The bad NSA doctrine that is good for digital marketing

I just finished reading No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who introduced Edward Snowden, and the National Security Agency (NSA) documents that he leaked, to the world. In my opinion, it’s a book that every US and British citizen should read regardless of which end of the political spectrum they sit.

In amongst all the shocking revelations, was a brief mention of a surveillance doctrine referred to as ‘Collect it All’. It was a phrase taken from a 2011 presentation to the ‘Five Eyes’ (the intelligence-sharing alliance between the USA, Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand).

Here it is:

new collection posture

As I was looking at this slide, I couldn’t help but think that this is digital marketing – or at least what the data strategy should look like for your digital marketing.

Here’s how I see it:

Sniff it all

The first thing you need to do is track how users are interacting with your digital assets. Adding a tracking code to all of your web pages for services like Google Analytics is a perfect example. But this also should extend to call tracking, open rates and other stats for your email marketing / marketing automation tools, and of course brand mentions on social media.

In order to be effective in digital marketing (and spying), the starting point is to have access to the relevant activities, conversations, and events that are occurring all around you.

Know it all

The second step is to understand everything you can about your specific customers and your target market at large. You need to understand their needs, their problems, and their buying behaviours.

One approach used for this step is to create buyer personas so that you can segment and then better target your customers through more relevant and personalised messages.

Once you are ‘sniffing’ their activities, the journey a user takes through our web site can tell us a lot about them. It can indicate how far through the buying cycle they are and should certainly be used to trigger the right kind of follow up content sent via email from our marketing automation solution. These drip-feed emails can also be used to further refine your understanding of this person as they interact with additional self-qualifying actions that can be embedded into these subsequent and on-going emails.

The more you know about your customer’s behaviour, the more you know about the market at large. This information is priceless and according to McKinsey can increase sales by as much as 10%.

Collect it all

One of the main problems that we have in the digital marketing industry is that there are little pieces of data about your customers, competitors and the overall performance of your marketing in too many places.

You really must start to build a consolidated data management platform that collects, combines and aggregates all of this data into a single view. These 3rd party systems are useful, but the information can have an amplifying effect when combined together – not to mention the time that can be saved by not integrating it manually.

With the wide availability of cloud-based computing services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), there should be no technical limit to implementing this step either. You can start by addressing a particular problem or a single channel (e.g. SEO) or you can start from a single entity (e.g. a competitor database), but start today and collect everything you can get your hands on.

Process it all

Having vast amounts of useful data is an important step, but you need to make sure that it is generating insights. This is where analytics, dashboards and trend analysis will become essential.

When faced with too much data, our puny human brains cannot cope. This is one of the reasons why a recent Harvard Business Review article states that marketers depend on data for just 11% of all customer-related decisions. There’s simply too much of it in an unprocessed form.

Start building an analytics and reporting platform that slices, dices and recombines the data that you are collecting into visualisations and summaries that you can act on. And due to the volume of data, I would even go as far as to say that you should start to employ machine learning and artificial intelligence to automate as much of the analysis as possible too.

Exploit it all

This is the end game. There is no reason to collect or process any of this data unless you can use it for some form of competitive advantage. We need to turn the insights derived from our data into recommended actions.

Don’t tolerate your analytics systems or your human analysts to simply regurgitate numbers. You don’t need someone to send you a chart with a note that simply points out that it is up by 10% or down by 4% – you are more than likely capable of deriving that yourself. What you need and what you should demand is the understanding of why it is up or down and what is the recommended course of action.

This is how you exploit the data you are collecting, start to shift your efforts from automated reporting to automated – or at least computer-assisted – decision-making. You could easily create a dashboard with all of your marketing KPIs that would fill an office wall. You have too much to consider when making decisions which will cause you to forget about the hard data completely and resort to your gut instinct.

Partner it all

If you are an agency, then you need to share all of your data and insights with your customer. If possible, you should also share this information with all of the other agencies that are supporting that customer in their digital marketing mission.

If you are client-side, then you absolutely need to share everything you have with all of your suppliers. The more informed they are with this intelligence, the more successful they can be with helping you achieve your goals.

Don’t let this intelligence ecosystem be an afterthought. Start as you mean to go on and build-in all of the necessary hooks into your system from the very beginning. This could start as report sharing, expand to shared access to your dashboards, and ultimately result in direct API access to your new data management platform.


Due to the volume of data that they are collecting, the NSA has had to lead the world in its knowledge, approach and practical techniques with Big Data.  With the amount of data that we are now creating and [hopefully] collecting in the digital marketing industry, there are very few organisations let alone whole industries that we can look to for innovation. NSA, we are watching you.

Struggling with data?

If you’re overwhelmed with how to go about collating and interpreting the mass of data that is now available about your website, let us show you how Apollo Insights can solve these problems. Call us on 023 9283 0281 or request a demo below.

Request a demo of Apollo Insights today! »

Matt Hopkins profile picture
Matt Hopkins

Matt Hopkins grew up in Texas but moved to the south coast of England in 1992. He served as the Managing Director of a software consultancy working with some of Europe's largest and best-known companies before founding Vertical Leap in 2001. He is passionate about the force-multiplying effect that technology can have on business and marketing in particular. He was responsible for our vision and business strategy.

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