James Arnold, Chief Digital Officer, Rooster Strategic Solutions

In a 2015 speech on cyber threats and AI, former CIA official Stephanie O’Sullivan announced, “Whoever has the most data wins.” And that’s partially true for digital advertising, particularly in regards to programmatic campaigns. I say “partially” because it’s not just enough to have lots of data – you need GOOD data. And that can be a problem.

Ag marketers are blessed by having a ton of good, first-party data sets from which to work; the need for third-party data is generally pretty low. But there are times when it makes sense to reach out to a third party for help. And even if it’s a company you trust, do you really know what you’re getting? Every data set sounds great, but they all have their murky areas. In an attempt to shed light and increase transparency, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) recently offered a list of five criteria that media buyers should follow “when venturing into the complex and opaque ecosystem of third-party data.”

  • Accuracy: Does the data actually mean what you think it means? Lots of companies can give you a list of farmers by acreage. But if Joe Smith has 5,000 acres, John Smith has 5,000 acres, and Smith Farms has 10,000 acres, are you buying three customers? Two? One?
  • Precision: Are the modeling procedures sufficiently precise to avoid false positives? In other words, how many of the people on the list are “like what you want” but not really “what you want?” One expert at a recent conference I attended suggested that the average list of “look-alikes” is only 40 percent accurate – or worse. Consumer data on farmers is particularly bad. Facebook will gladly sell you a list of “farmers.” Very few of them actually “farm.”
  • Recency: How regularly is the data refreshed, and when was it last refreshed? Does your list contain names of farmers who left the business, changed practices, or – worse – died?
  • Coverage: Does the dataset cover enough of the marketer’s intended audience to provide necessary scale? If you’re buying a list of veterinarians for a national campaign and 75 percent of them live in Illinois, you don’t have a national campaign.
  • Deployability: Can marketers use the data with their chosen tech partners? A list is only as good as your ability to use it.

These are all good questions to ask when you’re looking at data sets, but unfortunately – and my apologies to the ANA – you’re probably not going to get a good answer. The company salesperson likely won’t know the answers. The analyst who pulled the data is a numbers person who likely doesn’t know much, if anything, about your business. Most marketers and media buyers don’t have access to the raw data or the expertise to analyze it on their own. And there’s no supervisory agency like a Better Business Bureau to tell you if you’re getting an A-minus list, a C-plus list, or even an F. So you pay the price, hold your nose, and pray you’re getting what you think you need.

There’s a better way. Get a Data Guide. The ANA, after listing criteria that most marketers aren’t able to use, helpfully suggests that “verification services are a relatively nascent industry but can significantly improve an advertiser’s ability to evaluate data quality.”

Here’s an example of that “nascent industry” in action. Rooster was recently asked by a crop storage manufacturer to help create a list to target prospects more efficiently – a unique data set that the marketing manager could take to senior leaders to justify launching a targeted digital campaign as opposed to traditional broadcast media. Although there’s not a lot out there in terms of storage bins and capacities, I knew a company that uses satellite imagery and could tell me where bins were located.

But the goal was to identify farmers who need MORE capacity. Working with our agronomists, we made a hypothesis that farmers who only have capacity to house 50 percent of their crops are most likely to get skittish come harvest time. We then attached capacity figures to the facilities in the satellite data and overlaid the list against current acreage to narrow it down to farmers who have 50-percent capacity or less. That’s a targeted, actionable list.

For even better results, hire Rooster. Yes, this is a shameless plug! But there’s a lot riding on the lists you use, and the truth is, we can help. Not only do we know what’s out there as far as agricultural data, we take the time to dig into our clients’ business to understand what they’re trying to achieve. We take the data they have and work with other sets – equipment data, chemical brand use, seed affinity studies, rural lifestyle data, etc. – to find unique intersections.  The sweet spot, if you will. Without sounding too immodest, we have experts who have been executing for agricultural clients that nobody else is doing.

You shouldn’t have to settle because you’re too busy or don’t know what to look for, and you should never be satisfied with “trust us.” It pays to be a little paranoid and more than a little skeptical. We encourage that.

If you’ve ever purchased a list and wondered if you got your money’s worth or if it’s targeting the people you really want to reach, give us a call and let us be your data guide.