For 400 hundred years, marketing was only about context. From a time when newspapers and magazines ruled, to the dawn of radio and TV, advertising focused on engaging preconceived audiences. Then along came digital and everything changed.

In just a few decades, growing emphasis on audience-centric ads and rising connectivity have transformed the way brands connect with consumers — via email, search engine ads, social media, and mobile — and the range of tools they use to do so. Now, more than 50% of brands deploy at least 21 vendors.

To keep up with the marketing evolution, and safeguard their reputation, brands must protect themselves by personalising from the inside out. But first, there are several issues they need to address.

The challenges of unifying personalisation

In the complex modern marketing landscape, many factors make coordinating personalisation difficult. First, there’s the expanding technology stack. On the one hand, the emergence of niche providers and point solutions has been vital; allowing marketers to adapt to evolving consumer needs using bespoke tools that perform their function well. But on the other, silos make it hard to control data usage across systems and create a complete view of consumers.

So, not only is there a chance misuse of data could put brands in jeopardy, but with limited ability to recognise consumers, there’s a risk their communications may be irrelevant too. If data is held in isolated systems, brands may not be able to identify consumer gender and interests, or track their activity; which means they can’t deliver the joined-up, personal experiences consumers expect. And that is not good news for brand perception or loyalty.

Secondly, this issue is compounded by the fragile state of consumer trust. Individuals are more conscious than ever of online privacy and the way their data is being used. Yet without an all-inclusive picture of data flow and implementation, brands can’t meet this need — putting them in danger of losing consumer confidence and failing to meet the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules.

How can these challenges be met?

The simplest and most effective method of solving these problems is deploying a tool designed to bring the fragmented tech stack together: the universal data hub (UDH).

Essentially, a UDH forms an intersection between the four key strategic pillars of marketing; namely acquisition, engagement, sharing, and nurturing. By combing disparate data sets to generate one unified view of consumers, it enables marketers to understand and manage data usage, as well as coordinating personalisation in each of the four pillars. For instance, brands can harness third-party vendor data to determine what will engage individual prospects — be that search engine product suggestions or social media messaging. Once consumers have become customers, brands can then leverage their own first-party data to nurture relationships by personalising ads, offers, and services. Thus, a UDH can enable brands to instantly deliver what consumers want in a privacy and brand-safe way, no matter how many vendors they use.

There’s no denying that the transition from contextual to audience-based marketing has made life more complicated for brands. But it doesn’t follow that fragmentation should make it impossible to protect brand reputation and manage the tech stack. All brands need to do is choose their vendor mix wisely and adopt tools that allow them to coordinate activities while keeping an eye on data, like centralised data hubs. Privacy and personalisation are only set to become more important as the industry keeps evolving, so brands need to ensure they have the right tools to keep up.

David Morris is director of solutions consulting EMEA at enterprise tag management and marketing software company Tealium.

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