There are a number of things that we as a species have considered to be most valuable throughout history. In another age, it would have been normal to trade the goods you produce for salt. As society developed, salt would turn to gold and then to oil. Today marks a moment in history when that which is most valuable has lost its tangibility and become part of the ether. We are living in the data age – a time when our economy is becoming truly data driven.

The next sentence should really take your breath away: 90% of the data in existence has been created over the past two years alone. Bewildering at first, this stat begins to make sense once you realise that 5BN searches are made every day across the globe. That’s two trillion searches each year! In part, this explosion of data is a byproduct of people becoming more connected through a growing number of IoT devices and faster network speeds.

Surely enough, businesses have been watching this space carefully, drawing valuable insights from the growing pool of global data. But measuring and using data has not been without its challenges and many businesses still struggle. Now is the time to master the art of data, however, as IDC predicts that by the time 5G starts to roll out next year, the amount of data that businesses deem valuable today will have doubled. This is an opportunity you need to be prepared for.

Without the right strategy or technology, you simply won’t be able to analyse all the data available to you. Much of it will go to waste, creating a pool of “data exhaust”. Remarkably, studies show that most companies are hoarding swimming pools of discarded data. A report by Forrester concluded that businesses do not analyse between 60 and 70 percent of the data they possess, while an unrelated 2018 survey of digital marketers found that 28% of respondents had no idea there was such a high level of waste. To bring these facts home, consider that in 2019, marketers are expected to spend $19.2BN on additional third-party audience data (plus the technology that manages, processes and analyses that data). Therefore, the amount marketers spend on third-party data and tech infrastructure increases by 17.5% year-over-year.

In their natural state, salt, gold and oil are buried in the earth. Huge infrastructure is required to firstly extract these products, let alone the further processing that must be undertaken before those products become useful to us. Data isn’t any different. The same types of challenging procedures will always be faced before data turns from raw to insightful. One thing that is changing, however, is the people from which companies extract data are starting to understand the value of their personal information.

In 2019, what is now known as the “informed consumer” will become the “demand consumer”. No longer will your customers stand for irrelevant ads or faulty practices. They will demand and expect only what is meaningful to them. The reason behind this switch in consumer consciousness is a growing awareness of how and when personal data is bought and used. A look at the annual report by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office proves this. It states that between 2017 and 2018, data protection complaints rose sharply by 14.5%. Additionally, the report states a 29% rise in self-reported data breaches from organisations. None of this should come as too much of a surprise given the high level of media attention towards privacy breaches and forthcoming regulatory changes in Europe and the U.S.

People will only learn more as we move into the future. Their awareness will increase and with this will come a demand for greater control over personal information. With this in mind, it’s possible to imagine a formal marketplace in the future where consumers determine how much their personal information is worth, effectively setting the “data exchange rate” for businesses.

This is not as far-fetched as it may sound. To not get left behind, start implementing strategies that will help you move past the data-wasting culture of today and begin to make sense of the data you possess. Simply put, technology is the solution here. If you’re not convinced, just look at the power of AI, data visualisation and data storage/processing today compared to five years ago. As the steady improvement of data strategy and technology continues, our ability to mine not only meaningful but actionable insights will, too.

The clock is ticking for marketers. As data becomes more and more commoditised the potential to lose money through data exhaust grows. Before it’s too late, learn to use data efficiently. A fully realised data marketplace is not far around the corner and when it’s realised, overhead will increase. With the right strategy, so will data quality and meaningful insights.

Over a quarter of 2019 has already flown by. Soon, the attitude towards throwing away unrealised data will be similar to that of throwing away food, oil or water. It is nothing but a waste of your most valuable resource.

Greg Isbister

Greg Isbister


Greg Isbister is founder of Blis Media.