Make the Product, Not Just the Raw Material


Twitter exhausts me. Even though I feel I have been very selective in who I choose to follow, the volume is overwhelming. Every time I go to review my Twitter feed, I waste far too much time in an exercise to separate the wheat from the chaff to find useful nuggets of news or insight. Twitter ought to be incredibly valuable, but in its current design, users find that to overcome the sheer volume of tweets to get noticed, they have to pump out an increasing number of tweets themselves. It’s an endless game of volumetric one-upmanship that is ultimately self-defeating.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal takes the view that Twitter is very good as a raw content creation platform, but a failure at making that content useful or even intelligible. We know that Twitter content has value: consider the number of companies looking for trends, breaking news and other signals to gain an edge and generate profits. But it is companies other than Twitter that are adding the value and making the money.

This got me to thinking. Many data publisher still focus on the quantity of the data they provided, not its value. And this inevitably leads to a mentality of selling data by the pound. These publishers deliver lots of data, and their customers figure out what to do with it. For a long time, this was a good business approach for publishers, but hardly an optimized one.

By wrapping their content in software, publishers have added value by allowing customers to act on their data more powerfully. But while data-software integration has been a boon for data publishers, there may still be entirely new products and even entirely new businesses hiding in your data. There are clues to this. Do you have lots of consultants buying your data year after year? Do they renew easily, rarely complaining about price increases? Chances are at least a few of them are productizing your data in some way. Get familiar with their specialties and their services, and you can often come away with new product ideas.

Have you ever changed your file layouts or stopped delivering a specific data field, only to get immediate panic calls from some of your customers? Chances are, they’ve built software around your content and are doing something very valuable with it. A few casual inquiries about how they’re using your data will often yield tremendous insights. Do you have whole categories of customers where you have no idea why they buy your data? Chances are, it will be worth your time to find out. It’s not unusual to find that markets you never considered are making valuable use of your data.

Data-software integration is great, but in the majority of cases, publishers are simply helping their customers better manipulate their data. But there’s a whole additional of level of value that can be created by turning your data into finished products. And while I am not arguing that you should try to run all your customers out of business, if some of them have found a way to make money by re-formatting, augmenting or manipulating your data to add value to it, I’d argue that such opportunities properly belong to the owner of that data. And your subscriber file is often the first best place to look for clues to such opportunities.