Digital marketing is one of the most cost-effective techniques for nurturing leads, finding new audiences and securing sales. As businesses seek new ways to reach audiences on tighter budgets, digital marketing has become a larger part of many marketing budgets. According to the 2021 Gartner State of marketing budget report, marketing budgets have fallen to their lowest recorded level, dropping to 6.4% of company revenue in 2021 from 11% in 2020.
While consumer brands, financial services companies and healthcare have been less affected by the pandemic than earlier predictions indicated, other businesses are finding the lower costs of digital marketing enable them to compete.
Digital media spend increases while agency spending decreases
Research shows CMOs have shifted spending commitments across their channels and programs. Digital channels are dominating those priorities and accounting for 72.2% of the total marketing budget. The breakdown of digital marketing budget across paid, owned and earned digital channels suggests that the ongoing importance of website, email, paid and organic search and social media which all gain a similar level of budget in this survey. Marketing technology is making up 26.6% of the total budget.
Most businesses have transferred to in-house marketing in the past 2 years as budgets tighten, with 29% of work previously carried out by agencies now done by internal marketing and sales teams. With this shift has been a change towards campaigning, with brand strategy, innovation and technology, and marketing strategy development making up the top three capabilities areas CMOs are moving to internal teams according to researchers.
Digital marketing trends are bolstered by the evolution of technology, and platforms that help tap into new audiences, markets and opportunities. These martechs help businesses keep up to date with the latest advances in marketing, with affordable solutions to email marketing, socials management, customer engagement, content management and other marketing strategies.
Improve your digital marketing plans for growth
Research shows that many businesses do not develop strategies to take advantage of evergreen and new digital marketing techniques. A simple framework (below) shows how to structure a digital marketing plan. The framework can be used to help your business set and track marketing objectives at each stage of your marketing funnel and identify new opportunities to increase leads and sales.
Reviewing digital marketing trends
It’s important to know how your business is making use of martech. The 70:20:10 rule of marketing focus can help you establish which avenues you are using and how they are working for your business. Digital marketing expert Avinash Kaushik has explained the rules as such:
70% of the time we’re going to focus on things that we know are very core to our business.
20% is where we’re trying to push the boundaries. You get into the known unknowns.
And the last 10% is true, crazy experimental stuff.
Using these scales, you can determine what is working, what might work and where you can test the boundaries of your campaign and creativity. While trends in digital marketing tend to remain similar year on year, with search, social and email marketing at the top of the list, new web design and content marketing techniques tend to emerge every few years. Technological innovations tend to drive change in eCommerce. Additions of shops to social platforms and other martech developments in recent years have driven change in eCommerce, as has the pandemic.
Gartner has tracked all digital platforms and marketing cloud services in their report Digital marketing hype cycles.
It can be extrapolated from this report that in the 2021 – 2022 marketing cycle, we can expect to see:
- Personalization engine
- Conversational marketing
- Multichannel Marketing Hubs
- Consumer privacy and consent
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Reach via digital marketing medias
Programmatic display advertising continues to increase amongst larger brands.
- Organic search: Monitor core updates and EAT
This year, core updates have continued to have a significant impact on organic visibility for businesses. Core updates are explained by Google as:
“Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our search results. Most aren’t noticeable but help us incrementally continue to improve.
We aim to confirm such updates when we feel there is actionable information that webmasters, content producers, or others might take about them”.
Case studies often reference the perennial importance of content quality affecting Expertise, Authority and Trust (EAT) signals. If you want your business to compete in search rankings you should follow the latest search quality guidelines to benchmark your content.
This year Google has escalated its efforts to block link spam. For your business to pass recommendations and avoid spam filters, you need to understand the guidelines and ensure that your website and marketing materials follow these guidelines.
- Organic search: Look at opportunities from structured data and the SERPs features.
Google and Microsoft are always innovating how they appear to help improve their experience and monetise their ads. Paying close attention to the search engine results pages (SERPs) means that marketers can follow trends and optimize their use of developments. These changes and upgrades are part of monetizing SEO, and for this reason, marketers need to understand that while search engines are tools, they are also vehicles to generate money for the parent companies.
In August 2021 Google made changes to title pages which affected the SERPs. For businesses unaware of these changes, it means missing out on traffic simply because of a change. To maintain your ranking you need a marketer who is connected with the changes and developments that Google, Microsoft and other providers make to SEO parameters on a regular basis.
