According to eMarketer, digital marketers have a “love affair with data.” Spend on data-driven campaigns continues to grow annually, along with profits attributable to those same initiatives. It’s undeniable that data intelligence has made marketing overall smarter, better, and more valuable than ever before.

But innovations that bring great improvement also spawn new challenges. As data has plugged gaps to optimize traditional ways of doing things, marketers must now navigate a new set of data-driven dilemmas to ensure success.

With this in mind, here are three ways data has elevated marketing, while also raising fresh challenges for marketers:

More efficient buying via programmatic

What is it: Advertising technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, with marketers now able to tap into the power of data to automate campaign planning and execution. With programmatic advertising, automated ad buying and selling platforms are able to do what no human can independently — swiftly sift through massive amounts of data to make connections that fuel better, faster, and smarter decisions.

Programmatic analysis might reveal that a brand’s target audience is watching only 12 of 800 cable channels; show that they’re most likely to convert on a desktop; or help ensure that a consumer isn’t served the same ad four times in a 30-minute period.

Why it’s important: Much like mechanized buying and selling technologies transformed the travel industry and Wall Street, modern marketing is quickly being reshaped by programmatic automation. Campaigns that used to be based on hunches and backward-looking analysis can now be fueled by data-driven insights and executed and optimized in real time, at scale and across screens. There’s no going back to manual.

Why it’s hard: Data integration has become the biggest hurdle to programmatic success. In the past three years, hundreds of automated point solutions have emerged to meet marketer demand. Typically, however, these individual solutions don’t fit together seamlessly. Each is its own silo. In part as a result, 61 percent of marketers have identified data integration — including identifying, vetting and integrating technology, platforms and vendors — as a “major or extreme challenge.” In the next year, vendors with the most open and flexible platforms will dominate the market.

People-centric targeting across all screens

What is it: Media consumption habits are more fragmented and diverse than ever, as consumers engage with multiple screens and devices. And in this multi-channel world, isolated, one-off marketing strategies and closed technologies no longer make sense. Advertisers don’t need a social plan or a mobile plan; they need to take full advantage of all available data to develop a people-centric plan that zeroes in on customers wherever they are and when they are most likely to engage. This requires platforms that can integrate data across channels and provide transparent, objective analysis of performance across every marketing touch point.

Why it’s important: People-centric marketing is even reaching the world of linear TV, where new streams of data from set-top boxes and connected televisions are making it possible for advertisers to programmatically buy specific audience segments rather than focusing only on shows and time slots, which is how TV has traditionally been bought and sold.

Data will continue to blur the lines between TV and digital, between mobile and display, and even between direct response and branding. It all comes down to the person — whether the screen they are looking at is on their wall, at their desk or in the palm of their hand.

Why it’s hard: Cross-channel engagement is the cornerstone of people-centric marketing. The challenge, though, lies in evaluating attribution — an understanding of how well channels performed in engaging targets. Several years ago, this degree of accountability was impossible to achieve because data analysis tools hadn’t yet innovated to the point of granular attribution. Today, however, multi-touch attribution platforms, driven by more recent advances in machine learning and predictive analytics, have made this a reality.

Optimized creative development and execution

What is it: Using data to bring more math and science to marketing strategy doesn’t mean there’s no longer room for any art. In fact, data can be used to help creatives refine, enhance, and experiment with their best ideas, opening the door to unprecedented personalization and engagement. Information about consumers’ behaviors, habits, and preferences provides powerful clues about the imagery and messages most likely to captivate their attention and prompt a response.

Why it’s important: In a broader sense, the automation of previously time-consuming and tedious tasks (like managing manual insertion orders and reviewing spreadsheets) frees the entire marketing department to focus on more creative and high-value activities across the board.

Why it’s hard: We’ve only scratched the surface on true data-driven creative. Given longstanding cultural tensions between data teams and creative teams, a true marriage here has stalled, particularly across creative ideation and conceptualization. However, as data has increasingly entered every aspect of the marketing process, normalizing its involvement at large, the relationship between the two has evolved to the point where data can more easily drive creative development as well as execution.

There’s no doubt: The breakthroughs in innovation that led us into a data-driven marketing landscape will continue to push the industry forward. As marketing teams rise to the challenge, we’ll see more and more flexible platforms, finely tuned attribution models, and creative processes that are inspired, not deterred, by rich sources of data.


Doug Boccia HeadshotAs Senior Vice President of Enterprise-Platforms Solutions, Doug works with and leads a litany of teams within AOL’s advertising and advertising technology divisions. He leads the Enterprise Client, Platforms Sales and Agency Trading Desk sales teams, growing out AOL’s revenue streams. Additionally, he works with the Product, Engineering, Operations and Publisher services teams to continue building out ONE by AOL, the next generation of unified, holistic marketing and analytics platforms for advertisers and agencies.