'We Are All in the Data Business.' So Why Not Make Money From It?

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At SIIA's Buying & Selling Content event in New York last week, Bill Ault, CEO of IMPLAN Group, said, "We [publishers] are all in the data business at some level. Do I have assets that can turn into a very robust business? How do I know?" In other words, do you have the time, commitment and talent on hand to make data a revenue generator?

Here are four sharp industry people speaking at that conferenceplus one more who delivered an SIIA webinar last weekto help your thought process on monetizing data:

1. "Ask yourself, 'Will customers want to buy what I have in an Excel spread sheet?'" said Ault. Here are his lessons learned over the years:
- You have to add staff;
- Data people will make money from data;
- If you start slow you will go slow;
- You can't outsource 100% of your development—buying a small company is a great way to get into the data business.
- You can't have too much of a sales and marketing effort;
- You're not selling contact information—too hard to keep current;
- Data not features will grow your revenue.

2. Be creative about where you can get data and what you can do with it. Data has become good business for ALM, said Jeffrey Litvack, who for, I believe one more week, is the chief digital officer at ALM Media—he'll be heading out on his own. At Buying and Selling, Litvack spoke about the potential value of taking unstructured data and giving it structure. He said at one point they took data from the Department of Labor, structured it, created algorithms, and then sold it back to the Department of Labor. "Don't limit yourself as a publishing company," said Litvack. "Think of yourself as an information company."

3. Find out what kind of data your customers would be willing to pay for. For Quorum—a startup that wants to be the go-to for any state or federal legislative staff person—co-founder Alex Wirth asked the right questions before starting up. "Part of what has made us so successful is that we worked hard to ask, 'what are the challenges you're facing?' Instead of just, 'let's build stuff for the sake of it,'" said Wirth. "You learn what the problems are for people by going out and talking to 30 people in the industry." How you present the data is important as well, he added. "Display data in a graphically pleasing way. The government is good at creating data but terrible at displaying it."

4. Use data to help determine the directions you want to go. “We try to leverage a lot of international data,” said Alice Ting, VP of brand development, licensing & syndication for The New York Times, repeating data three times to stress its growing importance. “[Data] allows us to be able to identify possible areas of opportunity, how many people from each country are reading that content. It also influences packages we want to create and helps to support the direction we go. You have to evaluate [the markets] based on your niche content and any competitive advantage you might have. We can supply value to readers by offering more global perspective.” 

5. "Define your target audience," Christina Karabetsos, head of client communications at QCSS, told us during the SIPA webinar on telemarketing last month (now posted for members on the SIIA site). "It's easy to put some phone calls out to some list vendors and say, 'I need 8,000 records to sustain my campaign for the next 10 weeks.' But really looking at your data more specifically helps the campaign immensely...

"One thing we've had a lot of success with, especially if it's a product or service that you've been selling for a while and already have current customers, is to model from your current customers. Take that data and look what industries they're coming from. Look at what revenue size they are. Look at the number of employees they have, and take that top 10% and model a list after that. And if you have a great data partner, they can help you to do that because you already know the success stories and added value of built-in case studies. Prospect list is easy to target because you can leverage those stories and studies."


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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…