- Organic search: Voice search still on the periphery
In 2014, it was predicted that by 2020, voice search would have become a dominant factor in search. While voice search is relevant, it has not become the dominant force that it was expected to become. Whether that is because the technology has remained somewhat stagnant or because people are unaware of the power of voice search needs to be examined.
Voice search faces some issues that are similar to those of early search engines. Using the ‘correct’ phrases or word combinations to yield the results that the user is actually looking for, such as ‘find pizza takeaway near me’, which then returns the details of pizza restaurants in the area, not just all takeaway food stores in the immediate area. Partly the technology needs to advance to meet with speech patterns (through improved AI and ML) and through users learning how to make best use of the technology itself.
In regards to SEO, there are two things that marketers need to focus on as the technology currently is:
- 1: When a user inputs search through voice command as opposed to typing a query, this is recorded as a normal web search. The data is collected in Google Search Console as a normal SEO result.
- 2: When a user inputs a search through voice command using a smart speaker, such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa, the return is a verbal search response. These searches are not logged in Google Search Console and have little effect on SEO SEO.
Marketers in eCommerce wanting to benefit from voice search should continue to focus on the fundamentals of SEO such as keyword research, on-page optimization best practices, structured data and quality content and becoming an authoritative voice in the industry with published and verifiable data.
- Paid search: Machine learning optimization
Almost all marketing agencies now use machine learning, if not directly then through external services. ML is the basis of organic and paid search and in particular, offers options in Google Ads. Using ML data or even as a direct application is no longer a question of if but ‘how?’
Machine learning is not simple. It has taken many years and many brilliant minds to configure the basics for machine learning to develop, and it is still in its infancy. While ‘smart’ applications have been developed for many things, this simplified understanding of machine learning reduced to ‘smart’ is somewhat misleading. In advertising, smart campaigns in Google Ads help simplify the complex process of managing Google Ads for small businesses. However, the system is yet to develop so that it is unbiased and in many cases, smart campaigns have not been as beneficial to small businesses as engineers and marketers might have expected. Google’s smart bidding, while a useful tool for marketers and especially small business owners, does need to be monitored for efficacy.
Machine learning is the coming wave of advanced research, data harvesting and application development. In the field of digital marketing, it will become vital for businesses to have a foundational understanding of the technology to make the best ROI.
- Ad optimization testing
Recent research shows that only 9% of marketers can accurately forecast the impact of a 10% shift in marketing spending. One of the primary goals of ad agencies is to analyze your spending and improve your business growth, so using the right tools to ensure that an accurate prediction can be made would also rely on the type of research and data gathered and how it is applied to make a prediction.
For digital marketers, it is important to understand complex customer journeys across mobile and desktop devices and different ad placements. For example, on Facebook alone, an ad could appear in a variety of placements, such as in the Facebook News Feed, Instagram Stories, Reels or within Instant Articles. It is therefore essential to understand how these ads are received, tracked and absorbed by customers in various demographics and across platforms.
- Review changing adoption of social networks
Social media moves in trends. Once Facebook was the only option, then MySpace was the ‘cool’ place to connect. At this time, Tik Tok is having its moment in the sun. People cycle through the various social media platforms that are on offer much like they flick through TV channels. For your business to remain successful using these channels, you not only need to know what is current, but if your target audience is using that channel, how do you reach them?
According to Global Web Index, influencers, particularly in some age groups, continue to have a major influence over purchase intent, especially on social media. They report that:
- 27% of Gen Zs say following influencers is one of the main reasons they use social media, ahead of seeing content from their favorite brands.
More generally, research shows the relative importance of different social networks on purchasing decisions. The choice of social media platform for advertising and promotion can influence the target audience reaction to your brand and purchasing decisions.
- Review engagement options for messaging platforms
You should know how to use the contact options for each of the social media channels that your brand uses, and set up auto-replies and alerts so that you can be attentive to messages from customers and other queries.
- Privacy Wars: Know your data protection responsibilities
Transparency and privacy laws must be respected in the jurisdiction in which you choose to operate. In the Eu, that means adhering to the GDPR, which has the world’s most comprehensive data protection for website users. It is easy to make your website compliant and as it is the most strict, it is the best practice to follow the recommendation for your website in any jurisdiction.
