222: Data Leverage, with Christian Ward | The New Marketing Stack

“If data is a new currency, then you need to protect data just like you’d protect your wallet.” — Christian Ward

There is more data in existence than ever before and businesses/individuals alike depend on this data to make more informed decisions. However, this data and it’s usage don’t come free of charge, so what are the opportunities? Legal challenges? Protection implications? And how can data be leveraged for sales and marketing professionals?

Christian Ward, Chief Data Officer at SourceMedia and co-author of Data Leverage joins us this week on the podcast to share some of his greatest learnings across a data driven career.


George: It’s the latest edition of the “Conquer Local” podcast. I’m George Leith. Welcome, conquerors. And this week, we start a two-part series on data and how it impacts the local business. And Christian Ward and I met a number of years ago, when he was the EVP running partnerships at a little company called “Yext.” And now, he has moved into the data-sphere. He is currently the Chief Data Officer at SourceMedia in New York City. He also has written a new book, which we are going to talk to him about, with his brother who happens to be a data privacy lawyer. Get ready, because we are going to bring you a whole bunch of data and what you need to be doing with it, as Christian Ward joins us on the “Conquer Local” podcast, coming up next.

George: It’s the latest edition of the “Conquer Local” podcast. You know, I was thinking about how my day was gonna be today, and I had to go to my phone and look at my calendar to see who my meetings were with, and that was gonna decide how my day was. Christian, thanks for joining us from Miami, Florida. Do you run across this happening, where people look to their calendar to see their day, and look at data to decide whether they’re gonna have a good day or not?

Christian: I do, George. And thank you for having me. I’m excited to be on the show. Yeah. You know, I think we’ve all grown so dependent on how our day is lining up, all of the different people we’ll meet with and what meetings we expect. And we gather that data, and we sort of look at it like it controls us. But I’m happy to say without looking at my calendar, I’m doing great today. How are you?

Christian’s Data Background

George: Oh, I’m having a fantastic day as well, because I looked at my calendar this morning at 4:30 and saw I was gonna be talking to you. I think back to a presentation that I saw you give in London last year, where at that time, you were still representing Yext, and congratulations on your run there. You arrived at Yext as Employee 180, you saw that thing grow to over 1,000 people in countries all over the world, and you…Is it called “retirement,” or is it called “a pivot?” Or how do you explain your departure?

Christian: Well, I had an absolute wonderful run there, five years, and what a phenomenal company, what a great product. You know, honestly, I’ve always wanted to write a book, and I started while I was there. And what I very quickly realized is to really get it over the goal line, I was gonna need some extra time. So I worked that out with the Executive team there so that I could take the time and sort of step away from Yext. And in doing so, I learned not only do I enjoy the book-writing process, but I learned an awful lot about that industry and how to sort of maximize the benefit and the opportunity from it. But I would say, you know, my time there was both a great learning experience, but also just a phenomenal experience globally. It ties directly into the book itself, which is entitled “Data Leverage.”

And, you know, what I found working for Yext is that so many businesses that we would partner with, and this also goes back to my time at Thomson Reuters, Infogroup, and the Bank of New York, we were always doing deals with people to share or access data. And I’ve kind of realized this has been about 20 years of my life. And writing in the book allowed me to put a lot of the learnings down that I had gotten both at Yext and all of the prior places about, “How do you go around the world, help people realize the value of their data, structure partnerships to grow that value, and then protect it with the right contracts and technical systems to allow ongoing analysis and protection?”

Presentation Skills

George: So when we were at that SIINDA Convention in London, you stood up there and you did a one-hour presentation around data. And at the end of it, I was like, “I wanna work with this guy at Yext.” Because, you know, you didn’t even sell the product, all you did was talk about the world. And so before we get into the book because there’s a bunch of learnings inside the book that I want to cover off, I’ve always admired your presentation ability. There are very few people who get me excited about a presentation, where I come away and go, “Oh, I learned a lot watching the way that you crafted that message.” So when you were told you had to do that presentation, you knew it was gonna be 45 minutes to an hour long, how do you put that together? How do you connect the dots and build the story?

