"Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future," Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr allegedly once said. But I won't let one of the fathers of quantum physics deter me from predicting how the marketing industry will look by December 2016, though, because a few trends are readily apparent.

First, at the risk of self-aggrandizing, I strongly believe that data science will inform the best marketing initiatives next year. Targeting has got much more accurate, thanks to a better understanding that collecting the right data goes way beyond an email address and a full name.

New Marketing Opportunities

The personalization that information from social media platforms enables has opened the door to a huge swathe of new marketing opportunities.

By marrying information from traditional sources and social media, with other dynamic data sets such as weather, economic news, major events, and in-store activity (for retail), ultra-targeted and personalized marketing becomes a reality. The issue of joining the world of in-store marketing and online marketing could finally be solved, much like how the difficulties around multiplatform marketing have been largely surmounted.

Underpinning the explosion in mobile advertising and ever more impressive personalization is the surge in the number of marketers intelligently using data. Indeed, it is this growth in "data-savviness" by marketers that will inform many of the major changes we are likely to see in 2016.

With more accurate information on consumer behavior captured in real time, we may finally get closer to answer the attribution modeling problem. I do not expect that by December 2016 marketers, publishers, and advertisers will have a revolutionary way to determine effectiveness and apportion costs; however, we should see more agencies and brands experimenting with different models—fueled by data science.

Trough of Despair

Smart city technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) also promises to advance the cause of personalization and targeting, although I'm skeptical that it'll have a major impact on the day to day of a marketing campaign. Save for the creation of a "killer app," the IoT is not going to gain widespread adoption in 2016. The trend is likely to hit the "trough of despair" as hype dissipates and manufacturers focus on creating more useful products. Similarly, smart cities are not going to explode into existence in the next twelve months. The technological and financial challenges inherent in creating a truly "smart" city are staggering.

Ad Blocking

Another notable trend in 2016 will surround how the economy of the Internet works in relation to online marketing. Ad blockers are only ever going to grow in popularity and how businesses respond will be interesting. Recently Yahoo attempted to block users that had ad blocking software switched on. Undoubtedly, companies will experiment with other tactics throughout the year. My feeling is that campaigns underpinned with better use of data will provide part of the answer. If marketing is more accurate and personalized, and provides tangible value to the recipient, it may make users less likely to adopt ad blockers.

Data Protection

Going hand-in-hand with the rising prevalence and use of data is the importance of data protection. The past year saw an unprecedented number of legal judgments and legislation on both sides of the Atlantic that affect how data can be used and transferred. This will continue into 2016 with a January deadline for a replacement for the Safe Harbor agreement, which was struck down by the ECJ in late 2015.

Changes in data protection raises more than technical problems for marketers, the ethics around highly targeted campaigns is going to be a growing area of concern. With more personal information used in a marketing campaign, there is a risk that a certain "creepiness" level will be reached and a public backlash may ensue. As we are still getting to grips with the rules of the game, I expect 2016 to be marked by missteps from companies that go overboard in their targeting or personalization.

Marketers can protect themselves by counterbalancing any new campaign based on new targeting or data-collection techniques with clear transparency policies and compelling offers. Put simply, if you're going to launch a campaign that is borderline "creepy" make sure that the recipient knows how their information was collected, why they were targeted and provide them with an offer or message that they will be delighted to receive.

* * * 

The year of the data-driven marketers has been declared several times in the past decade. Data obviously now plays a very important role in the best marketing campaigns; however, we're only at the start of the journey. Mass adoption of data science by brands to underpin their marketing efforts isn't 12 months away.

What we will see in 2016 is certain marketing agencies and brands streaking away from the competition with intelligent data science-led approaches. Companies that invest in better data analysis and skills now will be best placed to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the IoT and smart cities.

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image of David Beardmore

David Beardmore is chief commercial officer at Profusion, a data-science consultancy.

LinkedIn: David Beardmore