Will This Be the Year of Data Analytics in the Marketing Department?

In 2013, we saw a ground swell in the use of data analytics by marketing teams, as they moved from rudimentary commitments to more sophisticated tools to get them closer to customers. So where will 2014 take us? Will this be the year that marketing analytics goes mainstream, not just for data scientists, but marketers themselves?

The 2014 State of Marketing report from Salesforce and ExactTarget offers some intriguing clues on the topic. ExactTarget surveyed 2,651 marketers globally, targeting businesses from small to enterprise size, and from entry-level to senior people. The big news: fully 98 percent of those surveyed said they plan to increase or maintain digital budgets. Just as important, “collecting, measuring and using behavior-based data” was close to the top of the list in marketing priorities (third place). And it looks like marketing departments plan to put money behind this. “Data and analytics” led all items for budget increases this year (61 percent).

Anametrix also polled a number of thought leaders in the analytics world for their views about 2014, among them Jim Sterne, founder of the Digital Analytics Association and eMetrics Summit, who predicted that “data-driven marketing will stop being a fad, a ‘thing,’ a cause to celebrate.”

By the end of the year, Jim told Anametrix, “We’ll no longer hear about its potential or possibilities, or even see articles lamenting how few are doing it. Instead, we’ll read about the rigors of making it work and the big gains made by those who are doing so.”

I agree. With that as a backdrop, let me share my own predictions for 2014.

Prediction #1: Beyond Dashboards

Marketers will move beyond “current state” reporting, which all too often passes for analytics, to discover the actual levers of change in their increasingly complex environments. They will ask data specific questions for the insights to make time-sensitive business decisions. Why is this so important? Current-state reporting tells you what has already happened, but does not reveal what the marketer really needs: insights into why consumers make the buying decisions they do. Advances in analytics technology AND marketers’ acceptance of it will deliver data not just on the “what,” but also the “why,” the “when” and the “what if” for true decision support.

Or as Ray Wang, principal analyst, founder and chairman of Constellation Research, put it in his 2014 predictions, “… context is king. How we bring relevancy to users helps us make the data relevant. So role, relationship, location, time, sentiment and even intent play a key role.”

Prediction #2: Right-Time Marketing

Right-time marketing will become more and more common as businesses are able to combine and make sense out of consumer breadcrumbs across all channels of engagement in a timely manner. This next-gen approach, however, will require access to real-time, granular multichannel data across all channels, which can then be analyzed in real time to reveal hidden relationships and shed new insights into critical business decisions.

Josh Manion, CEO of Ensighten, adds: “Omnichannel will continue to be very important to how consumers interact with brands. Consumer interactions will continue to be spread across many digital touch points, including mobile apps, kiosks, game consoles, and an ever-increasing number of smart devices.”

Prediction #3: Marketers as the New “Quants”

As marketers begin to understand their data and begin to predict behavior, they will be more like the “quants” on Wall Street with automated trading algorithms – but with one caveat. New tools will enable not just the “data scientist,” but also the average marketer to easily create forecasts, determine optimal approach, automate all necessary consumer-facing actions, observe actual outcome, learn and repeat for improved results!

Andrew Edwards, managing partner, Efectyv Digital and director emeritus of the Digital Analytics Association, forecast that “at least two major newspapers will cease print production because of the impact of digital distribution of news” in 2014. But, just as important, we are also seeing some news media and entertainment organizations at the forefront of adopting marketing analytics to gain real-time understanding of readers, TV viewers, and the fans fueling ferocious growth in the video games and mobile app industry. They are observing outcomes, while learning and repeating for results., in the process becoming the new “quants.”

Predictions can be famously off target. But I believe we can be certain of one thing. We are moving into an era when advances in analytics technology will enable businesses to monitor, analyze and, most importantly, act on the high volume, variety and velocity of data in ways they haven’t been able to do in the past.

In this context, data activism will be critical, according to Ali Behnam, co-founder and president of Tealium. He’s seen “many companies spend time and resources generating more reports and dashboards without being able to take action on the data. The maturity of the space means that more companies will increase their investment in systems, people and processes to start taking action on the data and getting more value from their analytics.”

Piggy-backing on Ali’s words of wisdom, here is my final prediction – businesses that become data activists will leverage analytics to drive decisions in 2014 and gain, in the process, a tremendous edge over competitors.

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