Christian: That’s a great question. I’m honoured that you would say that. I’ve certainly enjoyed the show, and your ability to carry a message and a conversation as well. Look, I think everyone can learn presentation skills. A lot of it for me comes down to the art of storytelling. Telling stories has been an important part of my life since I was a kid. It was almost an expected virtue growing up in an Irish Catholic household, where everything was stories at the dinner table. That being said, anytime I’m told how to or offered a presentation opportunity, I try to think of, “What have I read recently? What has made me excited? What have I witnessed that I was excited to share with other people?” And you said it, I try to never really talk about what I’m currently doing, in terms of a job or a product. Because I think when people go to conferences or they’ll give you that amount of time to stand in front of an esteemed audience, the best thing you can do is to share not only what you’ve recently learned but how it maybe ties into what they’re experiencing as well.

And that conference, I was very surprised. That conference was very, very good in that it’s an age-old group. It’s people that have been working with each other from the old Yellow Pages for years, and they’ve known each other for a long time. It was my first time there, and they were very welcoming of the message around data, how data was changing, what AI was going to be and what it wasn’t going to be. Meaning, yes, it’s very exciting. But, no, it’s probably not going to be designed by the companies that were in that room, except for a handful like Facebook, Amazon, Google. The big shots, certainly, are gonna drive that. We’ll probably end up partnering with them just like, you know, we have on AWS Cloud services. [inaudible 00:06:47] like we have partnered with them on their machine-learning services. So the message was very focused around, “What can we do as companies that are maybe a little longer in our process to leverage these great new data tools?” And I was really heartened by the way people allowed for the message to get out there.

I’m very particular also that, you may have noticed, any presentation I give, I try to give CliffsNotes on some of the books I have recently read. I know everyone loves reading, you know, sort of interesting-topic books. So I always try and show a few that I’ve read, like “The Master Algorithm” was in that speech. So was “Pitch Anything,” “The Power of Habit.” I’m always trying to help people see…If you don’t have, you know, the couple hours to read this book, I’ll give you a few CliffsNotes on how I think it relates to our industry. And just, if that gets you hooked and you want to go read it, great. But it’s funny, I’ve been doing that for years and only now, this last year, have I actually tried to write a book. But it’s always something I try to convey.

George: So the interesting thing is, you know, some people would say that if you’re gonna stand up there and talk for an hour about data, that’s not going to be scintillating conversation. It’s gonna be tough to keep the audience engaged, and you had zero problem with that. That’s an art unto itself. I always like to ask professional speakers, people who really get how to present, how long did you practice that before you went onstage and gave that presentation?

Christian: You know, that’s a good question. I do practice. So I would say, it is not a gift. I am, in fact, a very nervous public speaker. You probably can’t see it, but I hold the microphone instead of having a lanyard, because my hands shake. That’s usually how, actually, nervous I am. So it gives me something to sort of squeeze that nervous energy into as I’m walking around the stage. But I would say, I probably practice for an hour the actual presentation. Because naturally, I think we can all go through the material faster as we go. So an hour for an hour-long presentation doesn’t seem like a lot, but that might be me going through the slides and the transitions at least four or five times at just a higher speed. And then, it’s just important to tell yourself to relax and really slow down while you’re actually presenting the material in front of other people.

I would also say that, if I was gonna say what’s one of the elements in storytelling that I really like, is I always try and tie in something that is common to the entire audience. So I will usually make a joke or try and use artificial intelligence from Alexa or Siri, or others, to help them see that, “This stuff isn’t science fiction, and it’s not too academic to be attainable. It’s something that you’re using every day, you just may not realize you’re using it.” And that’s usually where we’ll get a good laugh because people realize, “Yeah. You know, this is not a topic that I don’t know anything about. I literally use various AI platforms probably 20 times just on the way to work every morning.” You just maybe don’t think of it that way. But the number of great connections in data that are all around us every single day, it’s kind of exciting to just put that lens on for a little while, which is something I’m trying to get the audience to do. So when they leave and they take that talk with them, hopefully, in the next few hours or next few days, something will trigger in the back of their mind where they go, “Oh, yeah. That’s actually exactly what that guy was talking about onstage.”

