The proliferation of data is to marketers what the faster-than-light neutrino is to physicists. Scary and exciting in equal measure, shaking perceptions of what is possible and opening up new worlds of opportunity ... and pain.
While sadly we don't touch on time-travel, data is very much a topic which permeates our latest Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing, published this week in association with Adobe.
Below, I've outlined five key data-related themes covered in the report.
While the speed of the neutrino is open to dispute, no-one can doubt the impact that increased data availability is already having on marketers and businesses.
Wider use of tools for analytics, attribution, automation, CRM (and e-crm), multivariate testing and real-time bidding (among others) is spawning more and more information into an already seething ocean of data.
The increasing importance of data was very much a hot topic of conversation at two events I attended last week, namely Kantar Media's Digital Connections 2011 conference in London and the gigantic dmexco digital marketing trade show in Cologne.
According to Kantar CEO Eric Salama, many companies are paralysed by the increase in data, with most having 'no idea what to do with it'.
Research for our second Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing shows that companies are typically getting tangible value from marketing technology, but often find the tools resource-intensive (to varying degrees).
Without investment in analysis and people (which requires boardroom understanding and buy-in), companies are failing to take advantage of the technology and information available. This type of investment is a pre-requisite for any companies with serious aspirations to joining up different information sources for multi-channel success.
For those interested in multi-channel, our JUMP conference next month has an 'analyse' track which is dedicated to data, metrics, measurement and analytics.
Summing up the challenge (and opportunity) nicely, Jim Sterne, founder of the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, told me yesterday:
"Data integration is the current Holy Grail. Multivariate testing, landing page optimization and conversion improvement are well known and quite effective. The next big step is tying in all customer touchpoint information with sales data, customer relationship management data and call centre information to serve customers better. Those who master this step will retain customers far longer than the competition and gain market share by means of strong social media support."
'Real-time' is a major buzz phrase for a broad range of vendors at the moment, who know that marketers are demanding technology which makes things happen instantaneously or want to do things 'on-the-fly'.
This is most obviously evident in the way that real-time bidding is changing the online display advertising industry, but also a key requirement for a range of tools spanning from social media monitoring to on-site content targeting.
Marketers want to be able to pull the right levers quickly, whether the aim is to improve customer experience or increase marketing effectiveness.
A huge shift is under way with businesses needing to respond and adapt more dynamically than in years gone by. According to Eric Salama: "Getting 80% accurate information now is more important than being 100% accurate in six months' time."
Our survey for the Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing shows that 15% of European companies and 29% of North American organizations are now using attribution management and modelling technology.
As discussed in the briefing, the challenge facing those investing in this technology is deciding where to focus, and building a meaningful picture and extracting actionable information.
Attribution was one of the areas discussed at a dmexco panel about 'tomorrow's media strategies', featuring MPG, ZenithOptimedia and Mediabrands.
The panel of media agency CEOs discussed the challenges they were facing within a changing media landscape, and how the onus was on them to provide strategic, data-driven insights for their clients whilst managing campaigns which engage with consumers dynamically in real-time.
MPG Global CEO Maria Luisa Francoli pointed out that media agencies are well positioned to carry out attribution which takes into account both higher-funnel (brand advertising) and lower-funnel (direct response) marketing activity. While advertisers and agencies have long been carrying out econometric modelling, the rise of real-time data gives much more insight into consumer behaviour and the effectiveness of different types of marketing.
As with marketing attribution, marketing automation is another area with technology and data at its core which has gained a lot of traction during 2011.
Just under three-quarters of US marketers are using (38%) or planning to use (33%) marketing automation technology, slightly more than their European counterparts (60%).
But there is evidence from our research that most organisations are not using the technology to its full potential, often because the processes are not in place to harness data properly and get maximum value. Around two thirds of companies surveyed (65%) say that using marketing automation has little or no impact on their bottom line.
Those interested in marketing automation (including lead nurturing, demand generation and revenue performance) should attend our FUNNEL conference in London on 1 November.
Thanks to Caspar Schlickum of Xaxis for drawing my attention to this video from Silktide which explains 'the stupid EU cookie law in two and a half minutes'. There is a lot of confusion among website owners about what they need to do in order to be compliant.
As we stress in our briefing, organisations that are concerned about the loss of tracking may find that emphasising the quality of their offerings and their treatment of customers is the best route to continued access to data.
To quote from our report:
The most proactive step is for organisations to step back and consider their essential relationship with their customers. In an age when brands speak to the idea of the 'customer driven brand' and respect for the consumer, should marketing be driven by aggressive data collection... or should data exchange reflect the value and mutual respect of a healthy relationship?'
Image credit: Lori Greig on Flickr