Customer Experience, Big Data Gets Smart, Personalization Gets Personal and the Future Looks Bright
For the last few years, “mobile” has topped every trend-forecasting list across industries -- with experts hailing each incoming year “The Year of Mobile.” We could spend an entire article debating whether 2013 was actually the year that mobile truly broke through. There’s certainly no shortage of compelling statistics illustrating the impressive, accelerated growth of smartphone adoption and content consumption over the last 12 months.

What makes this evolution exponentially more exciting, however, is the real time, on demand opportunities that the phone (and to a lesser extent, tablets) continue to open. Entire new ecosystems and categories are being created, and as a result, larger incumbents are being forced to rethink strategy, lest they get eclipsed by nimbler, faster, lighter and dare I say, more mobile-focused organizations.

It’s been an exciting year filled with innovation, breakout companies, IPOs and acquisitions. So what’s on tap for 2014?

The Personalization of Personalization

Over the last few years, marketers and technologists have laid the groundwork for personalization’s success, leaving us with enormous amounts of data and the tools to identify, reach, track and analyze our target audiences in new ways. What we’ve done with these tools, however, is not an impressive reflection of the rich data we’ve amassed.

Personalization is poised to mature significantly over the coming year. As it does, consumers are going to gravitate toward those messages, content and experiences that are both relevant and feel as if they were created just for them. We will see increasing consumer demand for this approach, making it the rule, not the exception, for marketers.

“Omnichannel” Really Means “Single View”

Building on the above, the omnichannel view of customers will become even more important as the marketing landscape continues to fragment and expand. A recent MediaPost study showed that in the three years from 2009 to 2012 the number of engagement points that a brand has with a consumer doubled, going from 5.4 to 10.6.

This increase will only continue as new channels are born, making it even more challenging to understand consumers’ interactions across brands’ entire ecosystems. Alongside their investments in new channels and touch points, brands must commit to building a singular profile of each customer across channels. Without this “single view”-- true personalization will be difficult, if not impossible.

Big Data Gets Smaller …

… and smarter. As recently as 2012, big data referred to gathering as much information as possible, and then finding useable trends and patterns in the numbers. Today, the meaning of big data has evolved to mean actionable data and insights.

While data is still the foundation of insights, marketers are growing increasingly confused by the volume of information at their fingertips. As a result, we will continue to see an evolution toward so-called “smart data” that allows them to focus less on the size of their database and more on the value they can derive from it. Just as CMOs have come to demand more accountability and measurement on the social media front, we’ll see the same expectations as big data matures. Finally, companies and individuals that are able to layer valuable insights on top of these large data sets are going to become more important in helping marketers figure out where they should be investing.

Better Data, Worse Privacy?

We will see more established companies buying or building data management platforms in the hopes of generating new revenue streams with the data they’re collecting. This will not only lead to new, more targeted and relevant advertising products (bringing us back, once again, to personalization), but also privacy concerns.

As with any increase in consumer data collection efforts, consumer privacy issues become magnified for everyone -- from the halls of D.C. to the hills of Silicon Valley.

These concerns will continue to heighten as customers react to their individualized brand data being used beyond the scope of what they’re comfortable with. Ultimately, people can tell the difference between data used to enrich and improve their experiences, and data collected and leveraged simply for monetization. The former is powerful while the latter jeopardizes the viability of the entire system.

Facebook Will Slowly Take Over the World

With Twitter’s IPO and the continued pressure placed on Facebook to increase, or at least sustain, its active user numbers, Facebook will take steps to become the social infrastructure of the web (not just its leading social network). Along the way, it will become less concerned with traffic to its core property and application.

The OAuth business they’ve built with Facebook Connect is powerful for a number of reasons and it positions Facebook to take advantage of many new opportunities. To effectively do this, they must first overcome the privacy albatross that’s plagued them over the last couple of years.

In a recent study from Janrain and Blue Research, 27 percent of those surveyed said they would “Absolutely use Facebook as a Social Login” while another 42 percent said they “May or May Not use the service as a Social Login.” Facebook needs to continue to assuage concerns around its use of data in order to encourage more people to look to the platform as the most effective form of online registration. The information and data that comes from the connections to third party sites through the platform is enormously valuable.

And finally, Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and the attempted acquisition of SnapChat are further examples of its strategy to leverage this identity platform to continue to harvest data and ultimately serve personalized ads based on the mass amounts of user information they collect. While they've recognized that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to remain the go-to platform forever, they've seemingly become more interested in being the identity layer versus the primary social network.

A Return to ROI

Pressure to prove tangible value and return on investment for social media will increase. While Twitter is making a direct play to grab TV dollars, no one has yet emerged to be a true contender for the $66.4 billion a year spent on television advertising (according to eMarketer). Citing “general brand awareness” as the main justification for spending time and money on social will be a more difficult play within organizations. As with most marketing tactics, social spend will need to be tied to purchases and other evidence of real revenue generation. One result of this trend could be scaled back spending with certain platforms by companies looking to double down on areas with quantifiable results.

The common theme among all of these points is a renewed focus on the individual. Crafting personal, relevant and compelling messages -- whether in advertising, content, site experience, communication or otherwise -- that can be delivered via diverse channels is key. Doing so, however, not only requires an infrastructure capable of capturing engagement information, but also synthesizing it correctly before putting it to use. For those businesses looking to stay ahead of the curve, all strategies must be rooted in actionable data with the individual consumer in mind.

Title image by Stokkete (Shutterstock)