George: And the other thing that I think is important to mention and, again, with our audience being salespeople from all over the world that are trying to get better at their craft, I always like to hammer home that you’ve got to be a great presenter. You’ve got to use stories to tell, you know, whatever you’re trying to put in front of the prospect so that it resonates. But the other piece is, you’re really focused on the outcome of that presentation, “So when they leave, here’s what they take away.” It’s really the secret sauce to delivering a great presentation.

Christian: I agree. And, you know, I’ve read a few books on, you know, how you should do this. But I also find that…I watch a lot of TED Talks. I don’t know if you do. But it’s kind of an odd hobby that both my wife and I do, and we send each other ones that are surprisingly interesting, that perhaps we would not have stumbled upon. And as you point out, they have a very specific format around sort of the punchline, “What are the three to five takeaways? And how do you keep the text at a minimal on the screen, so you’re really sharing and conveying either with an image, which will be much more memorable, or with connecting an image or a theory to a very simple statement?”

And for me, I think it’s always a learning process. I’m constantly trying to improve upon it. And I try to make sure that if people are going to give their time to listen to something I have to say or something other smart people, in terms of their expertise, have to say, I feel honored by that. So I want to make sure I make it as good as possible so that they go away with something of value.

1. Identify

George: Well, I appreciate that. I couldn’t get you on the podcast and not talk about your phenomenal presentation skills, and getting some of those items on the table. So that the people at home that are listening, or maybe they’re riding the bike, or maybe they’re on a run right now, will notice that, you know, great presenters always practice. They don’t just take it for granted that it’s gonna be a great presentation. They tell stories, and they try to have that outcome and leave their audience with something. Let’s get into the book. I was really interested to start reading this book. I had the privilege of being in South Africa here, the last month or so, so I had a lot of time on planes. So I was able to read “Data Leverage.” And you co-authored this with your brother, who happens to be a data privacy lawyer. And it’s interesting, you said to me before we started the broadcast, “You kinda have to have a lawyer involved if you’re gonna talk about data.” Explain that?

Christian: I’d say, you know, isn’t it sort of, in some ways, which you would find funny and not offensive, a sad state of things that you must have a lawyer? We’re entering a new world where whether it’s GDPR in Europe and around the world…But it’s not just GDPR. I mean, California just passed the California CPA, Consumer Privacy Act. There are a lot of legal changes facing people when it comes to using data. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t sort of be, you know, perhaps more the way you and I would be, at a dry erase board and imagining new ways to take great local data and create great new customer experiences or marketing opportunities. That, for sure, should happen. But as I was writing the book, because I started it and then invited my brother to it after a few months, I realized that with all of the change, all of the data breach, all of the disclosure opportunities, all of the differences in how we have controllers and processors, cross-border, there is such a need for a legal mindset.

And what I realized is there was a lot of meetings that I would go to over the years, where I would be talking to a potential business partner. So let’s say someone that had a fascinating data set, like weather data or satellite imagery data or, you know, retail sales data or foot traffic data, and I wanted to access that. I wanted to bring that data into my platform, so then I could build a derivative use case. When I would have those conversations, a lot of times, that was the entrepreneurial-minded, or as I say in the book, the “innovator data relationship,” where two people are trying to innovate to create something new. The problem is we would do that, spend a few months, and then sit down with an attorney to finalize the contract, and the attorney would have a fit. They would basically say, “You can’t do that exact thing. That literally is a problem from this law, or this regulation,” or, “Which jurisdiction are you gonna do this in?” There were all these last-minute hurdles. And, yes, you can certainly solve for them then, but having your attorney or DPOs, your data privacy officers, in the room as you start to explore data partnerships is really the way of the future.

And I say that almost humbly, I have a lot of respect for what attorney’s do. I think people tend to view them as, you know, sort of very locked in terms of their thinking. I don’t think that’s what’s happening anymore. I think many attorneys realize the enormous opportunities around partnering with data, but they’re also the right people to have in the room representing the end customer, the end person who gave the data. I always try and get people to think, and we talk a little bit about this in the book, about the word “data” itself. I don’t know. George, you read the book, so you probably remember, but most people don’t know what the word “data” even comes from. It’s kind of humorous because the word “data” is from the Latin “Do, Dare, Datum.” And datum is the form of the verb that says, “having been given.”

