Big Data CEOs Riff and Rue in Rome

Tech execs talk about moving data marketing forward

There's a ton of consumer data becoming available to brands and agencies, but what are they supposed to be doing with that sprawling marketing intelligence? Not surprisingly, leaders from comScore, Nielsen, DataXu and Nugg.Ad said "they should embrace it" in a session on Wednesday morning at the I-Com Global Summit in The Eternal City.

Though the c-level execs collectively portrayed a contested industry. Some said brands and ad agencies at times react negatively to what data says because it doesn't correspond with their assumptions. Mike Baker, CEO of DataXu, gave the example of his company collaborating with a major Hollywood studio testing out different endings to a movie.

"The studio refused the data," he said. "The data won't just tell you what you want it to."

The panel also discussed the challenges of educating clients about big data: "In the worst case, you are kicked out of the room," Baker said.

John Burbank, president of strategic initiatives for Nielsen USA, suggested that the power of digital data would be an easier sell to traditionally-minded advertisers if it weren't ruefully fragmented. "Many of the world's largest e-commerce players hold [their] data jealously," he said. "It's behind these walls."

Marketers should focus on how data shows that digital creates sales in a long-tail sense, said Magid Abraham, comScore's CEO. "Only 8 percent generate a sale within a search session," he said. "If you wait four weeks, the effect is [much greater]."

Stephan Noller, CEO of Nugg.Ad Germany, offered a surprising opinion, considering the big-data focus of the session. "Sometimes it's actually better to work on small data," he said. "[Big data] can drive you into false assumptions. I think it can drive you in a direction that's completely wrong."

Meanwhile, as was the case at Advertising Week earlier this month, the topic of recruiting tech talent is at the forefront at I-Com. John Nardone, CEO of x+1 USA, suggested that big data is forcing companies to hunt down hyper-analytical skill sets.

"The more data you have, the more answers you have, the more questions you have," he said. "One answer begats 20 more questions."