The amount of data is growing at a phenomenal rate but we are not adopting that data to guide decision-making at the same rate. We need to change this in the coming year.

Whew! Q4 is over! Everybody, take a breath and fill up your free time (hee-hee) with all the 2020 predictions and prognostications that are rolling in.

I don’t put much stock in these trend lists because I don’t know what will happen in the next month, let alone the coming year.  Their greatest value is that they sometimes do come true (see “Blind Squirrel”). They’re most helpful when they provide fodder for developing your next strategy.

That being said, I have done my fair share of prognosticating. I recently came across my own predictions from 2015 about what email marketing would be like in 2020.

Now, I’m not saying I was wrong. Let’s just say if I were a football team, I would not be heading for the playoffs. But I didn’t end up in the cellar, either.

My take on 2020, way back when

Here’s one prediction I got right:

Five years ago, one of the things I talked about was that communication would become more real-time. As millennials started to use technology and become more adept online and through mobile, the true test of communication would be instant gratification.

Today, every behavior study finds that millennials want to go faster and get instant responses, whether through text, messenger apps like Facebook and WhatsApp and other rapid-reply channels.

Back in 2015, people also kept talking about how millennials would reject email, along with everything else the boomers and Gen-X hold dear. That didn’t happen. Email is still the number one choice for communicating with brands.

But email marketers must deal with an emerging issue – millennials expect real-time communications, but older generations might not. If I text my 15-year-old niece, I’ll hear back from her instantly. My mom? Two days later. Maybe.

This involves marketing because we have to learn how to communicate on a dual track. How do we satisfy people who expect a reply based on the speed of their interpersonal communication and those who don’t?

Segmentation is a significant part of this. Do you focus on one segment? You say you sell to one age cohort but is that the only age that buys? How long has it been since you added a new automation or process to take care of increasing demands, interests or questions?

Here’s what I wrote. Agree or disagree?

“We might not be far from achieving some of the 1-to-1 marketing that appeared in Minority Report, but the impetus for change is going to come as leaders in the younger generation adapt to and evolve the incumbent technology.”

Data is harder to run from in 2020

Over the last 20 years, data has become much more important to marketers. But I’ve seen a strange dichotomy develop. The amount of data is growing at a phenomenal rate. But marketers are not adopting that data to guide their decision-making at the same rate.

Here are three reasons why that’s happening:

1. Unlimited access to data. Some marketers have historically been low on the totem pole for getting access to customer data. They haven’t been getting timely data, which is a problem given the rapid pace of communication for real-time email.

What’s changing? Greater focus on integration and the adoption of technologies that unifies our data constructs. Today’s tech platforms help marketers get in touch with their data, whether as a third-party service or an integration in the marketing stack. This technology lets you find those critical connections to the end-user and create propensities to help you find the customers you want.

What I see emerging quickly is that marketers have unlimited access to data and it hard for marketers to ignore that the data is out there and available for them to use.  This makes it impossible for companies to believe that batch-and-blast mentalities are not only valid but viable.

2. The constant churn of email and marketing professionals. Not to go all “OK Boomer” on you, but back in my day, when I was out on the email front lines, the tenure in the job was longer. Maybe it was because we were all learning together.

Today, marketers are rotating faster through email positions. The focus on helping our successors has taken a back seat. Maybe we’re in such a hurry to move on to the next best thing that we sacrifice the things we learned to help the next person in line.

As a community, we need to get better at this. We have to help the next generation of people. Data is hard to hide from, but if we don’t tell people where it is, it’ll be harder to find.

Privacy has become job #1

One topic I talked about in 2018 that’s as true today, if not more so, is the importance of privacy. 

Last year we learned how to navigate through GDPR. Fast-forward to today, and now it’s CCPA and a host of other data privacy laws in other states, along with the promise of one federal law to rule them all.

As a digital marketing professional, you must also be a privacy professional. If access to data is everywhere, and the amount of data on your customers is abundant, then it’s fair to assume protection of that data at an individual leadership level is essential.

It’s not your attorney’s responsibility to tell you what’s in the law or how to apply it. It’s yours, and there’s a clear and present danger if you screw it up.

Wrapping up

If you thought 2019 moved fast, 2020 is saying, “Hold my beer.”

The marketing landscape is changing at a breathtaking pace. Your ability to adapt and learn is essential to your success.

You have to know how to get data and use it responsibly for your customers. Taking a strategic mindset is the only way you can win at this game. As you evolve your strategies for 2020, remember this: If you don’t know why you’re doing it, how can you figure out how to do it?

This originally appeared on MarketingLand.com