December 26th at my house was probably a lot like it was at yours: We ate leftovers; we binge-watched shows we’d missed earlier this year; and we played with toys. Not kids’ toys—tech toys. The one we played with most is also the one I spent the most time researching before I bought it: the 3D printer. 

Between printing demo pieces and whistles, I checked out my favorite sites to see if any new stories had been posted over the holiday. One of them appears to have implemented a cookie-based content targeting strategy, as both its tech and design sections were packed with headlines about 3D printing. I was pleased to see this attempt at relevance, but it failed in my case. Why? Because it was too one-dimensional. 

By just looking at my recent cookies, an automated system could conclude that I’m interested in 3D printing in the abstract. But in fact, I was just trying to learn everything I could in order to make the most informed purchase. If the targeting strategy had taken into consideration the timing of those cookies (I only ever dug into the topic between Thanksgiving and the second week of Dec), my affinity data from Facebook and other social networks, and my long-standing content habits, I would probably have ended up with headlines related to smartphones, tablets, and wearables: things I’m more interested in now that my Christmas shopping is done. 3D printing headlines may have seemed more relevant, but they didn't get a single click from me.

Any move toward increasing relevance is both welcome and necessary, but one-dimensional targeting doesn’t take full advantage of the insights and technologies available. In the coming year, marketers will start contextualizing their data, drawing even richer insights, and using those insights to create not just more relevant, but personalized campaigns and experiences. In short, 2014 will be the year that marketers begin to turn big data into smart data. Specifically, my colleagues and I believe that:

  • Social data will improve both social and non-social marketing programs, as marketers increasingly have access to the “database of affinity.” Marketers will begin to measure the value of their social programs by assessing social data’s impact on other digital channels. As social’s efficacy expands across the customer lifecycle, marketers will also shop around for social technology partners who are able to use non-social data to increase the effectiveness of their social programs.
  • Mobile and sensor-laden device proliferation will increase both the volume and variety of contextual data at marketers’ disposal, putting context-based insights at the heart of all marketing planning. Location will cease to be just one mobile targeting dimension and instead impact the overall way marketers understand individual consumers, as sophisticated technology gives a view into the physical context of consumer-brand interaction across touchpoints.
  • Both content and ad products will become better-targeted, more personalized, and more digital-centric as even traditional broadcast media begins to use smart data to inform business decisions. Addressable TV will reach scale in 2014, though adoption will be sluggish as advertisers struggle to break free from the program-first mindset of TV buying.

For more details about this transition from big data to smart data, subscribers can view our 2014 Predictions report here.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you. How are you planning on putting data to use in the new year?