Four Crucial Marketing Data Practices to Stay Resilient in Unforeseeable Times

June 4, 2020

Critical data strategies for a world of sudden change.

From a global pandemic to mass protests, 2020 has been a year like no other – and we’re only halfway through. Beyond the human impact of these events, businesses are left struggling with a crisis of planning. “What is our quarterly strategy?” has been replaced with “Now what?”

In the world of data-driven marketing, these sudden “black swans” pose their own set of challenges. In a field based on collecting reliable data to plan ongoing activation, such sudden shifts can make an always-complex field dauntingly difficult. How can data-driven marketers – and the publishers and technology platforms they work with – stay nimble? I offer four key data resiliency strategies below – based largely on the world of COVID-19 and the economic downturn, but crucial for continuity in any sudden change. 

Ensure a flexible data supply chain. New events can change the value of the data you buy and partners you work with – whether that’s a data provider that may be closing its doors, or an activation partner that may be temporarily irrelevant. The more flexible your data supply chain, the better you can shield yourself from risk. Be sure both your tech stack and your contracts allow for flexibility to dial up, dial down, or completely change your data and activation approaches to meet your new needs. 

To stay top of mind, use persistent identifiers. From airlines to quick serve restaurants, many companies have focused on retaining customers and keeping prospects engaged while services are largely on pause. One huge challenge they face is fast-expiring identifiers – like 30-day cookies –  that are of minimal help in staying connected to customers who haven’t “stopped by” in a very long time. The lesson: to stay connected with customers in any condition, it’s critical to have a ready arsenal of more persistent identifiers – like email addresses and mobile IDs – that can help you stay connected.

First-party data keeps you self-reliant. In a moment of crisis, two of the most important questions to zero in on are which assets you possess internally and so have most control over; and which consumers have “raised their hand” as being interested in your brand, and so can be the low-hanging fruit to focus on in lean times. First-party data is both of these things, which is why it is so important to focus on gathering and maintaining first-party data (like email addresses) in any environment. Unfortunately, when it comes to first-party data, many brands entered the COVID crisis already woefully behind.

Extreme circumstances can complicate privacy. Governments and companies worldwide look to geolocation data to help track the spread of the pandemic – a development that many privacy-conscious thinkers have greeted with a mixture of optimism and unease. Of course, there are many more types of data that could theoretically be used to fight the contagion – including data from individuals’ travel- and health- searches, log-in activities to certain sites, and in theory participation in protests. Turning private data into a public good could have downstream implications for many businesses – from gray areas of data trafficking to potential conflicts between corporate standards and government needs, along the lines of the Apple / FBI standoff of 2015. Now is the time to be sure your privacy policies and governance are thought out in advance, and are integral to your data management – not an afterthought.

Every crisis offers an opportunity to rethink the foundations of your business. For data-driven marketers today, that re-think should include a thorough examination of data operations and strategy – with a focus on keeping partnerships nimble, prioritizing the right kinds of data, and putting user privacy and safety first throughout. Putting these data practices in place can help position you to stay secure now  –  and to thrive through both the next upturn, and the next “black swan” event. 


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