In the world of marketing, a trend can tell brands a lot about their consumers. Trending topics reveal what’s top of mind for people at any given moment, and they can help marketers develop content that is relevant to their audience. Trends show marketers not only what consumers want today but how their expectations are evolving for the future.

And marketers are all in. Consider the social landscape, where brands compete to be the first to piggyback off the latest viral marketing moment (remember the “Yanny or Laurel” debate?). Or the rapid ascent of influencer marketing, an approach that 75% of brands now say is part of their strategy. And who could ignore the growing focus on voice marketing this year as shopping on voice-enabled devices continues to climb?

While emerging channels and tactics are always changing, some trends have greater influence on the direction of marketing as a whole. Data-driven marketing is one example that’s been reshaping our discipline— because data doesn’t just solve for a business objective today. When implemented correctly, a data-driven marketing strategy addresses problems brands want to address tomorrow and helps marketers stay a step ahead of the competition.

While the trends above are mostly tactical, data-driven marketing is strategic and is a driving force in reshaping our entire discipline. In this article, we’ve asked three experts to share their insights and predictions on where marketers should prioritize their data efforts and how they should be thinking about data for the future. Read on to hear from our experts: Georgiana Laudi, SaaS Marketing and Growth Advisor at Elevate, Kevin Shively, VP of Marketing at Tagboard and Liz Gross, CEO of Campus Sonar.

Focus on the customer experience

One of the biggest focus areas to come from data-driven marketing centers around the customer experience. This is especially welcome news for the 87% of organizations that agree traditional experiences no longer satisfy their customers.

Marketers are increasingly understanding the importance of focusing not only on what customers do, but why they do it, says Georgiana Laudi.

“There is a tidal wave of marketers now wise to this and they’re finally being greenlit by stakeholders to gather qualitative data,” says Laudi, who provides marketing and growth guidance for growing SaaS companies at Elevate. “Even outside of SaaS, which lives and dies by customer retention, there is a focus on post-acquisition marketing and optimizing the customer experience as a whole.”

But with the customer experience top of mind, marketers need to move beyond their traditional focus on bringing in new business.

“Marketers, from the CMO on down, are more focused on revenue and retention metrics than ever before,” says Shively, whose company offers social search and display platform solutions. “As we’re able to connect systems and understand the quality of our leads and the impact a brand has on sales and lifetime values, we can make better decisions and create programs with sales that have a broader business impact.”

Expect responsibilities & roles to change

In order for marketers to fully take advantage of emerging data-driven trends, they’ll need to revisit their job description within the larger organization. Thanks to data’s ever growing presence, marketers have an opportunity to influence company goals beyond awareness, promotions, advertising and sales.

Shively puts it another way: “A data-driven mindset means breaking out of the silo of your department. Marketers can’t live on marketing data alone; they need data from the CFO about projections and budgeting, the sales team about inbound velocity and volume, and much more. Conversely, marketers are able to bring the marketing pieces into the puzzle, namely, what your customers or audiences are talking about right now. The insight that marketing provides brings a layer of human insight that doesn’t exist elsewhere and it exists in real-time.”

Gross, whose runs a social listening agency for higher education, notes that marketers who take advantage of data are better able to measure their results and shares how a data-driven approach can impact performance in higher education marketing.

“When marketing starts with a key business goal in mind and a plan to both use data effectively to inform marketing strategies and measure results, activities can be tied to important campus outcome like applications, enrollments, donations or increased brand awareness. Further analysis can determine what activities are most effective at producing those outcomes, creating an opportunity for resource-strapped campuses to stop marketing activities that are not contributing to key outcomes.”

Specialized expertise is a competitive advantage

Like all good trends, it’s only a matter of time before all marketers jump on the data bandwagon. To stay one step ahead of the competition, marketers should invest in themselves and identify areas they want to become experts in.

“In the future, [marketers’] expertise will need to expand to include emerging disciplines like artificial intelligence, machine learning, social listening and more,” says Gross. “I believe the leading brands will have in-house teams focused on marketing strategies that align with business goals, the brand voice and other core competencies like writing, design and foundational digital marketing.”

Echoing the need for greater specializing in AI and machine learning, Shively points out marketers will be better able to identify and target customers using more than web cookies or singular consumer interactions. “Leading brands in data-driven marketing are using image recognition to look-alike audiences and complex retargeting or nurture campaigns to serve exactly the right content at exactly the right time.”

Above all, Laudi notes the best data-driven marketers will invest in CX-focused teams and gather customer insights on a continuous basis, rather than once or twice a year.

“Using both qualitative and quantitative data, teams can identify their customers’ success milestones to explore what people are doing, thinking and feeling at every stage of their relationship with you.” Laudi recommends channeling customer data into experience mapping exercises to better understand what motivates customers and what kind of emotional journey they are on.

Think, test & strategize before you leap

Marketers still need to tread carefully before going all in on data. Specifically, just going with the flow and approaching data without a plan in mind can do more harm than good.

“Across all industries, the popular approach to big data—dumping a bunch of enterprise data in one place and hoping to find insightful patterns—isn’t useful and has soured many organizations on the idea of data,” says Gross. “The organizations that use enterprise data successfully are committed to data architecture and [have] a research and analysis plan that focuses on key business questions.”

When in doubt, it pays to listen to what your audience is telling you before you incorporate data trends into your overarching marketing strategy. And social media is a great testing ground for trends.

“In general, social is a great space to test this stuff before applying it more broadly to marketing programs due to the velocity, immediacy and volume of social content,” says Shively. “Trends are worth exploring if they’re lightweight. But you need to have a strategy set up that will let you know what’s working and what’s not.”

Trends come & go, but data is forever

At this stage in the game, the majority of brands are already using data in some capacity. And with greater specialization and a shift in responsibilities, marketers can use data to make informed decisions to improve the customer experience and fuel measurable business results.

But how marketers approach and leverage data also influences the value of data and whether or not brands are using the information at their disposal to its fullest potential. To make data work for them, marketers should be thinking about data in the long-term and what business problems it can solve for in the future.

This piece is part of our series on data-driven marketing in which experts explore the keys to developing a team and strategic approach grounded in data. Read part 1, part 2 and part 3 here.