Thinking of Monetizing Your Data? Here Are Some Questions to Ask

An online search will tell you that data is “the new sand,” “the new oil,” “the new currency”, or maybe even “the new gold.” Although it may be hard to define data’s exact value, more and more small businesses are starting to exploit this resource to impress customers, grow sales, and increase their valuations.

You can monetize data by using it to improve your own company, or by selling it to a third party. Which path you choose depends on several factors, including the type and volume of information you collect, the industry you’re in, and your long-term growth strategy.

What data do you have?

Before considering whether to sell your data, or how to analyze it for your own advantage, you’ll need to have a detailed picture of what information your company collects. As you go through this exercise, you’ll start to see patterns emerging from your company’s different datasets.

Can you organize your data by customer segment, geography, type and number of purchases made,or other categories? What insights can you gain from reviewing a customer’s behavior over time, combining your databases with publicly available information, or comparing your results to an industry standard?

The format of your insights is important too. Everyone likes a good story; does your data suggest a particular narrative arc? Perhaps you can offer a new twist on formulas like “the customer journey” or “supporting our buyers through life events.”

Whose problems can your data help solve?

Once you have a clear understanding of your data, you can start to think about how it would be useful to a customer or business partner. For example, if you’re a B2C company looking to work with a major online retailer, what have you already learned about their pain points? If they’ve been having trouble upselling their own customers, would any of your information help them understand their target market better?

There may also be opportunities in adjacent markets. This can mean geographic expansion, new customers, or a venture into another industry. Think of a food distributor making a TV show, a hotel chain teaming up with a ridesharing service, or an insurance company moving into wealth management. In either case, your knowledge may help your business partners meet their own strategic goals.

Finally, larger companies often partner with smaller companies to hedge their bets against an uncertain future. Do you have information that can give a big corporation an early warning of some important new trend?

To share, or not to share?

If you determine that your data has value to third parties, consider carefully whether you want to share your actual datasets. You may have concerns about confidentiality, or future competition with the party to whom you’re licensing the information. Would it be more effective to provide your interpretation of the data instead?

If you do go down the path of selling or licensing data – or even your own analysis of that data – be aware of the potential risks. Privacy laws are evolving quickly, and breaches can trigger lengthy investigations with heavy fines. There can also be significant costs to monetizing data, such as the effort to clean and format it for fast and accurate processing. And you’ll need to make sure you don’t alienate customers by disclosing details of their interactions with your company.

Given the issues with sharing data or analytics, you may discover that it’s best to keep the data in-house and keep the benefits of those insights for yourself. In this case, it’s still possible to extract new value. Your collected information may help you improve customer retention, develop new products, or make your company a more attractive acquisition target.

What’s Next?

The market for data and analytics is changing quickly. It’s in every founder’s interest to set aside some time to think about these issues on a regular basis.

There’s value in doing this work even if you don’t monetize your data right away. You might decide to create customized analytics to track a metric that’s important to your company. You might develop a hypothesis for your sales and marketing teams to test. Or you might discover a need to collect additional or different data in the future. Hopefully, this process will give you ideas for even more questions to ask.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Project W Newsletter. Project W, an initiative of Davis Wright Tremaine , helps women build successful businesses, advance their careers, achieve parity in the workplace, and improve their lives.

This article is my opinion only, and is not legal advice. If you’re interested in monetizing your data, Spark + Sterling can assist with contracts designed to maximize your revenue and protect your rights. Contact me to learn more.