And so the word “data” literally means “having been given.” And it begs the question, “Who gave it?” It’s a human. For the most part, data that we find valuable tends to be somehow tied to people, and your lawyer has that mindset. They have this great legal framework to go, “If all of this in the end, if it’s valuable, has something to do with people, then we’d better be protecting that concept throughout the entire process, not just at the end.” And I would stress, I think we’d save people a lot of time and money if you have your lawyers in earlier than later.

George: And it’s going to be an issue, if it isn’t an issue already, for organizations to be thinking about. So at the beginning of the book, you talk about understanding data partnerships. Let’s talk a little bit about that?

Christian: Sure. Well, there’s many different types of data partnerships. And my brother and I, I would end up flying down to Miami to meet with him, or he up to New York to meet with me. And we would constantly be going back and forth, because we’d need days at a time at the dry erase board, mapping out all these potential partnerships that we had seen. For us, it really came down to sort of a simple definition of this sharing or exchange of an identifiable data set for some purpose or value that also needs to be protected. And as we looked across all of the ways that various partnerships occur, the goal started to really coalesce around only really about three different types of data partnerships. One was, as I said before, that innovative or innovator data partnership. Another one was one we called “mutually beneficial,” which is where two kind of equally-sized or equally capable companies want to create a better experience for their end customer, and they agree to merge data. You’ll see that a lot, in a lot of the reporting platforms.

Actually, Vendasta is a great example of that, quite frankly. Vendasta has always brought together very similarly situated, capable platforms into Vendasta. It is literally a living embodiment of a data partnership strategy. And then, there’s the third, which is really channel partnerships and there’s affiliate or reseller channel. We dive into those a little bit. But the reason why we put that one in the book is, even though it’s a little more revenue-focused, it’s a critical thing to understand because many companies with great data sets don’t actually have a go-to-market strategy. They’re great at finding and identifying data, but they may really need the help of a Vendasta or other platforms to represent them in the market. And that’s something else that Vendasta did with their platform, naturally, you are an affiliate/reseller platform all boiled into one use case. So if any group understands the theory, it’s certainly your team.

George: Well, we make a hell of an attempt at it, that’s for sure. I wanted to talk to you about the Yext days, because we have all sorts of people that are listening to the podcast that are out selling the Yext solution to help syndicate that listing data. And it’s more than just name, address, phone number, and you saw that evolve and it continues to evolve. So how important is the ownership of that data to the local business person?

Christian: Oh, that’s a great question. So in the book, when we first started getting rolling, we talk about two different types of data – intrinsic data and extrinsic data. And the purpose of the book outlining those really does tie into a local business owner and first identifying what they have. And the reason why we say that is, I think Yext as a platform is one of the best tools to help a small business owner just identify what they have. Because when you walk in as a professional in local marketing and local presence, you realize that a lot of business owners go, “Well, I don’t have any data.” It’s like, “No, you have a ton of data, you just don’t know it yet. Let’s sit down and go through it.”

And you can do that by using the Yext platform or the Vendasta tools, where you sit with them and say, “Okay, let’s start with the name of the business.” And they say, “My name is, you know, Fair Haven Deli,” and we go, “Great. Okay. Is that the only thing it’s ever been called?” “Oh, yeah. It’s been that way for years. Oh, wait. Actually, no. It was Fair Haven Munson Deli [SP]. It was FHD…Wait. Actually, it was Tony Smith Deli.” They start to realize really fast that things change over time. That’s just the business name, right? That’s not even…Once we get into the hours of operation and then, you know, once we dive into the menu, stuff changes all the time. And allowing for business owners to go beyond that initial mapping coordinate or name, address, phone, into the depths of the knowledge that can be known…The way that I always try to convey that value or help them think through it is, “Think of intrinsic data is the data created by your business. It is literally created by the existence of your business.”

So let’s stick with the deli, for a deli, that is every receipt, every transaction, every relationship with a delivery, for a client, the business itself, the financial books of the place. All of those intrinsic data assets are critical, and they usually tie to Yext, meaning you can update that data, menu items, things like that, through a platform like that. But then, you start thinking about extrinsic data. Extrinsic data is all of the data created about and around your business just by it being there, so that’s things like reviews. Right? A huge amount of additional data is created or tweets about it, social posts, news articles. There’s so much additional extrinsic data, even things like people doing feasibility studies of, “Do I wanna build a shopping center near this deli?” You’re part of that extrinsic data.

