Everybody likes to pontificate on what the future of digital media is, some of the usual suspects for inclusion being mobile, tablets and augmented reality. But platforms aside, the future of digital will actually be driven by topics of a much less interesting or 'sexy' nature, data and how it is used.

Its not big data, its just data
The phrase 'big data' seems to have entered the vocabulary of marketers but the suggestion that there is something new about what we are doing with data is misleading.  All that has changed is the availability of data and the volume that is available.  Marketers and companies have been collecting data for years for use in direct mail, in store profiling and personalised communications.  Now, that data is just collected through page impressions, clicks and website visits rather than surveys.

The fact we are now collecting it virtually without interrupting the customer experience means the sheer volume of data available has grown exponentially. And with the intelligence and rapid development of digital media software we are able to process it and use it to improve our campaign performance in real time.

In addition you to this you have the growing opportunity of tying this all together with offline customer data which means the company starts to get an integrated, single view of every customer interaction and can use that to influence marketing decisions in real time.

From a digital perspective this data allows us to deliver tailored digital communications, to the right person, at the right time, with the right message.  Which brings me on to my second prediction.

Messages tailored to you
The larger, more advanced companies are already doing this, but it will become standard and more advanced, as data starts to drive the digital communications messages you receive.  The ads you see will be personalised not just to you as a cookie profile, but to you as an individual.  Not just via assumptions based on your browsing history, but based on specific on site and off site actions which tell the company exactly what will interest you.  This will also then be overlaid with data on how you have previously interacted with them as a brand meaning you get the right message, at the right time, in the right place, completely tailored to you.

And this is not just about advertising on other peoples websites. The same rules apply for your own properties.  Personalising the whole website experience based on what you know about a user and their previous interactions with you as a brand and what they want from you as a customer.  This again is something which is currently done by the more advanced companies on the web, but will start to become a standard and more importantly will be expected by website visitors.

This isn't the Minority Report
Start having conversations about personalisation and the inevitable comparisons get brought up with the Minority Report and privacy concerns start to be raised.  The difference between where we are heading and what you see depicted by Hollywood's favourite midget Tom Cruise is permission.  All of the above will be driven by permission settings, either at a browser or website level, which will dictate how far these technologies can go.

Users will demand, and will therefore get, the capability to say exactly what can and cannot be used to tailor the messages they see.  Developments are needed into where these permissions lie and how they are accessed but they will need to be in place to give the user the control they will demand.
Its not sexy, but it drives results

So it may not be the sexy topics of mobile (device will become irrelevant but that's one for another post), html 5 or rich media which will drive the future of digital but it is the availability of data and the opportunity to use it in real time to influence decisions which will mean the results driven through digital marketing continue to build and sustain businesses.

And it is the companies who know how to gather, interpret, and make sense of the data which will thrive in the digital world of the future.

Rob Weatherhead is Head of Digital for MediaCom and a veteran of the digital industry in the UK.  He has his own blog at and can also be found ranting on twitter at @robweatherhead


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