A version of this article also appeared in AdExchanger.

“Smuggle $100 million dollars across borders? A list of email addresses and a thumb drive is the easiest way…” 

The self-made entrepreneur leaned back in his chair with a smile as he said these words to me back in 2012. They were part of an early conversation during my study of the emerging trends of trading first-party data.

The market for customer data is particularly deep and growing, and it has remained my focus over the last several years — first as CEO of CommandIQ, a data platform helping large B2C companies, and now as part of Publishers Clearing House, America’s oldest and most successful direct marketing brand.

A “wildcatter” is oil-slang for someone who drills speculative oil wells, often drilled in areas not known to be oil fields. This term also applies particularly well to the current data world, where publishers have the unprecedented chance to go off the beaten path by discovering new ways to unlock tremendous value from their unexplored data. These trailblazing companies and publishers stand to rise above those who stick to the basics —i.e. the well-established (and significantly more competitive and commoditized) data markets.

Wondering where you can drill to strike it big with your data?  Here’s an overview of the top wildcatting activity happening today.

The Data Landscape

Before considering what assets you have sitting latent in your own databases and records, let’s quickly take a look at how data is being turned into value now, in 2016:

1) Mapping

If two parties collect information—say, information about their customers—there’s a simple, very valuable thing they need to be able to transact: the mapping between their users. If they can provide a link between Company A’s User 123 and Company B’s XYZ, that opens up a whole slew of new insights about that customer on both sides of the equation.

Mapping between email addresses and cookies or mobile advertising identifiers is an early sign of success in this area.

2) Ad Targeting

This one is pretty straightforward. If you know something about User 123, chances are someone else may like to know it, too. Ad targeting capabilities can range from the simple to the complex:

  • [Easy] Male? Let’s not target with a Tampax ad, shall we?
  • [Classic] Customer’s location showed them visiting a car dealer? May be in the market for a new car.
  • [Advanced] Customer has both the Netflix and Hulu apps installed. Cell carrier may want to offer him a better-priced data plan!

3) Panel Data

A complete view of a small group, or panel, of users can help show a larger trend for an overall demographic audience.

There are many different implications here: for example, Facebook acquired a VPN firm that had complete access to 5 million users’ complete mobile phone usage behavior patterns. This acquisition opened up a world of possibilities for Facebook—they can now identify and track quickly growing apps, keep an eye on Snapchat’s penetration, and possibly even verify user engagement as part of the WhatsApp acquisition diligence.

Start Drilling

To get started with your wildcatting efforts, I recommend first assessing the value of your data assets in three simple steps:

  1. Compile a list of what you can (responsibly) collect from your user base.
  2. Determine what is already being collected and is easy to access.
  3. Figure out what you can calculate—what data do you already have saved that could lead to new conclusions?

Now what?

There are a number of marketplace offerings that already aggregate and list first-party data—primarily from the data management platforms (DMPs) led by Krux, Lotame, and Oracle’s BlueKai. These all tend to focus explicitly on ad targeting as a method of value creation. Using these platforms, it’s a relatively straightforward process to publish your own first-party segments for sale in the wider marketplace (e.g. a “Video Lovers” segment made up of those who installed Netflix and Hulu apps from the example above).

Unlike oil, however, data has a unique challenge: its marginal cost to sell is zero.  So if you and I provide the same data—we can each undercharge the other to gain market share, until there’s no profit left at all.  At brief moments in history, oil had a similar dynamic—too much supply,  and too few barrels and pipelines to move it all—leaving surplus oil to go to waste, released at the well.

As more data hits the markets, the cheapest data will win—unless your data is particularly unique. Data’s hyperinflation is still new, and its effects have yet to play out in the market.

So, data wildcatters: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Find what is novel, compelling, and rare about your data—and find the precise set of buyers for whom your data can unlock a unique edge. Or, if you have the appetite—and aren’t looking for more than purely incremental revenue—add your data to the evolving commodity markets and see what happens.

Buckle up: it’s still the Wild West of drilling for data. But it won’t always be.

Learn how to make the most out of your data—or how to use ours to boost your digital advertising returns. Contact us.