Data science, IoT, and ad blockers: How will data impact the marketing sector in 2016?

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We’re fast approaching the end of the year, so it’s time for the annual tradition of crystal ball gazing. As our favourite Danish proverb says: “Making predictions is a dangerous activity, especially when they concern the future.” Nevertheless, I’m going to stick my neck on the line and look at what 2016 could have in store for marketing professionals, particularly in relation to using data.

A quick scan of articles that came out around this time last year making predictions for 2015 is a good starting point. Perhaps surprisingly, many of the trends highlighted by fellow ‘Nostradami’ largely came to fruition – personalisation, mobile and payments tech. Others less so, there has been no rise of the ‘marketing technologist’ as a new position, transparency is still a major problem and data protection has been catapulted centre stage by recent developments, something that was largely unseen last December.

Underpinning the explosion in mobile advertising and ever more impressive personalisation is the surge in the number of marketers intelligently using data. Indeed, it is this growth in ‘data-savviness’ by marketers that will inform many of the major changes we are likely to see in 2016.

Although I come from a (slightly) prejudiced position, I firmly believe that data science will inform the best marketing initiatives next year. Targeting has got much more accurate thanks to a better understanding that collecting the right data goes way beyond an email address and a full name.

The personalisation that information from social media platforms enables has opened the door to a huge swathe of new marketing opportunities. However, it is just the tip of the iceberg. By marrying information from traditional sources and social media, with other dynamic data sets such as weather, economic news, major events, and in-store activity (for retail), ultra-targeted and personalised marketing becomes a reality.

The thorny issue of joining the world of in-store marketing and online marketing could finally be solved, much like the difficulties around multi-platform marketing have been largely surmounted.

With more accurate information on consumer behaviour captured in real time, we may finally get closer to answer the attribution modelling problem. I do not expect that by December 2016 marketers, publishers and advertisers will have a revolutionary way to determine effectiveness and apportion costs, however, we should see more agencies and brands experimenting with different models – fuelled by data science.

Smart cities and the Internet of Things (IoT) also promises to advance the cause of personalisation and targeting. HoweverAlthough, I’m sceptical that it’ll have a major impact on the day to day of a marketing campaign. Still waiting for any sign of a true ‘killer app’, IoT is not going to gain widespread adoption in 2016.

The trend is likely to hit the ‘trough of despair’ as hype dissipates and manufacturers focus on creating more useful products. Similarly, smart cities are not going to explode into existence in the next twelve months. The technological and financial challenges inherent in creating a truly ‘smart’ city are staggering. There will undoubtedly be more pilot programmes and interesting experiments such as Saatchi’s AI-driven smart billboard, but don’t expect any of these to profoundly impact a marketing campaign any time soon.

The more likely dominant trend in 2016, and unfortunately a tricky one for most marketers, is issues surrounding data protection. 2015 saw an unprecedented number of significant legal judgments and legislative initiative on both sides of the Atlantic, impacting how data can be used and transferred. If this seems like a peripheral problem to marketers, think again: any curtailment of the free transfer of data between the EU and US will pose challenges for global marketing initiatives. January 2016 will see an attempt to replace Safe Harbour – an agreement between the US and EU on the transfer of data out of Europe which was struck down by the European Court of Justice in October. Don’t hold your breath on a replacement, since the judgment the US has passed a bill allowing more government oversight on data sent into the US, something the EU is less than happy about.  

Changes in data protection raises more than technical problems for marketers, the ethics around highly-targeted campaigns is going to be a growing area of concern. With more personal information used in a marketing campaign there is a possibility of a strong backlash against brands that step over the ‘creepiness’ line. As we are still getting to grips with the rules of the game, I expect 2016 to be marked by missteps from companies that go overboard in their targeting or personalisation.

Marketers can protect themselves by counterbalancing any new campaign based on new targeting or data-collection techniques with clear transparency policies and compelling offers. Put simply, if you’re going to launch a campaign that is borderline ‘creepy’ make sure that the recipient knows how your information was collected, why you were targeted and provide them with an offer or message that they will be more than happy to receive. 

2016 will also be notable for a wider debate in how the economy of the internet works in relation to online marketing. Rising use of ad blockers is a trend that is not going to go away and with privacy issues and hacks all making us think about how much personal information we offer to businesses, the reality may be that current economic model will not be viable in the long term. 

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