Deb Schultz MACAs greater and greater amounts of data ping across the universe, marketers will need to offer ways to make consumers smarter about their lives to break through the cacophony.  This, according to futurist Deborah Schultz, who will present the opening keynote at DMA’s Marketing Analytics Conference.

Schultz recently sat down with DMA to share her vision of the marketing landscape — present and future.

What changes and trends have you seen in the last 12-24 months in the data-driven marketplace, and in the way data is being used and interpreted – and what do these trends mean for today’s marketers?

What’s obviously been happening over the last two years is that the rapid growth of big data, and data in general, has moved from the backend of B2B to the backend of the enterprise, to now, the consumer.

Consumers today understand the many kinds of data that they can collect about themselves. We can measure ourselves in a million different ways.  I’m not a data scientist but I can see that it’s more complex and difficult than ever before, with ever-growing data siloes.  So what I’ve seen happening is a growing recognition of that trend — and a lot of software, platforms, and services are helping to integrate all of these various data sources out in the world that are collecting data that we’re pinging off the universe.

Overall, there’s the recognition that data is everywhere.  And the question is how we do easily and seamlessly access that data and manipulate it even better.

The Importance of Trust and Transparency

The fact that all of these different data sources are being integrated from different places creates an added need for security.  As a result, consumers are much more aware than ever before of privacy needs.

So marketers need to get very smart about privacy issues.  Consumers are waking up to all the data that marketers are collecting on them and are getting a lot smarter about what that means.  For example, several people I know are using fake phone numbers at the supermarket to sign up for shopping cards.  This kind of thing has been going on for years, but it’s increasing more and more.

So it’s essential for marketers to earn consumer trust by being transparent about what data they are collecting, how they are using it, and for how long.  Consumers want to have ownership of their data.  The digital wallet of the future will not be just about cash, it will be about my private information.

Finally, the fact that we have the ability to take that data and be even smarter about it, look at it in context, and use it for predictive future behavior is an ever-increasing trend.  This is incredibly significant for the marketing world.  The ability to turn that data around quickly in more real-time is the challenge.

What trends do you see emerging in 2015 – and what mindsets and/or skills do today’s marketers need to embrace in order to leverage the tools and data that’s available to them in 2015 and beyond?

One of the biggest trends is the emergence of wearables and the Internet of things.  At first the Internet was about connectivity and information – then it was about social.  Now we’re taking all of that data and information out of the screens and into our lives.  There are some fascinating applications regarding what happens when you combine data with the physical world. To me, that’s a really exciting development.

For example, I want to see a world where, if I’m stuck in traffic, all my devices are connected in such a way that I don’t have to call up the people and tell them I’m running late.  What if my house were on a timer and connected to the data in my car, and also connected with my oven – and my dinner could be turned on in the oven later than expected because it knows automatically through the connections in my car that I’m going to be a half hour late?  We’re going to start seeing ecosystems like that in much simpler ways.

I’m also starting to feel and see, with my futurist ear to the ground, that information overload fatigue is setting in.  There’s only so much we can take in — with all the data, being connected 24/7, and agencies and marketers trying to compete with all that noise — and customers are getting more fickle. So anything we do in the future needs not to be adding to that pile of stuff.

What steps can marketers take right now to drive deeper customer engagement and greater success for their businesses through data and analytics? 

Rather than just using big data and data analytics to sell me more stuff, I’d like to see marketers using the information they have about me to make me smarter about myself, and my family, and my relationships.  Make me make me smarter about my life and what I do.  

Another suggestion I would make is to take a step back from the data you are collecting right now, and take a look at the needs of your business.  Then put together one or two pilot programs that are really out of the box, where you’re measuring something really new and unique and weird.

I always used to joke that you could measure practically anything.  When I started my career I worked on trade shows.  Back then the question was how to measure trade show ROI. I came up with creative ideas:  I measured how many handshakes took place in the booth; I measured how many business cards were dropped.  Then I connected those to whether or not we closed sales that day.  Today, you have all that at your fingertips.

So I would encourage all marketers to start measuring things they wouldn’t normally think of measuring and then match together that data in interesting ways to create some very innovative insights.  To me, the creative genius of data scientists and marketers is that they can see trends that other people don’t, which is really exciting.

The Humanity behind the Numbers

Another key point to consider is that it’s way too easy when collecting data and numbers to forget what’s behind those numbers.  When we aggregate individual people into buckets and trends, we can lose sight of emotion, context, and relevance – and that there are people behind there.  Their stories are so important. They are human beings.  If we only look at data, we lose the resonance of why we’re looking at it to begin with.

In the end, I am more than a number and the fickle consumers out there are more than numbers.  And that’s a challenge for direct marketers, especially the ones in big companies where scale is everything.  I would suggest that for every chart up on the wall there should be a human story and face connected to it, and that we don’t disconnect our humanity from our numbers.

Of course, none of this is easy.  We are at a time of struggle, balancing personal, private, and business needs.  Those marketers who step out in front and earn the trust of the customer and build deep, transparent relationships and holistic customer experiences will be the ones to succeed.

Deborah Schultz will present the opening keynote address at DMA’s 2015 Marketing Analytics Conference, which will be held March 9-11 in Chicago. For more information, and to register, please click here.