We are in the midst of an industry wide transition period, moving away from data driven decision making and towards data driven decisioning. And while the semantic difference seems subtle, it's changing the game -- and creating incredible forward momentum -- for virtually every marketer and big brand.

Throw the Old Rules Out

So what’s it all about? The number of decisions and directives emerging in this real time world as a single consumer journeys through a single brand experience are becoming too much for digital marketers to effectively leverage. Automation is critical to efficiently scale.

With the need to turn, adjust and evolve on a dime, there’s less room for cut and dry rules and the management of those rules. That’s where decisioning -- and that important automation piece -- comes into play. It’s about defining, refining and automating those critical consumer-driven connections -- what, where, when, why and how you’ll share content, offers, alignments and messaging -- based on predetermined criteria that emerges from your own testing and optimization best practices.

While it may sound like a new concept, your organization may already be using decisioning to some extent -- and if not, the need more than likely exists. Think about it this way: you’ve got campaigns in motion right now. There are countless twists, turns and data points you could and even have begun to utilize. Step back -- it’s pretty mind-blowing, right? And what’s more, it takes much of the burden off of the marketers. Face it, it’s arrogant to think we know how every scenario will play out with every customer, every time they venture through their brand experience. We don’t and we can’t. 

What we can do, however, is anticipate when signals are and will be clear and when they won’t. You’ve got a high level of tacit knowledge about your business and experience an automated system can’t replicate -- keep that in your back pocket. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

Listen, Predict, Assemble and Deliver

At last year’s Adobe Summit, Adobe Senior Vice President Brad Rencher talked about how marketing was becoming so fast and so complex due to the emerging digital functionality and ever-expanding organizational capabilities. In his “last millisecond” analogy, Rencher touched on what marketers must ultimately do in real time, every time: listen, predict, assemble and deliver.

Compound that by the number of unique user experiences on your site and digital extensions -- and then think of the number of instantaneous movements and choices it would require. And remember that, with this analogy, being a millisecond off in one direction or another can mean the difference between a loyalist and detractor. We simply can’t take in, process and spit back valuable consumer experiences in a millisecond -- it’s just too much for a marketer.

As we transition to data driven, real time decisioning, marketers will continue to have an integral seat at the table. We’ll each be pushed to adapt and evolve in exciting, innovative ways. There’s still more than enough room for creativity and hypotheses from trained, experienced, intuitive marketers and decision makers, but that optimization piece -- the actual initiation of the consumer experience within your brand environment -- can’t stay in their hands in the same way it has. We just can’t do it all and do it well, with the levels of conversion organizations demand.

So here’s where we DO come in. We must take our experience, our knowledge and our data driven understanding of complex consumer decision making and turn them into efficient, effective automated processes. How, when and where are up to you. Thanks to big data and a host of highly advanced data science innovations, the answer could be virtually anything. Think about what -- if anything -- is concrete, what’s fairly predictable and what’s a wild card. Got one where anything’s possible based on those real time movements, choices and behaviors? That’s what we mean when we talk data driven decisioning -- and that’s a perfect example of something that could benefit from marketer driven automation.

The shift from “decision” to “decisioning” is just three letters, but that “-ing” holds serious weight in the conversation surrounding real time marketing challenges. Like any transition there will likely be some adversaries, but I’m often reminded of that time not too long ago when the move from intuitive “I’ve just got a feeling” marketing to data driven decisions happened, when your “gut” was tossed out in favor of what we unequivocally knew -- and that wasn’t without its challenges. But look where we are today, in terms of consumer engagement, conversion and other KPIs, across any pocket of the industry you can imagine. Data driven decisioning, too, will be a game changer.

And, naturally, with that change in the game comes an increased need for marketers to be just as creative -- or even more so -- than ever, even with this increased reliance on automated support. Go out and challenge the norm, come up with that next revolutionary campaign or product, develop envelope pushing ways to engage your consumers and fall back on what got you here and what no automated system can match: your incredible intuition, observation, creativity and ingenuity. It’s a challenging time to be a digital marketer -- but it’s also an incredible one.