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Ask the expert: the future of data in marketing

According to an IBM study, 90% of the world’s data has been created within the past 2 years. Every day a whopping 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created.

The term “Big Data” has emerged to define the huge data stores that companies are now collecting and storing, often with rows of data going into the billions. These new “Big Data” sets need specialised and distributed technology to be able to store, cleanse, access and analyse this data.

There are obvious opportunities in this for businesses to embrace and utilize this data. But How? Without the means to be able to store, recall and analyse this data, in a compliant way, it has no use to businesses. Businesses that don’t start to utilise this data will be left behind by their competitors.

Our Alex Cosgrove was recently featured on TechSPARK to share his view on what jobs are being created as a result of all this data and skills it takes to succeed in those roles.

But the question we wanted to ask the expert is: What’s ahead? What is the future of data in marketing?

We asked Ed Arnall-Culliford, Insight Director at SearchStar. Ed provides knowledge into emerging trends (within agency and the wider market). His journey in the industry began over 9 nine years ago and since joining SearchStar, he’s specialised in PPC, managed the account team and is now entirely focused on perceptive data and market research.

Ed Arnall-Culliford:

Some of the big buzzwords surrounding data at the moment are unification, automation and democratisation. An idealised picture of the future of data in marketing would reflect the convergence of these three principles. Clean, accurate data – both as an input and an output of marketing activity – would be effortlessly suffused in everything that all marketers and advertisers did, without any real need to think of it as a distinct element or discipline of the industry.

But when has the future ever met the ideal…? There are significant challenges to unifying, automating and democratizing data (not least understanding what’s actually meant by each).

While the pace of change in digital is much vaunted, the great vision of The Future always appears well in advance of its realisation – how long did The Year of Mobile take to arrive, for instance? Equally, while it feels like the principles identified above have been discussed for a while, their realisation is still some way off.

I rather suspect that the short to medium term future will be defined by a slightly painful wrestle to overcome these challenges.

Unification

The idea of data unification requires data from multiple sources to be collected, merged and de-duplicated to create a single set of data on which to base analysis and decision making. This is already a headache for marketers operating across channels and platforms. How should performance data from Facebook Ads be compared to that of a Google Ads campaign or Amazon Marketing when there are both subtle and significant differences in the metrics on which each operates?

At present, solutions such as the enterprise elements of the Google Marketing Platform, Visual IQ and Quantcast purport to achieve data unity and a single customer view. However, these are prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of advertisers and still require significant technical expertise to configure correctly. It will be interesting to see if the advertising big guns (most likely Google) start to open up this technology for free as a means of encouraging greater investment.

Automation

Marketing automation can come in many guises, perhaps the most prominent of these (in SearchStar’s line of work, at least) being automated bidding, creative optimisation and targeting across paid search and beyond. Here, human users don’t even really get to see the data that are informing the algorithmically driven decisions, as the computers whir away.

Arguably, data is being taken away from advertisers in this respect – our tiny minds can’t cope with the BIG data being generated from thousands of different audience signals across hundreds of metrics. However, the work being carried out automatically creates fresh challenges for advertisers: Are automated systems working? Can they be improved? Micro-management of data is sorted, so what higher-level strategies should we employ? How can we gain advantage against competitors?

Democratisation

Website, audience and channel performance can help inform decisions across a business well beyond the marketing department – product development, buying strategies, pricing, forecasts, etc. If marketing data within a business is so powerful, it should be available to be understood and used by all relevant members of that business, not held in silo by just the marketing or IT teams.

Once again, this general principle has been in train for a little while, but the challenges of achieving democratisation remain: How can data be shared securely? Do relevant employees properly understand the data? How can large quantities of data be distilled into a meaningful narrative? Google is looking to address such issues with the continued development of its excellent Data Studio tool. And, because it’s free, it’s truly democratic.

So there we are. In the future, data in advertising will be unified, automated and democratised. Just don’t expect the path to get there to be easy!

You can learn more about the future of data in advertising at SearchStar’s upcoming conference. October 11th “Data in Advertising: 2019 & Beyond”. Tickets and more info via Eventbrite. Hope to see you there!