Despite all the technology, marketers are still struggling to get to know their customers

A selection of Experian experts give their views on all things marketing and big data. From data strategy to sophisticated segmentation. Follow them on @ExperianMkt_UK

I was interested to read the findings of the latest Experian Digital Marketer Report last week. The eighth annual study reveals the top challenges, priorities and other key issues impacting marketers around the world. Despite the fact that things have moved on significantly in the last 12 months, it’s clear that the marketing community is still trying to get to grips with truly understanding their audience.

This year, the top challenge cited by marketers is also their top priority: “Knowing their customers’ needs, wants and attitudes”. Some 38 per cent of marketers cited “knowing their customers” as their top challenge for 2016, and 52 per cent named “enhancing their customer knowledge” as one of their top three priorities.

Other top challenges indicated by marketers include increasing visibility over competitors and staying ahead of new marketing trends. The integration of technology and collecting, linking and managing data also were key priorities identified in the report.

Marketers have always aimed to build great brands and boost growth by engaging with and acquiring new customers. They have looked to retain existing customers and sell more products to them. However, in the last five years these objectives have become far harder to achieve.

During that time we’ve seen an explosion of data, the widespread accessibility of a high-speed mobile internet connection via broadband, and a rapid uptake of smartphones and other mobile digital devices such as tablets. There’s also been a step-change in processing power and a proliferation of new channels via social media, mobile web, digital and on-demand TV.

As a result of these developments, today’s consumers are increasingly demanding a seamless, tailored customer journey. If brands can’t deliver that, they will simply turn their attention somewhere else.

These days people expect a 24/7 ‘always-on’ approach from organisations of all shapes and sizes – and then at the same time they won’t accept anything that comes across as being too pushy. It’s an interesting contradiction, consumers expect to have unified, cross channel dealings with brands and then at the same time can still maintain a deep sense of hostility towards any approach which crosses the line and gets too up close and personal at the wrong time, or with the wrong message. Clearly, marketers have their work cut out trying to make sure they strike the right chord.

And it’s only going to get more challenging. The future of marketing is being driven by sophisticated, channel-agnostic consumers who expect exceptional experiences every time. This reality poses a real challenge for organisations, as consumer intolerance for mediocre brand interactions puts more pressure on brands to leverage their data and technology in a joined-up, strategic way.

Today’s brand marketers realise the significance of knowing their customers, but it’s still problematic. As the research demonstrates, regardless of the company size or industry, marketers around the globe still find this to be a top challenge.

What’s required is a holistic approach. You need to make sure your data is good enough to support your plans, but also, crucially, you need to make sure you can use all the relevant data and technology at your disposal to build as full a picture as possible of the individuals you are trying to reach.

Tom Blacksell is managing director of Experian Marketing Services in the UK

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