3 Ways Data Will Shape Marketing in 2020 and Beyond

Data. Data is the center of so much going on in our business operations these days. So much potential and benefit; yet do we see marketers truly harnessing the power of data to impact customer experience? What is going to shape marketing over the next few years? And what should marketers be doing now to leverage data? 

In my work at Localytics, I interact with marketers every day who are grappling with these questions. I’ve seen the idea of personalization move from new-concept to nice-to-do to the imperative it is today. Customers expect it, but they also are growing weary of unwanted engagement—at times it’s too much, sometimes not in line with their interests or needs, an unideal time, or on a channel they utilize less. How we “read” each customer to determine the best and most helpful way to interact with them is one of the big questions we must solve—and one we can only solve with data and AI/ML. 

Here’s what I see on the horizon and what marketers can do now to embrace the opportunities: 

  1. Data holds the key to everything, but only if you harness AI/ML. Our apps and technologies generate exponential volumes of customer data; many marketers struggle with how to unlock this data and put it to work for a better customer experience. I believe that AI/ML are critical to brands’ ability to thrive in the coming five years. This isn’t because it’s a highly popular buzzword concept, it’s because AI/ML is a practical necessity. Traditionally, the intelligence required to evaluate data, develop insights and take associated actions was left 100% to humans. Today, the amounts of data available to brands, reduced time lines to seize opportunities or correct marketplace issues and the expectations around personalization, make it impossible for a human alone to provide the “intelligence layer” in the marketing equation. The true brand winners will combine human intelligence with digital intelligence delivered through AI/ML.   

    In 2020, we have ample volumes of data, and emerging data privacy regulations accompanying it. Data privacy is not a trend, but a core ethic that will guide how we utilize data going forward. Data privacy regulations will require that marketers and software vendors determine how to stay aligned within the law while providing a personalized, non-batch and blast approach to engagement. First party data and zero party data (the data customers volunteer about themselves) will be increasingly important.
    Brands will soon get to a point where their ability to deliver a positive customer experience will only be as good as the data they are able to harness through AI/ML assistance to truly make it useful. We may already be at that point. What’s clear is that it all comes down to data and how we leverage it.


  2. Brands need to engage less, and become more relevant. Marketing is being shaped by an ability to truly know customers and prospects and engage in a way that doesn’t feel like “junk mail.” This means marketers are going to have to rethink how they do engagement. Right now, most brands need to scale back on the volume of engagement and focus on quality and relevance. How many of us get inundated by too many emails, pushes, social ads, text messages to the point that we ignore them? Less engagement means each engagement has to have more value, be contextual, and personalized. This relies on data. How your audiences interact with you creates unimaginable amounts of data every day. Each individual will engage with contact they like, at a time they prefer, on a channel of their choosing, as frequently as they’d like to, and so on; all collectible data to inform your decisions. And by engaging with the data, you can personalize content and engagements to each individual.


  3. Personalization is on a continuum; not either you do it or you don’t. Brands know they need to personalize, but in working so deeply on personalization every day, I see some brands falling prey to some misconceptions. First, they falsely believe that they are effectively engaging on a personal level simply because they have defined what is believed to be the ideal segment of their customer or prospect database.

    Personalization is a multi-faceted conversation that too often is reduced to segmentation or maybe presenting the ideal product or content to a customer/prospect.  At Localytics we believe that true/ideal personalization requires thinking about personalization across what we call the “6 W’s—Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How Often.” Each of these “w’s” is a key data point that informs brands on who their audiences are, and how best to interact with each member. By ignoring just one of these W’s, your brand ensures imperfect personalization and thus will experience diminished engagement.

    I also see brands being led to believe that personalization is binary; i.e., either you’re doing it or you’re not, which I believe scares off a lot of brands. The reality is that personalization should be thought of as a multi-stepped maturation curve that provides brands with an ability to get started and show multiple levels of progressive improvement. You can’t be expected to have a full-fledged and complex system of personalization to send the perfect message to every individual on day 1. Every brand can start where they are and progress. Start with simple data that most brands can collect when a new member sets up a profile by inputting info such as gender, age, and location, and build from the simple data to the more complex. But brands who fail to progress really do run the risk of lagging behind, to a point they may never be able to catch up and could go out of business. 

Data is changing how marketing works and how customers experience marketing from brands. Data makes things much simpler and at the same time, all the more complex. It’s imperative for brands to start where you are and progress sustainably, but surely. Invest in artificial intelligence to leverage the insurmountable data your brand likely has at its fingertips. Use it to engage right, instead of more or less. And finally, understand that data is complex and your brand has to start somewhere and progress—Rome wasn’t built in a day. By working to solve data’s complexity, your brand will experience incredible reward—easier decision making, automated processes, and most importantly, greater returns.

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