The digital environment we live in lends itself to the proliferation of data; most of the time, that’s a very good thing. Digital marketers can evaluate, better than ever before, how their marketing efforts are resonating with various audiences—and how those messages drive actions (such as website visits, downloading of various materials, lead generation, and sales).

Data proliferation is not without its growing pains: Chief among them is what exactly to do with all of that data and how to ensure that consumer privacy is protected. Both of these issues were top of mind in 2018 and are likely to remain there for the foreseeable future, according to data management experts.


The Data Management Year in Review 

The biggest news in data management in 2018 was arguably the new European data privacy directive—in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—which, despite originating in and applying specifically to the European Union (EU), has ramifications for marketers around the globe. Prior to the GDPR’s enactment, companies in the U.S. sent notifications to those on their email lists letting them know that “we’ve updated our privacy policy.”

Katie Fabiszak, VP of marketing at Riversand, a data sciences research team and provider of master data management solutions, says, “GDPR is a highlight because it made companies—and marketers—consider the topic of data management more seriously. And it really kind of forced us into doing what we should have been doing all along: thinking about the customer first and better taking care of the data that we manage on our prospects and customers.”

The GDPR requires that marketers secure explicit permission in order to communicate and engage on an ongoing basis. Marketers must be increasingly careful about the type of data they collect and manage, says Fabiszak. “This is a great thing, as it makes us not only more conscious of the data we are acquiring and managing about our customers, but also makes us consider the most meaningful things that we can do to keep customers engaged with us moving forward.”

That’s no easy task. Fiona Salmon, U.K. managing director of 1plusX, an AI profile platform, states that the GDPR “has shaken up the industry.” Salmon says that “third-party data suppliers, publishers, and advertisers have lost the lawful use of masses of consumer data.” This means, she states, “that the amount of value they can derive from their data management platform has been decimated in real terms.” Marketers will, she says, need to find new sources of GDPR-compliant data. “Waiting for consumers to opt in to data collection and processing is an extremely slow process.”

Publishers are increasingly frustrated with their data management platforms (DMPs), Salmon states. “Often, their chosen DMP is not fulfilling their expectations; because it does not have the granular segmentation they require, they can’t get raw access to the data—even their own data—and the systems are extremely too slow to respond to the real-time expectations of both clients and consumers.” Many, she says, “complain that their [data management] is just not user-friendly enough, so they are simply not using their DMP to full effect.”

When it comes to the current state of data management, no one would argue that it needs to be made a priority in organizations, says Fabiszak. She adds, “There are technical and organizational complexities to consider and hurdles to overcome that can make it difficult to realize the potential. It’s a cultural shift for people to agree on the value of data and to figure out how to set up a data supply chain that crosses over functional areas and aligns and integrates into proper business processes. We still have a bit of work to do when it comes to truly integrating data as part of everyday business processes.”


A Look Ahead at Data Management

Perhaps the issue is more about data literacy than simply data management. John Allen Paulos, an American mathematician, famously said, “Data, data everywhere, but not a thought to think.” He was born in 1945 and has a long history of dealing with data; this quote, from 2007, should give pause to people today who are still dealing with increasingly massive amounts of data that many would say are doing little to drive relevant thought.

Fabiszak is one of them. “We’ve seriously been talking about data management forever, and each year is going to be ‘the year it’ll get better,’” she says. Despite the fact that technology has evolved and many great solutions exist, she says that “Until people make it a priority and take it seriously as a job responsibility, we will continue to just make small and incremental improvements each year.” Solutions have existed for decades, she says. It’s not about their availability. “It has more to do with an organization’s ability to truly understand how they need to use data as an advantage and to reach their full potential.” Better understanding will drive practical decisions about how marketing—and ad—dollars are being spent.

“We can expect a lot more scrutiny on deliverables, measurement, and ad verification in the digital space in the coming year,” says Jason Tosney, VP of sales for Digital Remedy. “As we move into 2019 and beyond, data will be even more at the forefront of how ad dollar decisions are made. Therefore, access to that data will face increased scrutiny,” he says. “I think we will start to see what the real fallout of GDPR will be and gain greater insight into how the data being collected is used.”

In October, Gartner identified what it predicts will be the “top 10 strategic technology trends for 2019.” Digital ethics and privacy is one of them. “Ultimately an organization’s position on privacy must be driven by its broader position on ethics and trust,” said David Cearley, VP and Gartner Fellow, in a news release. “Shifting from privacy to ethics moves the conversation beyond ‘are we compliant’ toward ‘we are doing the right thing.’”

That “right thing” needs to be right for the business as well as consumers, which, says Fabiszak, means a more concerted effort to consider data management—and understanding—a key business priority.