Mark Haviland, EVP, Global Development, Rakuten Marketing

As marketers navigate a complex digital world, where increasingly savvy consumers expect advertising to align with content seamlessly and add value to their lives, it can sometimes be difficult to determine where investment and focus should lie. With data security and privacy a concern on the one hand, and the enormous growth in online populations around the world and the rise in intricate technologies on the other, our next steps as marketeers are important ones. As we’ve grown over the years at Rakuten Marketing, we’ve become attuned to the challenges of the quickly evolving digital world and the signposts to a bright and prosperous future.

Amidst the many unknowns we still face, I see four key signs of an exciting and value-oriented future for marketing.

1. Belief in ‘intelligence’ over ‘data’ – Big data has been distracting the C-suite of businesses for years, but a bucket of information on its own is useless. It requires brains and tech to turn data into something that can drive decision-making. We are now seeing an upsurge in the ability of artificial intelligence (AI) and data science brains to turn ‘marketing cents’ into ‘revenue dollars.’

2. The marketplace has no borders Be prepared to ride the massive trend of cross-border buying and digital media consumption. Consumers will spend upwards of $2 trillion on cross-border commerce by 2020, and brands are set to tap into this habit. As a digital marketer for a local, regional, or national company, you too should have the ability to reach consumers in all corners of the world.

3. Prepare to partner – Expanding out of home turf is never easy, so we have to find allies to work with in new markets where our knowledge and brands are not strong. By having a collaborative culture and cleverly choosing local partners to share growth with, we speed up our learning curve and give others stakes in our own success. No one ever made it alone, not even today’s biggest brands (think of Apple’s partnership with the UK’s chip maker ARM), so decide what you can’t do well, and find the best in the business to do it for you. We’ve bought and partnered with the best data, tech and content businesses we could find, in markets from Australia to Brazil, from Japan to the UK: creating a network of brains and capabilities that works across the globe for our clients.

4. Be sure of the value you bring – People these days are demanding more of the brands and businesses they surrender their time, money and data to, especially the growing numbers of digital natives and the emerging middle classes. If we are not genuine in our values, we’ll be left behind; if we are not offering unique value, we’ll be ignored; and if we are not credible in our care and respect for our consumers and everything they care for, we’ll be discarded. Successful 21st century brands will be those that create value for their entire ecosystem and help solve the challenges of 21st century living.

The core of brand building and marketing has not actually changed in the decades we’ve been selling products and ideas to each other, but the tools at our disposal have. Use these tools well and challenge ourselves to evolve and there will be a bright future ahead.