Over the course of my career, I have seen a dramatic transformation of the communications and marketing landscape. We've seen Facebook grow from a small college platform to over 2 billion users worldwide, the explosion of mobile devices used to access all forms of content, and the proliferation of visual forms of media, regardless of the channels on which they are consumed. Even as I look back on what Ken Burbary and I wrote four years ago for Digital Marketing Analytics , the landscape has evolved. Social platforms were just starting to raise their analytics games, the marketing clouds (Salesforce, Google, Adobe, and Oracle) were just starting to form and in-house digital analytics teams were still very rare. If you fast forward to the present day, analytics and measurement is no longer the first thing to go from marketing budgets. Why is that no longer the case?
This year, the trend continued where the amount of data available to marketers increased at an extremely rapid pace. Consider for a moment the following statistics:
Those are just a few of the available statistics accessible demonstrating that the digital data landscape continues to evolve from year-to-year. Unfortunately, what hasn't changed from year-to-year is businesses ability to action on the data. Consider a few additional statistics:
- 97 percent of organizations use data to power business opportunities, but only 44 percent trust that data enough to use it to make important business decisions, according to data from Experian
- More than half - 52 percent - rely on educated guesses or gut feelings to make decisions based on that data .
- According to the bi-annual survey from Deloitte , Duke University and the AMA, 68% of senior marketing executives do not use data to make every day business decisions.
- According to a Dun & Bradstreet/Forbes study , senior business executives view the use of data analytics as a competitive differentiator, but over a third of those surveyed still have budget, technology and skills gap issues to deal with.
- Less than half of CMOs in a recent survey conducted by Forbes and Neuter understand how data and analytics are contributing to profitable growth
All of those data points are stunning to those of us who live and breathe this industry every day, especially that last bullet. With that entire in mind, where are we going in 2018? Will the industry be working to close any of these gaps? The short answer is, sort of. What do I see happening in the analytics space in 2018? There are five key trends:
1. Data sources will continue to consolidate just as new sources of data emerge . Over the course of 2017, we saw technology behemoths Google, Adobe, Salesforce and Oracle add more data sources to their ever-growing marketing capabilities. I suspect that trend will continue, especially as businesses of all sizes work to lessen the complexity of data collection, cleansing and usage across their organizations. One hypothesis for why businesses are still making so many decisions based on so little data as outlined above is the number of sources they have to go to in order to pull together a nearly complete picture of an ecosystem (accessing 100% of the data should never be a goal). It is a good thing for public relations and communications professionals to streamline decision making because data is more centralized. However, if you follow the industry closely you know that the number of public data sets is exploding, as is data from IoT devices. Time will tell if consolidation proves to be valuable for businesses.
2. GDRP will impact the amount of available data, particularly outside of the United States. The General Data Protection Regulation is a regulation by which the European Parliament, Council of the European Union and the European Commission are intending to strengthen and unify data protection for all individuals within the European Union. This new regulation extends to all foreign companies processing data of EU residents. The regulation is relatively new, and its impact on businesses is still unclear (consult your internal counsel on how it will impact your business), but I think it is safe to assume that it will only slow (how much is still unknown) the amount of data businesses will be able to collect on the people they are trying to reach with marketing and communications programs. It seems improbable that this regulation will be able to stop the data train completely.
3. Social data will become more available, which should lead to greater transparency about social's contribution to the business. If you have spent any time with IT organizations, you will know that one thorn in their side is the collection of data from social media channels. The challenges are endless, but include varying metric definitions, privacy restrictions, dark posting done by advertisers and API limitations. Due in no small part to last year's election's controversy, Facebook and Twitter will be revealing any ad to anyone, regardless of the targeting the advertiser is using starting in 2018. Will we ever get to a place where 100% of the data on social media platforms is available to businesses? No, I find that hard to believe because of privacy restrictions. However, the move toward greater transparency by exposing dark ads to all users is a step in the right direction toward demonstrating whether or not social media contributes to business or marketing results.
4. Bots will represent a significant challenge to accurate and clean data. If you've been in digital marketing for a long time, you will know that the subject of bots isn't that new. Website analytics platforms like Google and Adobe have created sophisticated filtering software to ensure companies are capturing accurate data for years. Now, it is coming to light that a large number of social media users are fake or are bots. According to recent estimates, there are approximately 270 million fake accounts on Facebook, and 48 million on Twitter. Those are staggering numbers, but bots and fake accounts are only likely to grow in sophistication and number as the opportunity to influence people and advertising dollars grows. Interestingly, if you believe my third trend above, you are probably wondering how businesses will deal with an influx of even messier data. That groan you heard was IT leaders having a new headache to deal with.
5. Measurement will continue to be a challenging subject for CMOs. If you recall the study from Forbes and Neustar cited above, you'll remember that CMOs are struggling to understand how data and analytics are contributing to profitable growth. In that same survey, only 42% of CMOs said they could fully attribute sales results to marketing investments. The reasons for this are many, but include lack of available data, lack of clean data, not having data in a centralized and accessible location or, in the worst-case scenario, not attempting to track the bottom line performance at all. My brethren in the digital analytics profession do not do us any favors when we make up metrics like return on engagement or return on influence, just to name a couple. Now, I am not a fan of only tracking ROI as I think there are other metrics just as critical to people planning marketing campaigns inside of companies, but not trying to solve this ROI conundrum will reach a tipping point. It is my hope that we make progress on this as an industry in 2018 because better ability to measure leads to greater accountability and transparency. I think we can all agree that being accountable to the business and being transparent about how it was done is something to strive for.
The marketing analytics space changes by the second. New channels emerge, which leads to new data available to businesses. As the space evolves, analytics and IT professionals do their best to keep up and manage their businesses through it. If these trends come true, public relations and communications professionals will be in a better position to understand how best to leverage data in 2019. What about you? What data and analytics trends are you seeing heading into 2018?
Chuck Hemann is Managing Director/Head of Digital Analytics at W2O, a marketing-communications firm driven by insight integration to give brands an unfair advantage. Over the last 14 years Chuck has provided strategic counsel to clients on a variety of topics including digital analytics, measurement, and social media. Prior to joining W2O, Chuck was the Global Director of Digital/Paid Media Analytics at Intel where he managed all the media, web, search and social analytics programs globally. Chuck is a former Fellow of the Society for New Communications Research, a global, nonprofit research and education foundation think tank focused on the latest developments in media and communications. He's also the co-author of Digital Marketing Analytics: Making Sense of Consumer Data in a Digital World, which was released in May 2013. http://amzn.to/UF4qKi. A new version of the book will be available in April 2018. Additionally, Chuck is an active participant in the Chief Analytics Officer Advisory Council, which is part of ICOM Global. He's also a frequent speaker on the topics of digital analytics, measurement, social listening and digital marketing at events around the world.
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