You must ensure that your data tracking is turned off and that you ask site users to accept tracking cookies before using the website. You must also have easy unsubscribe options for any marketing or newsletters. This simple compliance check using plug-ins means that your site is ready to serve people in any region.
- Consider adoption of design systems
Clear and common interface design elements do a few things. They make your website look polished and professional; they make it easy to add or remove elements from your website; they make it easy for site users to navigate your site as people have been ‘trained’ to follow certain elements and find it easy to use a few interfaces.
Check some of the biggest brand name sites and compare how the elements are similar across industries. For example, Zara and H&M, two of the biggest names in fast fashion, have sites that use common elements that users can intuitively switch between. Users understand where to look for search options, how to apply filters, where to look for the shopping cart and how to complete check out. Following a simple style with common elements in each industry makes it easier for online shoppers to make purchases and want to return to a site, especially if the experience has been good.
10: Ensure visual design is fashionable
In visual and graphic design, your brand needs to remain contemporary as well as identifiable. What is appealing in design changes with time? Five years ago, having bold quotes with little meaning or real relevance was on-trend. In 2021, this is no longer the case, with people preferring more subtle visual elements and clean sites that include solid colour backgrounds and simple elements. This will change again in future as hamburger menus go out of fashion and another design element becomes the norm.
Change is positive and keeps your brand fresh. Your design team should not become too attached to a single theme, but find talented people who can update your logo, brand ID, website, and other elements simply and in line with trends.
- Innovations in interaction design and video
In 2022, we expect to see the latest interaction design trends such as mobile-first design and personalized experiences, continue to remain at the top of the pile. Some newer interactive design techniques that are likely to proliferate include:
- Neomorphism – combining elements of skeuomorphism and flat design
- Immersive 3D visuals
- Micro-interactions to promote engagement
- Design for speed – prompted by Google’s new Core Web Vitals
Video has been a winner for eCommerce during the pandemic and this is likely to continue with Tik Toc apparently still leading the pack into 2022.
- Evolve content marketing management towards UGC
UGC has been trending in the past few years as one of the most important aspects of digital marketing. Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook encourage people to post images of themselves wearing brands or using products, and this user-generated content acts as an endorsement for brands that prove more valuable than testimonials.
Content creation that includes blogs, articles, UGC, and other content that is created for the value of the customer is still the trend. When customers feel that they are in control of how they use your product and interact with your brand, they are more likely to share their positive experiences. Giving people space to do this on your website and social media will encourage your customers to connect with your brand and feel a sense of agency using your product or service.
- Influencer digital marketing with targeted use of influencers
Influencer marketing is still considered the positive marketing channel for organic opportunities for content distribution via search and social media. Influencer marketing offers the potential of increased audience engagement and the power of endorsements and recommendations. Studies continue to show that people respect the recommendation of friends and family over any marketing or professionals because it feels connected and personal. Influencers fall under the connected umbrella for people as they see such people as close connections rather than the distant and impersonal figures speaking to millions, which they often in fact are.
The Power of Influence report by Analyst Altimeter recommends that brands spend 25 percent of digital marketing budgets on influencer marketing, which they estimated would reach US$10 billion by 2020, a five-times increase.
Forbes Agency Council has also highlighted the importance of:
- Long-term relationships with influencers
- More focus on performance marketing
- Rise of micro-influencers
- From amplifiers to communicators
- Influencers as an ‘always-on’ strategy
Most marketers are moving towards a blended use of influencers and professionals to reach audiences. Mico-influencers are becoming more popular with marketers as they realise the potential of the niche to connect on a more personal level with customers. This is important as it fits with the personalization narrative that many brands have adopted to move people through the sales funnel and secure long-term relationships with customers.
- Consider testing for optimization
Testing your marketing for effectiveness is the best way to ensure you are meeting your target audience in ways that matter. This testing, mostly of your website and email content, is one of the easiest and most effective ways to ensure that you connect with your audience.
Testing your digital marketing, optimization strategy, content marketing and outbound messaging can be simple and fast using the right tools available easily online, with simple to follow reports and advice on how to improve your marketing.
- Review communications styles to increase conversion
While chatbots have proved popular with businesses, they have not proven as effective with end-users. At this time, the AI is not intelligent enough to replace the human customer service that people really need when looking for answers that cannot be easily found on your website. In B2B categories, the growth of conversational marketing and sales (or revenue acceleration) platforms looks set to continue.
