That marketing is 'all about the data' has now become so widely accepted that many marketers are left wondering, what's next?

To some, the future of data looks a lot like the present. Data is something marketers send upwards to business intelligence systems (BI) and report performance.

Speaking to company marketers at a recent Digital Cream Singapore, though, it seems that others have a much different view of marketing data.

Many attendees indicated that they are no longer just handing over their data to demonstrate return on investment (ROI), but they are instead using it to change the way their marketing team works.

Below are five trends which roundtable participants felt will define data-driven marketing in the coming year.

1) Marketers will increasingly use data for decision making

One trend that most participants agreed on is that that data will be used more often to drive marketing decisions in 2017. Attendees said that data analysis was the best way to find the 'low-hanging fruit' which improves marketing performance.

A 2016 Econsultancy survey of client-side marketers backs up this notion. In the study, marketers were asked to indicate what percentage of their data was useful for decision making and less than one in three (29%) indicated that very little (0-25%) of their data was useful.

In the same survey, marketers also agreed overwhelmingly (84%) that analytics drives actionable recommendations which make a difference to their organisation.

While optimistic in general, participants also felt that using data to help make marketing decisions also raises new issues.

First off, many said that marketers are suffering from data overload. Each channel, every customer touchpoint, and each marketing system has its own data and participants felt that all the data was becoming overwhelming.

One delegate mentioned that their customers use chat apps when purchasing and the marketing team found it difficult to use this data for attribution.

Another problem with using data for decision making is that additional resources are required to make sense of the data. Companies with small or stretched marketing teams struggle to find the time to analyse the data to an extent where it offers useful insights.

Also, while using data can make some decisions easier, data-based decisions can become politicized, too (see point 3 below).

2) Agile marketing will become more popular

Interestingly, attendees said that the increased use of data in marketing will allow marketers to work in a more agile manner.

Described in a previous article, 'agile marketing' is essentially a working method which encourages individual efforts and frequent collaboration.

According to participants agile marketing is enabled by data because group decisions are guided by facts rather than 'the HIPPO' (Highest Paid Person's Opinion). As a result, marketers feel empowered to share details about their work and meetings become more productive. 

Those aiming to implement agile marketing will still face challenges, though. Companies with a conservative culture may find it hard to accept its unorthodox working methods.

Additionally, for agile to work, marketers must be willing to put in extra hours to learn about how to run tests correctly and explain results in detail.

Attendees who had already implemented agile marketing said that the results were encouraging. One reported that projects which used to take two to three months, now only took two to three weeks.

3) Marketing attribution will still be difficult

While all attendees agreed that they would like to attribute conversions across channels, many feel that they are still some ways away from being able to do so.

The first problem attendees highlighted was that the marketing attribution has become political at some organisations. This happens because channel budgets are often set according to how much revenue a channel provides. Channel managers, therefore, are motivated to 'talk up' the value of their channel even if the data does not support it.

Another problem was the number of channels. Delegates reported that some of their customers hit 10 or more touchpoints before converting. Piecing together a customer journey of that length and attributing value to each step is a difficult, if not impossible, task.

Finally, marketers said that even if the journey could be mapped and an attribution model agreed upon, not all of the data is available. New digital channels are popping up all of the time and many do not integrate with analytics systems (see Dark social: It's worse than we thought in Asia-Pacific). To add to the problem, offline data is typically even more difficult to obtain than online.

So, while marketing attribution will remain a goal of many companies, participants predicted that few will make as much progress toward marketing attribution in 2017 as they would like.

4) Marketers will personalise using data-driven customer insights

Personalisation is already in use at many organisations, but often this meant using segments to deliver content which resonates more with the target audience.

In the coming year, attendees felt that personalisation initiatives will be expanded so that consumers will be delivered the 'next best piece of content' to help them make buying decisions.

In order to do so, marketers must be able to use the 'data exhaust' of consumer behaviour and use that as a way to determine which content to deliver via email, web, and mobile.

Some participants felt that there were issues with this approach to personalisation. Many organisations still suffer from 'data silos' where one department would not allow another to use its data.  This is particularly true between sales and marketing.

Others said that their marketing technology stack was not yet up to the task to handle individual personalisation. According to a recent Econsultancy survey, this seems to be the case at many organisations as only 7% strongly agreed that their current data architecture is an 'enabler for personalisation'.

5) Media agencies will be held accountable for online advertising

Finally, attendees said that in 2017, client-side marketers will require that their agency partners provide more data about their online advertising.

In the past, it seems that many marketing teams did not have the analytics capabilities to manage detailed data about ad performance. As a result, many agency reports contained only high-level figures.

Now that client-side teams are becoming more data-driven, their expectations for both the quantity and the quality of the data will increase. Issues such as click fraud, viewability, and view-through conversions will become frequent topics of conversations between agencies and data-driven marketing teams.

There are still hurdles though. First off, advertising data is complicated and it will take some time for agencies and marketing teams to 'get on the same page', according to one participant.

Also, as mentioned above (point 3), even when ad data is understood it still may not help marketers allocate media spend by the effectiveness of the channel.

Finally, agencies suffer from the same issue that marketing teams do - they simply do not have all the data. Many online conversions and purchases come through channel partners, such as marketplaces, which do not provide attribution data to their members.

So, even with all of the view and click data at hand, marketers who use channel partners will still struggle to know which advertising platforms provide the most value to the business.

A word of thanks

Econsultancy would like to thank all of the marketers who participated at Digital Cream Singapore 2016 and our table moderator for Data-Driven Marketing & Marketing Attribution Management - Frederick Tay, Associate Director, Marketing Operations, INSEAD.

We hope to see you all at future Singapore Econsultancy events!

Jeff Rajeck

Published 23 December, 2016 by Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck is the APAC Research Analyst for Econsultancy . You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.  

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