When it comes to innovation, a corporate leader needs to be judicious.

After all, if you adopt every emerging trend in digital media, you’ll find your company brutally pulled in every direction, like Justin Beiber dropped into a crowd of crazed thirteen-year-old girls. 

But when it comes to the trends of data utilization and personalized media, now is not the time to be cautious.

If you ignore these trends, I have a Blockbuster store I’d like to sell you. If not, read on.

Site retargeting

The digital landscape has changed dramatically even in the last few years. Media fragmentation and personalized media are the new normal. You only have to look to the rise of platforms like Pinterest and Flipboard, as well as video apps like HBO GO and Netflix, to see that users crave and create media experiences unique to them.

Simultaneously, marketers are collecting and mining mountains of data about those users — from the pages they visit to the items they search for and the social graphs they share with — and using it to tailor the delivery of relevant and unique messages. We call this practice “programmatic marketing,” and it’s still relatively new.

But it’s also clearly the future of digital marketing. Those who fail to catch on now will be left behind.

Consider one example of a type of programmatic marketing known as site retargeting: If you look at a J. Crew cashmere sweater and then surf around to other sites, you might well encounter a display ad for that very same sweater. Or consider search retargeting, another increasingly popular technique.

Whereas site retargeting is designed to increase revenue from someone who has already visited your site, search retargeting makes it possible to find new customers based on their search behavior.

Someone who searches for “cashmere sweaters” on Google, for example, might then surf to another site and discover display ads for J. Crew cashmere sweaters — despite never having visited the company’s site.

Gathering the data for precise targeting is only half of the programmatic marketing equation. The other half is actually serving these ads to users via Real-Time Bidding (RTB) on ad exchanges, which enable buyers to choose how much they’re willing to pay to reach their targets and then to reach them instantly — that is, if they’ve got the winning bid.

Recall that J. Crew sweater you keep seeing across the internet as you’re browsing. After seeing those display ads on Mashable, you might check Facebook, where an ad reveals that dozens of your friends are J. Crew fans.

Then you might head over to The Wall Street Journal, where you encounter yet another ad for the sweater, this time it offers a 10%  discount. Your confidence in the purchase is strengthened at each step. This cycle, repeated over and over, delivers a better ROI for the marketer and higher CPMs for the publisher. Everyone wins.

It doesn’t stop at display advertising

The incredible success and effectiveness of data-driven targeting hasn’t stopped at display advertising. Thanks to programmatic marketing, we can now say goodbye to the one-size-fits-all newsletter. For example, if an email subscriber just looked at your product page, you want the next email that user receives to highlight that product — and you want to send it ASAP.

Meanwhile, if someone on your list has just read an online review of your product, it only makes sense to send that user accurate product info — and perhaps a coupon as well.

Programmatic marketing is even reinventing B2B campaigns. When a potential customer arrives at a B2B marketer’s site, it’s one of the first steps in the sales journey, but not necessarily the very first one. Usually, there’s a signal, such as a referral source, that can tell the marketer what type of content to serve to a prospect during a first visit.

For instance, if a prospect arrives at a creative agency’s site from an article about creating viral videos, the agency might display information on the homepage about its award-winning content studio. If someone arrives via a tweet about “responsive design,” the agency could tailor the website content accordingly.

The same principles hold for larger companies that operate multiple sites. By analyzing the information a prospect has consumed on one company site, smart marketers can tailor the creative on the second site.

Grab the data reins

This brings us to another critical point. All the data in the world won’t do you much good if you can’t control it. Now, more than ever, CMOs need to wrest control of their company’s data.

When properly analyzed, data tells you what your users want, how they’re behaving, and the best ways to reach them — essential factors to effective marketing. A CMO who fails to gain control of his company’s data is like a quarterback who lets an offensive lineman call the plays in the huddle.

So, what’s it all come down to? Essentially, this: If you want to compete in the digital marketing game, you can’t ignore programmatic marketing. It’s the essential marketing trend of the moment.

If you don’t believe us, give us a ring. Even if we can’t convince you otherwise, at least we can talk to you about buying that Blockbuster store.