Prompting micro-interactions can be a simple dialogue based on an onboarding interaction. Segmenting customer journeys in a simple pop-up question that aims to gather customer data and engage users benefits businesses and customers alike. Grammarly excels at this model as can be seen below.
- Dark pattern ethics
Dark Pattern is a term coined in 2010 to describe how eCommerce sites were using design features to force users to take an action they had not intended. Dark patterns are considered deceptive UX/UI interactions with the intention of forcing an unwanted action on the part of the user. These designs aim to generate more sales, get subscriptions and hit target numbers in transactions via a deceptive interface to manipulate users.
The practice is overall considered unethical and should be avoided. However, some of the biggest brands in eCommerce have used the technique and even justified the device as a business tool.
Airbnb was found excluding additional amounts, including cleaning fees and service fees, while Amazon was prompting new customers who check out with a default order to qualify for free shipping. These types of schemes are not legal in many jurisdictions and websites found evading things like additional taxes and delivery fees only added at final payment are now illegal. Transparency is key to trust.
- Review website personalization
According to researchers, 72% of consumers say they now only engage with marketing messages that are personalized to their interests. However, 86% of consumers are concerned about their data security. Baby Boomers and Gen X are the least trusting when it comes to data security while Millennials and Gen Zers are 47% more trusting than their older counterparts.
Protecting people’s data is vital to the development of trusting customer relationships, but so is personalization. Finding the balance means investing in your data security protocols and really communicating with website traffic about how you use their data and options for traffic to remain private.
- Omnichannel Ecommerce
Social commerce is growing in popularity and shows no signs of slowing down.
- 1 in 4 business owners is selling through Facebook.
- 87% of eCommerce shoppers believe social media helps them make a shopping decision.
- 30% of consumers say they would make purchases directly through social media platforms.
- 40% of merchants use social media to generate sales.
You need to be selling using the social channels that your target audience is using, because of the ease of engagement and higher levels of trust already developed.
- Improve customer journey effectiveness
AB testing to support conversion and assessing the voice of the customer are important to improving your customer journey.
Your customer journey will change and evolve, it does not remain stagnant, so as a business you must always be assessing and updating your journey to provide the best experience possible
- Review micro-communities
Micro-communities are on the rise. These are safer spaces online for people who are part of a similar community of people to come together and share ideas, tips, tricks and findings. This can be positive and negative. For businesses wanting to tap into these online spaces, it is important to be aware of the conversation and the sensitivities of the community.
- Assess the relevance of community insights platforms
Online support communities are relevant for some sectors such as telecoms, while other retailers probably don’t need them. In fact, if a clothing retailer has an online support community, this would be a red flag that the products are of poor quality.
These insights platforms can really help service providers, especially when a startup is trying to adapt a product to many platforms. If the provider is smart, they will join these conversations to take control of how the product is discussed and to further R&D.
- Improving email personalization
Email marketing lifecycle targeting uses personalized email marketing to deliver more relevant communications through the customer lifecycle.
Automated emails like welcome sequences and basket abandons are expected as part of the nurturing cycle for customers. However, your marketing team needs to keep the campaigns fresh and offer something of value when sending these emails.
- Applying Big Data analysis and machine learning to improve customer email targeting and website personalization
Consider lifecycle engagement reporting and targeting based on email marketing. Predictive analytics can be used to identify:
- Best timing and offer for follow-up communications based on analysis of latency.
- Prefered product or category combinations from cluster-based segmentation.
- Optimal times to engage an individual.
- Using machine learning
In addition to targeting techniques, ML is further boosting the relevance and personalized interactions.
Applying the data research engines to return the most relevant and comprehensive reports using ML and AI technology to improve connections, customer journeys and pain point management in digital transactions.
- Make a plan to support digital marketing transformation
Without a plan, nothing happens smoothly and you could spend far more money than needed. A lack of focus on integrated strategy, testing, and optimization and structural issues like teams working in silos or a lack of skills in integrated communications can stall your growth and even disrupt your business to the point of bankruptcy.
To counter such problems and to make the most of the opportunities for growing a business through digital marketing trends, having a digital transformation programme in place can ensure optimal success.
Your plan needs to include an understanding not only of the technical aspects of your business but also the front-facing. Without each major department included in your digitization plan, you will struggle to fulfil your growth potential.