New research from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) demonstrates just how important data has become for brands seeking to understand consumers and deliver personalised marketing.

It reveals that as data consumption and processing increases, marketers are becoming increasingly respectful of consumer privacy, and how they handle personal data.

The research, conducted in conjunction with The Customer Framework, found that 72% of senior marketers view data as a strategic asset, although more than half are only just starting the process of giving it a central place in their marketing.

Based on responses from 32 companies with a global annual marketing spend of $35bn, the survey found that 31% described themselves as advanced or highly advanced in the adoption of data-driven marketing (DDM) using multiple data personalisation and segmentation techniques. These advanced companies were underpinning their efforts with a range of technology solutions including customer relationship management (CRM) systems, analytical systems, data management platforms (DMPs) and rules engines.

However, not all companies are as advanced. Fifty-six per cent of respondents recognise they are still early in the journey, at best in the initial planning stage and have yet to deploy a DDM strategy.

The study also found a range in confidence in analytics, with only half “somewhat confident” and 27% “not very confident” in their ability to identify return on investment via data analysis.

Nevertheless, investment into analytics and insight is on the rise with 89% of respondents expecting to increase budgets and 31% to boost them “greatly”. The goal is to evolve the analytics function from historical reporting of ‘what happened’ to more predictive and prescriptive approaches, something that a quarter of respondents already claim to be able to deliver.

The desire to build direct customer relationships via the use of first-party data was clearly highlighted by the research, with 73% of respondents considering this ‘business critical’, and 88% planning on ramping up usage.

With the increased use and processing of consumer data, however, 85% of respondents acknowledged that privacy is integral to building customer trust, and more than just legal compliance.

New data protection legislation in Europe, for example, which is expected to come into force in 2017 following a two-year implementation period, will create a number of additional compliance obligations for brands seeking to process data for marketing purposes.

Yet even with these additional rules, brands recognise that their ability to embrace a data-driven future relies on increasing consumer trust, which in turn, requires brands to go beyond compliance. Eighty-five percent of respondents viewed data privacy as an integral component of customer trust, not just ‘legal compliance’.

Such considerations should ideally sit within a brands’ Customer Information Strategy, documenting among other things, what data is required, how it is to be used, where it can be obtained and whether it should be owned. Customer Information Strategies were found to be in place for just 55% of respondents.

“To make the most of their investment in data planning, execution and analysis, companies need to develop the right organizational structure to deploy commercial, practical insights combined with a program to improve data-driven marketing capabilities across the organization”, said Nick Broomfield, Director and Managing Partner at The Customer Framework.

“It’s no secret that data has become important for marketing purpose, though it’s interesting to note that even some of the world’s biggest companies are only at the early stages of delivering data-driven marketing strategies. Data consumption is set to increase rapidly and with that sophistication – clarifying how data will be used and how consumer privacy will be protected, should be a fundamental component of a brand’s strategy as it advances into DDM”, said Matt Green, Senior Global Marketing Manager at the WFA. “Enhanced transparency and a strong value proposition will be vital to ensuring consumer trust in how the industry collects, stores and uses data today, and in the future