I have discussed before how data providers can leverage their central, neutral market positions to collect highly valuable data that otherwise couldn’t be collected. Examples abound of data providers that have convinced companies to provide them with their information crown jewels – sales data, pricing data and the like – in return for getting it back (on a paid or unpaid basis) in aggregate, anonymized form. Fundamentally, the companies realize that their data, no matter how sensitive they consider it to be, has even more value to them when combined with or compared to a larger set of similar data. These situations are wonderful opportunities for data publishers, and they are cropping up more and more as companies get better about organizing their internal data and then become more sophisticated about how to optimize it.

But there is a level above this enviable market position. It’s when data actually starts to drive commercial transactions. I have worked with companies whose data products actually drive the bonus compensation of salespeople and managers across entire industries. I have seen data products that are used to set valuations of companies for sale. And of course, there are industry giants such a Nielsen, with its well-known television ratings that drive billions in ad dollars.

The commonality among this rarified group of data providers is that their data is survey-driven. These companies leverage not only their neutrality and impartiality, but they are gathering data that no individual organization could easily or credibly collect on its own. In many cases, these data companies are gathering customer and user experiences and actions.

Yes, for the right kind of opportunity, a simple survey can be turned into an extraordinarily valuable data product. Again, the key drivers of such opportunities are: 1) a need to gather customer/subscriber/user opinions/ratings/activities; 2) the information is difficult for industry players to gather themselves; and 3) the need for trust and objectivity in the collected data.

It may sound hard and complicated, but in the right situations, a well-executed survey can be the path to a very valuable data franchise.