Rewriting The Brief For Data Democratization

Headshot of Roy Armale, Chief Innovation Officer, VMLY&R COMMERCE

Data access in marketing is akin to giving everyone a library card. In theory, it makes sense to fling open those data doors to more than a few analysts, engineers, and people whose solutions are tied to data functions.

But true data democratization isn’t that simple. You need to create relevance and comprehension, too. What’s the point of universal “citizen access” to a library full of books you don’t understand, filled with information you don’t need?

The issue is even more acute in commerce. We see clients pouring millions of dollars to build the best “libraries” in the world, filled with the best “books” in the world, and handing library cards to very intelligent and capable people who proceed to ignore a large percent of it while they do their work.

We need to give this problem and our people more focus. The solution needs to solve for how to collect and organize data, so it becomes part of the workflow for all essential teams, providing a unified view across the customer journey.

Historically, when you look at the speed of development of nations and people, you see a clear causal link between information flow and idea generation. It can be as simple as connecting cities with roads so that traders and messengers can travel easily -- and as complicated as developing a World Wide Web to give access to virtually every piece of information to every person in the free world.

Yet, many pitches and briefs of late call for building big “libraries” -- massive data systems that enable access to people and tools around the world. Wouldn’t we be better off working from the need backward rather than from the available data forward?  This means transforming a data brief into a consumer experience and change management brief. The delivery of a data system becomes its enabler.

Clients often ask us to solve an audience problem: “How can I collect enough first-party data about my customers and link it to third-party data to expand that understanding and target them better?”

We turn this question into a bunch of sub-questions that sound more like this: “How can my direct-to-consumer team use first- and third-party data to build a better experience that increases loyalty?” This is data democracy in action: keeping access widespread, but focusing its relevance to make it easier to understand -- and, most importantly, actionable.

By reframing the brief, clients will no longer need to create large data lakes and huge amounts of data engineering that will be used by a few analysts. Instead, the solution likely requires less data that is used by more people -- in everything from generating insights to improving conversion. This doesn’t just reduce the complexity of the delivery; it also reduces the cost while increasing the usage, which is pretty much the definition of higher ROI.

Does that make data democratization a capitalistic imperative in 2022? I’ll leave that debate to the politicians and philosophers. For now, we as an industry can better focus on making sure data is used by the right people at the right time and send briefs to our data partners that will make us useful and trusted librarians who curate the best short stack of relevant “books” for our clients and their customers.

- Roy Armale is Global Chief Innovation Officer at VMLY&R COMMERCE

Originally published in MediaPost