Keeping it Real with Data

post by Jason Thompson, photo by Brett Jordan

Jason Thompson, CEO of 33 Sticks, discusses fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) mongers in the data industry and how they take advantage of companies’ lack of expertise around data.

Throughout my career, I have observed big spikes in data topics that have caused the larger business world to sit up and take notice. 

In the early 2000’s, it was the death of 3rd Party Cookies (and hey, it’s 2023 and here we are again) that was going to destroy all of analytics. That was followed by Google hiding search keywords from analytics platforms that the industry was convinced was going to destroy any analytics platform that wasn’t named Google. Fast forward, we have the emergence of server-side data collection, trendy topics like CDPs and Audience Management Platforms. We also have massive enterprise vendors sunsetting products — e.g. Adobe sunsetting their Tag Manager and replacing it with Adobe Launch, Google sunsetting Universal Analytics and replacing it with GA4.

Every time one of these spikes happens, the sleazy, unethical players in the data industry, crawl out of their hidden lairs to sow seeds of fear, uncertainty, and doubt — the dreaded FUD.

FUD mongers know from history that this is their opportunity to take advantage of a company’s lack of expertise around data, an opportunity to squeeze them for as much money as they can until finally the company learns the truth or becomes so dissatisfied, either way, it ends with the sleazy vendors and consulting agencies being fired. But they don’t care at this point, they got theirs and it’s on to the next unsuspecting victim.

The challenges of keeping companies from harm.

Sadly, I’ve watched this play out far more times than I’d like to admit. At 33 Sticks, we’ve been involved with companies that have played host to these parasite vendors and agencies. And to be honest, it’s been very difficult to properly guide these companies as the parasites sense the danger and go into full attack mode, aggressively looking to undercut the authentic authority and expertise that we bring to our partnership. It can get really ugly at times.

I recall a meeting between one of our clients and a vendor (who will remain nameless). The vendor was pushing a solution incredibly hard by way of planting enormous amounts of FUD around their current analytics platform, Adobe Analytics. This went on for a solid 15 minutes, lie after lie, all in an attempt to create fear in our client. So much fear that they would buy whatever this vendor was pitching in order for the fear to go away. Finally, I had had enough and spoke up, “with all due respect, what you are telling our client is 100% false, nowhere in what you said in the last 15 minutes was there a shred of truth about how Adobe Analytics works.”

The vendor, smug as could be, said, “yeah, and what makes you such an expert?”

Well, I went on to explain, I went to work for a little startup called Omniture in 2004 (Omniture then went on to be acquired by Adobe in 2009 and Omniture SiteCatalyst was rebranded to Adobe Analytics). In the last 15 years, I have personally deployed Adobe Analytics, as well as many other enterprise grade analytics platforms, on over 100 different websites and native mobile apps, and I have advised hundreds of more companies on how to maximize their investment in analytics platforms.

That shut them up for that meeting but it didn’t stop them from being a parasite within the walls of our client. They worked hard, for another 6 months, telling lies, creating doubt, until finally our client caved and bought their solution. A solution our client truly did not need.

I failed our client but I didn’t fail to stay true to our core values of integrity, honesty, and authenticity.

Far too many data companies, both vendors and agencies, use fast talking sales reps, fancy buzz words, and FUD to push companies to buy things that are first and foremost what is best for the vendor/agency but not necessarily what is best for the customer.

Keeping it real with your clients and stakeholders

At 33 Sticks, we have taken the opposite approach. We have taken an approach of being true advisers, telling our clients what they need to hear, telling our clients what is best for them, even if it means less consulting revenue for us. I would much rather deal with the ramifications of reduced consulting revenue than I would the ramifications of being caught up in a financial scandal created by misleading and outright lying to our customers. And even more important than the legal aspect of it, is the human aspect of it, we just want to be good, honest people.

What does this mean for us as a company? Well, I have no doubt that it has meant less revenue than could have been possible had we elected to go the widely accepted route of FUD selling, however, we have enough, we have our integrity intact, and we have won the trust of our clients, which to me is priceless.

In our view, integrity is the only way to create sustainable and meaningful data cultures within companies. These cultures have to be grounded in truth, in reality, in stability and those things are simply not possible when you allow your data strategy to be so easily manipulated by unethical vendors and agencies.

If building a meaningful data culture is important to you and your company, you should prioritize hiring really smart, ethical employees who are committed to upholding a high bar of integrity. You should go out of your way to hire and retain really talented agencies that have a proven track record of operating with integrity, of providing guidance to their clients on what is best for the client. And you should reject, call-out, make it known that unethical vendors and agencies have no future with you, your team, or your company.

Photo by Brett Jordan

“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.” ~Marcus Aurelius

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