The world of digital marketing and advertising has gone through unprecedented change over the last decade, and the pace of that change shows no sign of slowing down. Personalised, data driven, communications have now become firmly entrenched into mainstream marketing portfolios. Developing a single view of the customer across all of their interactions with your brand, and using that to deliver targeted and personalised marketing messages has now become a business imperative. What’s more, for those businesses that are lagging behind the need to ‘get up to speed’ has become even more urgent as a new wave of marketing technology innovation is about to hit.

Mass market media still plays a vital role in engaging, but highly targeted, personalised, data driven messaging that builds on an individual’s pre-existing biases is where the battle for dominance is to be won. But scaling up the approach to personalised communications has been difficult. That is all about to change as machine learning and artificial intelligence make their way into enterprise marketing products. For the companies prepared to take advantage, these technologies will greatly speed up cycle of insight-to-innovation.

While terms like “artificial intelligence” sound like far reaching technologies, the fact is they are already here. The investment that companies are making in these technologies points to a lesson that marketers  should understand; taking a personalised approach to marketing and brand building has the ability to create a brand with immense gravitational pull. And your competition may never see it coming.

A report titled “The Future of Advertising” recently published by Salesforce, uses data provided by Facebook, Google, eMarketer and Comscore, and looks at the case for providing a data driven, tailored advertising experience.

According to the report, about $200 billion was spend on digital advertising globally in 2016. While this signals significant growth in the digital advertising space, what is really striking is that click-through rates (CTR) remain very low. Facebook for example has an average of only 1%. However, when CRM data is used to power ad spend on Facebook, CTR performance improves by 47%.

What this signals to leading digital marketers, including those behind recent political campaigns, is that focusing on the conversion goal is no longer enough. To build a brand, one must create an environment that completely immerses the target customer. The marketer must now design the journey, with milestones and interactions along the way.

Brands are now starting to completely reorganise the way they do business, and communicate, with their customers focusing on data driven personalisation. Businesses that offer product or service that has a long and emotive buying cycle are particularly impacted. This is why there is so much focus on “digital transformation” in industries like tertiary education, luxury travel, home construction and big ticket retail. And with market leaders like Nike completely altering the way they interact with their customers over the last decade through the release and maturing of the Nike+ platform, we can expect this focus on data driven personalisation and innovation to speed up significantly.

Adding weight to this argument, the “Future of Advertising” report looked at retail consumers online behaviours. It showed that “66% of digital retail time is spent on mobile as opposed to 34% on desktop, and yet just 19 cents of every retail-specific digital advertising dollar goes to mobile.” This suggests that consumer behaviours are still shifting quicker than many businesses are responding to. It also suggests the gap between the “data literate” brands and the rest of the market is rapidly widening.

Having a detailed understanding of your target customer and their online behaviours, and being able to customise communications and offerings around these insights, forms the basis of creating a competitive advantage. For example, when the financial services sector in the USA noticed that consumers were moving to mobile, they increased their digital advertising spend to $8.4 billion. They saw the use of mobile banking jump from 9% to 30% adoption over a five-year period ending in 2015. This showcases how a sector successfully used data to understand their customers and adjusted their offering and associated marketing to build a more profitable customer relationship.

The overarching theme to emerge from the Salesforce report is that tailoring messages to suit your customers’ behaviours creates cut-through and improves ROI. Within the broader context of brand building, this message hints at the role digital channels should take to make a programme as effective possible. Traditional media will always have a place in passively raising awareness, but it is the digital channels that allow marketers to communicate to each and every customer in a personalised and scalable way.

We have now gone beyond the stage where marketers treated digital channels as a broadcast medium, essentially moving traditional marketing techniques online. What is clear is that marketers must now take the data driven techniques that have made personalised, journey led, email marketing so effective and apply those lessons to all digital touch-points.

Understanding what your customer wants, and tailoring your messages to suit them creates high levels of engagement. But more importantly it puts your business on a maturity pathway that will enable it to make the most out data and technology, and be prepared for the huge shift that is still yet to come.