05/09/2013 10:00 BST | Updated 04/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Not All Data Is Created Equal: Yahoo! and iC2 Debate Big Data

Big data is something often referenced in marketing and advertising circles, but what it actually means and how it can be used effectively is worth discussing. Yahoo! took a deeper look at this topic when it held an event last month attended by journalists with understanding and experience of the space, as well as Dave Buckingham from media agency i2c.

IBM has recently published statistics stating that one in four business leaders do not trust the data they receive. This begs the question as to what purpose data can serve and how can it be used as valuable insight to inform business decisions.

So how accurate is the data companies receive? Can it be trusted? The output is always going to depend on what you put in, and if there are errors in this process then the end result is going to be equally flawed. Not all data is equal and so should not be treated as such. Browser based data is very different from consumer insight.

Data has been around in volume for centuries - big data is actually nothing new, although of course with the rise of digital technology the amount of data has exploded in the last ten years. As well as volume, the difference between data in the past and data now is that the tools we are using are getting better, driven in part by the advertising industry. Data collection has improved with technology, as has the availability of data to collect. Nectar, with whom Yahoo! works closely through i2c, collects behavioural insight from millions of customers. This is exactly the type of information that is invaluable to advertisers and brand owners. In addition, companies can now get insight from their apps, retail stores, websites and social networks, and this data can be used by advertising agencies and brands to target their audience better and offer consumers a better experience. Data collection as a process is a big part of it, and choosing the right data managing tools is important. However, it is an interplay of man and machine that provides the best insights. It is useful having the tools to use it, but without the basic understanding and awareness of what you're trying to do with the data then the tools are useless.

Targeted advertising must be done on the basis of having correct data - but what's the best way to get this from the customer? Why would they share their data with a business? The answer is around an understanding of value exchange. The consumer has something the brand wants, but often the brand will also have something the consumer wants. Consumers are getting more and more savvy to the value transaction online by understanding the value of their data. They are willing to give out their personal information in exchange for an additional incentive. People have long understood this value transaction in terms of competitions - many will remember filling in details on the back of a cereal packet to win a trip to LEGOLAND - now this understanding has transferred to the digital world, where it seems to be a natural fit. People are prepared to offer data for money off as with Nectar, freebies, competition entries or even to eliminate irrelevant advertising or advertising at all.

Yahoo! invests in big data heavily and has been dealing with it for 10 years, and it is still something we are always looking to improve and re-tune. Every company is. We are very passionate, not just from a data perspective, about the idea that it will always be man plus machine. The human analysis of data collected is where we get the real insight. This is a summary of the event discussions and our thanks go Dave Buckingham at i2c for his helpful insight.