The outlook for direct and digital marketing as a whole is optimistic: Winterberry Group managing director Bruce Biegel foresees a 5.1% uptick in spending, to $215.8 billion, in 2012. But that increase will in part be spurred by marketers' confronting "big data" issues – the amount of data being collected, and the speed at which it is being accumulated, may overwhelm their ability to analyze and use it.
Credit the Internet with the jump in data quantity: Marketers are asking legacy systems to store an ever-widening expanse of behavioral data, such as clickstream activity, intent data (opt-ins, registrations and referrals), and Web analytic information. And that's on top of the information these systems were initially intended to house, such as customer contact information and demographics, prospect information, transaction and loyalty program data, public records and other information.
"Too much data is coming too fast," says Biegel, who recently spoke to the Direct Marketing Club of New York on data trends. "Data storage is expensive, and what needs to be stored is a big question. [Marketers] haven't sorted out the use question."
During 2011, the need for data management presented both opportunities and challenges, depending on which segment of the marketing community an organization fell in. Suppliers saw an increasingly robust demand for their offerings as marketers boosted their spending on data, analytics and digital interaction. Suppliers saw further benefits from marketers holding off on new internal hires, preferring to rely on third-party outsourcing. And the year saw a new round of private equity and venture investment in emerging data-driven marketing platforms.
During the same period, marketers saw stability in their budgets, which resulted in data-driven testing and acquisition activities. The marketing community also saw the quests for purchase attribution (beyond the final marketing touch which spurred a sale) and cross-channel integration gain increasing prominence. And while economic uncertainty (especially in mid-year) resulted in new investments being inhibited, these concerns abated by the end of the year, according to Biegel.
If nothing else, the sheer volume of data being generated is cause for rejoicing among suppliers, and consternation among marketers. In 2010, global data storage was estimated around 1.2 zettabytes (one zettabyte equals 1 billion terabytes). By 2020, storage levels will pass 30 zettabytes, according to Winterberry.
But there's a big difference between having a massive amount of data and using it. As Biegel notes, marketers' abilities to perform cross-channel targeting, which involve integrating online and offline data, are still in their infancy. And what he calls "the rules of the road" for cross-channel targeting have yet to be written, especially when it comes to merging known names and addresses and anonymous IP addresses; reconciling batch processing and real-time deployment, and moving from campaign-driven mentalities to continuous, one-off targeting.
Biegel also anticipates that during 2012 data governance will resurface as priority for marketers. This impulse will be driven by the increase in volume and complexity of cross-platform data, and rights management, privacy and security will increasingly dictate how marketers capture, parse and redeploy information for both online and offline marketing.
Governance concerns aren't the only ones data-focused marketers will face this year: A Winterberry survey asked marketers about the issues potentially inhibiting investment in data-based marketing activities. A shortage of data-savvy marketing talent topped the list, followed by the problem of siloed collection and management of data within an organization. Poor insight among sales teams or media buyers regarding the relative value of data, insufficient data strategies and the fragmented nature of third party data sources and solutions rounded out the top five concerns.