, you can create a uniquely relevant content experience for each of your visitors. If you're a marketer or e-commerce company, you can use your audience segments to put the right offer in front of the right prospect at the right time on your site.
These additional uses of your audience data create a virtuous circle -- since they will generate more content usage and online transactions, which will in turn add more valuable data to your audience-data coffers. More broadly, all of this data will make you and your organization smarter. The insights you can draw from evaluating your audience segments and the way they perform for you will infuse your entire marketing and business strategy.
The next time you're feeling overwhelmed by the explosion of digital data all around you, take a deep breath and remember that you have the potential to translate the force of that data into serious new value for your customers and your business.