So when you think about how to leverage local or local data, I like to explain to people, “If you start with the very basics, it’s sort of like these concentric circles of these things you think you can control, in terms of the intrinsic data about your business. And then, very quickly, you hit that extrinsic circle, where everything beyond that, you’re not really in control, but you can influence or you can access, or you could even partner with.” That’s where a lot of these sort of discussions go very quickly, and I think Yext has done a great job of that. You know, going back, you know, now six-plus years, when Yext really got started, it really was just name, address, phone, and a couple other things like hours. And now, they’re database is massive and continues to expand with their product line. I think it’s an exciting area, and I think it will provide artificial intelligence, voice search, really neat, rich experiences that, you know, have been pretty hard to get any other way.

2. Value

George: So in the book, you talk about four different buckets. And I’ve never met your brother, but I’ve met you. I can just see you two at the whiteboard with four buckets and coming up with this. Can we talk about those four buckets of data?

Christian: Absolutely. So that’s the second part of the theory, that the theory itself goes through only four parts – identify, value, structure, and protect. And that second one, value, we did, we had some pretty good debates about this. Now, the valuation bucket actually goes back to my work on Wall Street, when I was younger, which I worked with literally hundreds of independent research platforms around the world with the Director of Research at the Bank of New York. And we ran a platform that would find interesting independent research analysis companies that didn’t have investment banking bias. So, it was things literally like people that analyzed magazine wrap covers for…mention the companies, maps of malls, you know, for Black Friday here in the States to see what was the biggest shopping center with the most parked cars in it compared to the day before at the same time? All these crazy research products, and literally hundreds of them. And, when we used to work with them, I found that it was easier to almost take a logarithmic, you know, approach of…the data is either worth zero dollars in terms of you couldn’t sell it. It still might have value, but, like, zero dollars, then there’s data that’s about $10,000 a year if you want to buy it, then there’s data that’s about $100,000 a year, an then there’s data that’s a million dollars plus.

Now, I know that seems quite a broad brushstroke to do it in, but the purpose of the valuation process is not to say, “Oh, this one set of data is worth $2,387 per year,” because that’s very hard to do. It’s better to get directionally estimate of which data do you have in which bucket? So you can focus your attention. And the reason why that became so critical, and it’s so critical for most business owners, is they would say something like, “Well, I mean, if my business is saying my name, my address, you know, it’s important. It’s not that important, it’s probably a zero bucket.” I’m like, yeah, but what happens if no one can access it, or you’re not in control of it. If your business nets $2 million a year, that single data point actually might be worth a few hundred thousand dollars, or a hundred thousand dollars, at least, if it’s wrong.

So, the whole point of the valuation buckets is to look at the data you have or a third party’s data and rapidly put different portions of the data into those buckets because it’s almost impossible…you know, we’re living in this world now where there’s almost too much data, and it’s now passively being gathered at a rate that we can barely keep up with. So, by putting it into these buckets, you can rapidly sort of focus your attention on, “What are the most important data sets? And probably what’s neat about my brother’s perspective versus mine?”

I’m always looking at it from the perspective of, what could this data be worth revenue-wise? What kind of business can we build? He has the other lens which goes, “What if this data was stolen? What if it was stolen? What’s the risk to my business?” Ask anyone that’s had a major breach, and the 10% immediate hit on average, their stock, if they’re a public company, ask them what it’s worth if it gets taken. So, there’s two ways. It’s both the potential value and the potential risk, which was one of those three discussions between a lawyer and an entrepreneur.

George: Well, the interesting thing is we have…you know, if you’re listening at this at the end of 2018, you’ve got the Marriott story here recently where they had, you know, 400 million records that were breached, and they definitely took a hit on their stock. And, the other thing that I wanted to touch on, I’m sure that, you know, you’ve been down this road a number of times, I have the story of the customer that I was working with recently and I was able to pull some data, not just on their business, but on their competitors, because all of that data, especially on review data, and name address, phone numbers, public domain, and I was able to build a way more compelling case that I could help that client with competitor data than I was with their own data.

