This month's Business Mailers' Co-op and Interactive Marketing Conference, hosted by database marketing company MeritDirect in White Plains, N.Y., was rife with discussions about measuring data performance, integrating data, data licensing, and just about everything pertaining to this year's topic, Big Data. "Why is it so difficult to understand what information to use, how to extract the most value from it and how to measure it?" said Charles Stryker, CEO of data consultancy The Venture Development Center, Mount Laurel, N.J. "Companies are using less than one-tenth of one percent of the data they could be using. The opportunity to ingest the appropriate data you're not ingesting is monumental." One trend promising to extract more value from data is data licensing, whereby marketers purchase lists for extended use over time, instead of renting them for one-time use only. "Data licensing is a dramatic departure from how to sell and use data," said Chris Blohm, senior VP-data and media services with MeritDirect. With data licensing, the lists are sent directly to the marketer (instead of a bonded mail house) for use in any way, and as often, as that marketer sees fit. Typically, the license runs for one year. Blohm said the trend is being driven by the rise of online data compilers such as Salesforce.com Inc.'s Data.com (formerly Jigsaw), Database101, NetProspex and ZoomInfo, with transactional websites that allow marketers to assemble and buy lists from compiled and crowd-sourced techniques. A one-year list license allows marketers to conduct multiple campaigns that delve deeper into companies; integrate the purchased data across various parts of the business, including both sales and marketing; better measure results and compare them to the performance of in-house lists; and augment partial in-house records. "Because of this type of buying method, marketers have changed the way they think about and acquire data," Blohm said. Marketers eager for better data insights aren't stopping there. According to Stryker, increasingly useful sources of data collection include data from search and social media, as well as from Web crawling and crowd-sourcing. Search data can be used to identify prospect companies whose employees are searching for particular products, offering an early warning sign of pending purchases, Stryker said. An analysis of social media, meanwhile, helps verify the accuracy of database contacts, and identifies what people like and don't like. Web crawling and crowd sourcing offer distinct ways to identify Web users and their professed needs. And when these four data sources are cross-matched, even more accurate, insightful information can be made available, he said. However, Stryker acknowledged that "the weak link today is finding people with the skill at looking at billions of data points and extracting insights from them." Bruce Biegel, senior managing director at marketing consultancy Winterberry Group, cited another challenge facing marketers: integrating "known" data from in-house lists with unknown or vague information offered by website visitor behavior. "One of the most interesting cases is recognizing somebody when they come to your site, and giving them the right offer," Biegel said. "When 80% of your audience is completely anonymous, how do you treat them? "If I can organize this data, stop it from being so messy and segment it, I can then feed it into a decision engine to make the right offers to the right people at the right time," he said. Biegel urged marketers to create a "registration ethos" at their companies, to build their email databases for purposes beyond email campaigns. "The key to syncing, matching and recognition is the email address," said Biegel, noting email's relationship to browser identity. "The more you can do to get people to subscribe, register or declare with their email addresses, the bigger pool you'll have available for matching that information with the known contacts in your CRM database."