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Why It’s Critical That Every Digital Media Professional Understands Data

Why It’s Critical That Every Digital Media Professional Understands Data

When Patrick Dolan arrived at IAB eight years ago, Facebook had a mere 40 million users, the iPhone was three months old, and programmatic advertising was only just beginning to emerge as an industry trend.

Of course, from Dolan’s vantage point as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, IAB, that old landscape is barely recognizable today. Now, Facebook has more than 1.5 billion monthly active users, the smartphone is ubiquitous in American life, and programmatic advertising is a $10 billion category that accounts for 50% of all display advertising.

This incredible transformation is indicative not only of how quickly things are moving in online advertising, but how central data has been to pushing the industry forward. After all, it’s data that has helped Facebook turn its user base into a hyper-successful business; data that has allowed marketers to reach the right people across a growing number of devices; and data that has been the fuel inside the engine of automated online advertising.

Simply put, a marketing professional who doesn’t understand data and its role in the online ecosystem is just as ill-equipped and out-of-date as one who ignores social media or mobile advertising.

I think everybody working in the industry should feel very comfortable working with data. To success you should know how to understand how to interpret reports and data trends to analyze behavior,” said Dolan, who is also Co-Founder of the IAB Data Center of Excellence. “Things change, and they change quickly. And if you’re not using analytics in your business to stay ahead of the both consumers and platform movements you’re going to lose out.”

Andrew Q. Kraft, Vice President of Demand Partnerships, AppNexus, said that it’s no longer true that people who work directly with data are the only ones who need to understand how it works. Certain roles like yield management or ad operations do require a certain degree of expertise, but any media professional who works at an advertiser, publisher or vendor needs to have at least a basic understanding of how data is leveraged across the ecosystem.

For instance, Dolan added that if you’re a salesperson who sells programmatic advertising, you need to know about the different data offerings on the market so you can sell yours effectively. And if you work in product development, you need to know how your company’s data can be used to improve the products you’re working on.

This is why in 2015, Dolan and the IAB Data Council created the Digital Data Solutions Certification to help media professionals of all stripes showcase their mastery of digital data. Applicants must meet eligibility requirements and pass a rigorous exam created by impartial data experts from across the digital ecosystem. The exam is updated every six months and covers the following areas: data policy establishment, data supply management, data product creation, and data integrations. The certification program signifies to co-workers, clients, and peers that they are on top of the latest trends and techniques.

However even without such credentials, at the very least, media professionals should have an idea of how to evaluate data quality, how to collect new data from internal and external sources, and how to apply data effectively without running afoul of privacy and governance policies.

“Every salesperson, every operations person, and, frankly, every executive should at least have a core understanding of not only what different types of data are out there and what it means, but also a deep understanding of how that adds value in their ecosystem,” Kraft said. “That is no longer something you can get away with not knowing. That’s table stakes.”

For Kraft, a former chairman of the IAB Data Council, this understanding is not only useful in the day-to-day lives of digital advertising professionals; it is also a big leg up for those hoping to advance in their careers. Today’s digital companies benefit greatly from having data knowledge in-house, and the more you know, the more value you can add in every interaction with your company’s clients.

Certainly, media professionals hoping to take on an executive role need to understand not only how data impacts their current job but also the rest of the ecosystem. For instance, a data scientist looking to climb the ladder at a media agency needs to know how the data he or she mines is later being applied to help marketers reach the right audiences more effectively. Likewise a salesperson must understand the segmentation and aggregation capabilities of their platforms and partners to field questions on client calls.

As the industry continues to move quickly, programs like the Data Solutions Certification will only become more important for ensuring that media professionals remain on the cutting edge. With digital advertising pushing into new data applications like cross-channel measurement and programmatic video, now is the time to make sure you have the knowledge and the credentials you need to remain effective in our increasingly data-driven world.

“You’re seeing that data-driven systems are being implemented across the board, and more and more media is being driven through those platforms and through this process,” Dolan said. “It’s the future of digital communications, not just from a publisher side, but also from the marketer side.”

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