This week, Teradata released results from a new international survey of digital marketing leaders about their strategic priorities with regard to technology investment and marketing budgets. We asked questions about how marketing has changed and how it needs to continue to change in the future—particularly around various digital marketing efforts.

What did we hear? Clearly, the biggest shift in the marketing landscape has been this: The customer is now in charge.

More specifically, our research found that:

  • The customer relationship is now well-recognized as the single path to sustainable growth and reliable retention. About half (49%) of those polled said becoming customer-centric is a top two priority.
  • The need for personalization and a customer-centric approach is driving investments in technology. Nearly nine out of ten companies (86%) are practicing some form of personalization, although fewer than 20% are doing so in real-time.
  • Companies are implementing a variety of customer-centric tactics. Activities include implementing holistic attribution (45%), restructuring KPIs to reflect the complexity of the customer journey (41%), encouraging cross-team cooperation (54%) and hiring staff devoted to customer-centric activities (32%).

These results, coupled with many others in the full report, tell me that the debate about how to approach the modern consumer is over. More and more companies understand that to be successful, they need to pursue a data-driven model, one that puts the customer at the center of all they do.

At first, that might seem like a juxtaposition. Marketers are investing more resources in technology, but their strategies need to be centered on the customer, a human? Marketing campaigns must be data-driven and yet, more personable, more individualized, more “real?”

The key is to remember that data is a reflection of people. Once you start unraveling the data hairball strand by strand, you’ll be able to analyze the data and uncover insights. Then, you’ll better understand your marketing operations, your campaigns and most importantly, your customers.

Scott Brinker summed it up masterfully last month in his recap of the inaugural MarTech conference. Brinker writes that Jascha Kaykas-Wolff made this point:

“… one of the reasons we need to rethink much of marketing management is because the ‘customer’ has gone from being an abstract persona on the wall to being, well, actual, real customers.”

And that transition –the one from abstract persona to real customer –has been made possible by data… or more precisely, by insights from data.

Data insights help us understand our customers in new ways. They open up countless opportunities for meaningful, “real” engagement, the kind of engagement that improves the customer experience and ultimately, drives more revenue.

Is your organization ready for a customer-centric future? Read about how others are preparing in Teradata’s new report, Enterprise Priorities In Digital Marketing. The report, announced today, is available now and is based on research conducted in July 2014 in association with Econsultancy US, the market research and publishing firm.

We welcome your input and observations in the comments section below.