Another year is upon us!

As we re-commit to a fresh list of resolutions and reflect on the year gone by, we can't help but notice the buzz hitting our newsfeeds on the 'hot topics' marketers need to embrace to stay at the top of their game this year. Predictions, Top 10 things to watch out for, 5 'must-know' areas to master – what a lot to get our heads round.

To help simplify, we've reflected on a few trends that consistently emerge in our work with leading global clients – Data, Digital and Customer Experience – and what that means for organisations' marketing capability development.

How to Handle 2014's Hot Topics

1. Data

"Big Data Alone is Like Big Hair – Something you Stare at."

For the last year or so big data has been in the spotlight, challenging approaches to marketing by demanding greater analytic capabilities. In 2014, the conversation has evolved from the technology and power of big data to how we as Marketers can manage and deploy it across the marketing process.

The predictive power data offers to create a personal experience is only meaningful when taken with a holistic view to uncover true insights vs. casual correlations (we always keep in mind the example of the correlation between ice cream consumption and swimming mishaps – there may be a data correlation but a human would immediately dismiss the idea that ice cream causes drowning, knowing that the link is simply down to warm weather). To realise its full potential, Marketers need to know how to manage, analyse and humanise data.

The core capability question presented here is how to put in place the right structure and talent in your in-house and agency teams to integrate disparate sources of data. This is essential to weave together 'new' and 'old-school' data from across the business, translating it into actionable insights. On one level there's nothing new in blending data sources, as Krispy Kreme did with its Office Hero campaign: using a blend of purchase and qualitative data to identify the office worker segment, the priority locations, and the triggers to motivate people to buy a dozen doughnuts to share at work (status among colleagues, paying back favours, motivating teams) – but the scale, speed and sources of data have of course exploded.

2. Digital

"Digital Disruption is about more than just information."

Michael Brenner, Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP

If the power of data allows Marketers to predict how best to engage and connect with customers, the power of digital is in making those connections and constantly adjusting them as you learn more. Buzz abounds about The Internet of Things, Location-Based Marketing, Real-Time Marketing and the opportunities to engage customers at almost any time, anywhere, as proliferate devices become the 'remote control' for consumer's lives and work.

Combining data and digital presents opportunities for smart personalisation that improves results, as Amazon does when analysing purchase and clickstream data of over 150 million customers to personalise web pages and communications, promoting the products that are most likely to be relevant. It could also tip to unwelcome hyper-personalisation – in a recent GFK study of UK consumers, 65 per cent said they sometimes felt 'stalked' by online advertising. Successful Marketers in 2014 will have the capabilities – the processes, skills and behaviours – to connect the dots between data, insight and action in a way that enhances our next hot topic: the customer experience.

3. Customer Experience

"2014 will see an evolution from materialism to a meaningful experience." 

Daniele Fiandaca, Head of Innovation, Cheil

The traditional purchase funnel is out of vogue and instead the focus has turned to the relentless pursuit of improving the customer experience in a multi-channel world. Observing Amazon again, the customer experience feels coherent across platforms, is prompted by intelligent emails that make suggestions based on your browsing behaviour, and critically succeeds in the 'last mile' – the moment of truth from when an order is made, to when it becomes a real world possession.

The key to creating a meaningful and personal customer experience is to allow data and digital to shape it without losing the human touch. This is where the convergence of all three of these 'hot topics' emerges, and marketing leadership capabilities are critical in bringing teams and disciplines together to create a consistent, responsive and motivating customer experience.

While it's critical to know which topics are 'hot' for the new year and what the opportunities are to grow the effectiveness and potential of your businesses, realising the benefits of new approaches requires sustained change in our mind-sets, behaviours and practices. Given this, what changes in marketing practices will make the most difference to your results? People do not have an infinite capacity for learning and adopting new approaches, so the leading companies with whom we partner have prioritised what will really make the difference to their commercial performance.

Here's wishing you your best year yet!

This post is by Hayley Spurling, Brand Director at Brand Learning.