Digital marketing in 2015: Data quality will emerge as a key issue for marketers

By Andrew Frank

The dawn of a new year is a traditional time for predictions. Gartner published many back in November, including these from the Marketing Leaders team (subscription required), but not all of our predictions made it into our reports. For one thing, the ones we published looked at longer horizon than just the coming year. They were also fairly specific, developed, and vetted by extensive peer review.

Here are some more general and unfiltered personal thoughts for what I believe we can expect from digital marketing in 2015:
Rising consumer spending and digital marketing budgets will fuel investment in advanced customer experiences. This one is supported by quite a bit of data we gathered in 2014 (see Gartner for Marketing Leaders Research Survey Results, 2014 (subscription required)), particularly the finding that eighty-nine percent of companies surveyed plan to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience by 2016. Combined with recent U.S. economic indicators signaling growth in 2015, this means most enterprises can count on the availability of funds and mandates to innovate around customer experiences, especially digital ones.

Data quality will emerge as a key issue for marketers. In 2014 concern about issues of quality in digital advertising grew into a tidal wave, culminating in the recent revelation by Google that over 56 percent of its ads on its various display advertising platforms are never viewed. But the issue of data quality has yet to receive proportional attention, despite its equal potential to compromise marketing effectiveness. Both first-party and third-party data are susceptible. Many organizations take for granted that data about prospects and customers in their own marketing automation and CRM systems is incorrect, incomplete, duplicated, or our-of-date. This is one of the reasons they turn to third parties. But third-party data accumulated by aggregators and sold to marketers that can suffer from similar defects, as well as problems with opaque and dubious privacy protection policies applied to data collection and the potential that, as marketing technologies tackle the problems of click and impression fraud, fraudsters will find fertile ground in data markets. As marketers are compelled to rely more on data, the need to implement quality checks will grow dramatically.

Consumers will become more conscious and protective of mobile and social data. High profile exploits like the iCloud celebrity photo scandal awakened consumers to the dangers of unchecked data collection enabled by social and mobile apps in 2014. Apple responded with some significant new privacy features in iOS 8. One far-reaching but underreported example involved its handling of apps that record location data while not currently active. These are now revealed through warning messages that alert users and allow them to revoke these apps’ permission to do so. This is bound to reduce the unconscious reporting of location data from the current norm. Facebook also signaled its sensitivity to such issues by highlighting new privacy policies of its own, including setting the default audience for first-time posters to “Friends” rather than “Public.” Although controlling privacy still remains an obscure challenge for most mobile and social users, expect more savvy, evasive, and occasionally outraged digital consumers in 2015.

Digital video will continue to converge with TV, driving the sharpest increase yet in share of ad spending. Video still rules the roost for brand-building with all that sight, sound, and motion, but Nielsen rattled the TV world in when it reported that 2014 saw a significantly more precipitous decline in TV viewing than any previous year. Media companies such as CBS and HBO responded with online versions of programming, which is sure to accelerate the growth in non-traditional viewing in 2015. This all adds up to a major shift in the disposition of TV advertising budgets – which are still almost twice the size of digital – to include digital video alternatives. This will in turn drive new formats as advertisers look to take advantage of targeting and interactivity. Keep an eye on dynamic in-video product placement, an emerging form that’s poised to heat up as a key native advertising format in 2015. (More on this soon.)

Marketing scientists will make significant breakthroughs in the algorithmic detection of nuanced attitudes and opinions entirely from online behaviors. For all the advances in big data and digital marketing, marketers are still somewhat in the dark in terms of their ability to really understand what makes customers respond. In 2015 we can expect more math and science graduates to embark on marketing careers, lured by the promise of attacking such fascinating problems and reaping the rewards of fundamental breakthroughs in effective personalized communication that seem tantalizingly close.

— Andrew Frank, research VP & Distinguished analyst, Gartner. He specializes in best practices for data-driven marketing and serves digital marketing leaders.

For more blogs by Andrew Frank, log on to http://blogs.gartner.com/

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