It was like, “Yeah, yeah. It’s good that you can work with my stuff, but tell me about this other stuff.” And, the use case…you’ll love this one, Christian, is I was able to find four people that used to work for this mortgage broker, that haven’t worked for them for two years, that were still branding themselves as that company and getting negative reviews. So it was impacting…so you come back to what the risk is by not controlling that data, I don’t even know what the cost to that brand was by having those negative reviews that were hitting for the mortgage broker, but they were still affiliated somehow with the parent company even though they hadn’t worked there for two years.

Christian: Yeah. I mean, that’s sort of a devastating example because that’s an extrinsic data set. They didn’t create those additional profiles about those people that no longer work with them, but that extrinsic data directly affects the value, the understanding, and the perception of their own business. And what starts to happen in all of these cases is people get mad, they get frustrated. They’re like, “How can they be allowed to do that?” I’ve seen this countless times on the Glassdoor site where people go in, they say, you know, “They’re beating up my brand. They don’t even work here. How dare they?”

But reality is that has been tried in courts about whether or not you can prevent people from saying things like that. You can’t. They have the right to say what they want to say, but getting the knowledge that that data exists, and explaining that to a business owner, and then valuing what that impact could be, because that could make the argument, if you’re talking mortgages, and those four different models of bad reviews cut them out of, let’s say, 10, 20, 30 mortgages in a year, that’s gonna be a hundred thousand dollars plus in revenue loss. So, you start to realize at least that amount of money should be spent proactively trying to manage how and where people find their brand and interact with their brand.

And, it’s not that you can’t prevent people from saying bad things online, but you can drown it out with perfect information in other ways. You can take control of more of it, and then work diligently and in a conscientious way to help get more reviews and content around you from, again, totally honest means, but making sure that it’s a focused strategy.

I’m always amazed, I think, it’s a little bit unfortunate business owners don’t have time to be full-time marketing professionals and full-time business owners. There’s just not enough hours in the day, and yet most of them or many of them treat it that way. They treat it like, “Oh, I could do this on Saturday afternoon.” No, you can’t do it on Saturday afternoon. This stuff is very complex. There’s a lot to handle.

And, you know, I’ve always worked believing that digital agencies and digital marketing platforms can really help these business owners, but the first thing you have to do to help them is educate them that there’s a problem, exactly like you did, George, which is you look at the competitors and you look at the other brands that are around them to explain, “Hey, look, you’re not doing any of these things that these other people are. And, while I don’t have perfect information, it’s very clear that your behind or that you are trying to do this on your own, and it’s time to step up your business model.”

I think many people have struggled to make those cases to small business owners, but as we started this conversation with presentation skills, we actually have a whole chapter on presenting data, you really need to gather simple data metrics that you can present the case to them, which is not why your X dollar amount for them to pay you to solve the problem, but more that these are the values of the data that you have, or that you’re not controlling, or that are aligned against you, and that number will dwarf typically any sort of fee that it would take to solve that problem. But you’ve got to present that data in a compelling case.


George: I, kind of, figured that this was going to happen because I could continue to go on, and on, and on, and cover these points. We’ve only got through two of the four keys to the methodology inside the book, identifying, and then finding the value. We’ve got two others. Christian, you mind if we break this up into two episodes and cover the other two items, structure and protecting, next week?

Christian: Absolutely. It’d be my pleasure.

George: So, we’ll continue with our conversation on the book “Data Leverage” with Christian Ward, the chief data officer for SourceMedia, next week on the episode. We’re gonna get into structure and protect. Is the book out yet, Christian, or is it coming out soon? I got an advance copy, I appreciate that. When will it be delivered so that people can get a copy of this?

Christian: So, it looks like in the next two weeks. We are in the final stages. I’ve gotta tell you I had no idea how complex actually getting a layout of a book done is, but I’d say in the next two weeks it should be on Amazon.

George: Excellent. So, more with Christian Ward next week on the “Conquer Local” podcast as we continue our episodes around the digital marketing stack, and delivering the value of digital marketing to your customers. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.