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From December through January each year, we are bombarded with blog posts, papers and even videos setting out a vision for the year ahead of us. These are put together by pundits, bloggers, analysts and companies seeking to put their stamp on your thinking in the year ahead. But other than some good reading ahead of a planning session – that is used once and then discarded – how useful are these documents? Do you refer back to them? Do you use them?

As a member of the ADMA Expert Groups, I contributed my own thoughts on the year ahead for an upcoming “year ahead paper”. But I was struck by what I thought was important in 2014 – loyalty and real time data:

Loyalty marketing in 2014 will continue to evolve as smart technology using real-time behavioral data and deep customer insights deliver marketers even faster, more intuitive results.

But as it does so, the art and science of what drives loyalty marketing will become more complex, moving beyond the world of monetary benefits, points programs, cards and rewards schemes to an era of retaining the life-time loyalty of our customers using social media, data-led insights and a holistic approach around how we engage and give each individual a positive experience with our brand, profitably. As quoted by Loyalty 360 (The US Loyalty Association) – ‘Customer engagement is the journey, loyalty is the destination.’

In 2014, business leaders will recognise that customer loyalty will be the true measure of delivering value to all stakeholders and the ultimate destination by which they will be judged.

In 2014, we will see some consolidation. Technology vendors will merge or be acquired. Marketing software suites will become larger. And marketers, themselves, will realise that it’s time to dismantle the silos. So in 2014 there will be the beginning of a great ‘coming together’ that will last through to 2016.

This will have a major impact on all things digital. Marketers will gain a much greater understanding of social and we will start to see it integrated into campaigns in a sophisticated way. This, in turn, will feed into mobile – where the holy trinity of location, identity and convenience will become irresistible. And all this will be powered by data and analytics. Marketers will be seeking data and analytics to drive creative executions and feeding that back in real time, which will make 2014 an exciting and challenging year.

In some ways I was correct – loyalty and real time data were (and are) important. During the year I learned about Hofstadter’s Law:

It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

And now I feel that all predictions and trends should use this as a disclaimer. Sure, these things might be important – but they will take much longer to work their way from idea to implementation than you could possibly imagine.

In many ways my prediction was off the mark. Looking back at it, I would suggest that the use of data for marketing was a major trend. But it is a trend that is only just gaining momentum. This, however, is a symptom of something much larger – and that is the focus on customer experience. While the data trend continues, the role of the innovator is not to slavishly follow, but to seek the big picture. That big picture is customer experience – and whether you use creativity, data, technology or innovation to get there, you’ll find that the focus on customer experience is what leads you to success – not the trends that you surf on your way there.