With several obvious trends standing out, determining the direction the digital marketing winds are blowing isn't exactly rocket science. But the work of actually marketing a product or service sure feels as if it is. Despite the light-speed pace of advancing technology, plotting the launch and trajectory of an emarketing missile targeted at consumers is increasingly complicated.
From improving the consumer experience and bypassing privacy filters to managing social media effectively and gathering meaningful analytics, industry professionals have a lot on their plates. But they're also positioned to capitalize on a plethora of opportunities, courtesy of advanced tools and technologies, making the marketing endgame appear all the more enticing.
"Digital marketing today offers an endless mine of possibility, including SEO, retargeting, social advertising, mobile optimization, campaign execution, and analysis," says Ron Sing, digital marketing manager for Quad/Graphics. "The list goes on and on, but the resources and the budgets do not."
Jeffery Hassemer, head of strategy for Integrate, is-similar to many experts-optimistic about the state of digital marketing heading into 2016. "We are finally moving toward the promise of being able to completely personalize the digital experience for customers and prospects. While the promise is over a decade old, the technology to get us there is experiencing a boom of epic proportion these days," says Hassemer. "Never before has it been so easy for a digital marketer to automate the process of setting up campaigns and acquiring the right prospects for their business."
However, while technological progress has benefited the industry, ad blockers, ad saturation, and keeping up with diversified channels across multiple devices are complicating matters. "There is so much clutter and noise today that it's hard for digital marketers to make brands stand out from the competition. And they must increasingly find ways to connect all these channels to create one seamless customer experience," says Cory Munchbach, VP of marketing for BlueConic.
The Year in Review
Make no mistake: In 2015, impressive records were set that imply a vibrant emarketing climate. U.S. internet ad revenues climbed to a $27.5 billion high in the first half of 2015 (up 19% from the first half of 2014), and mobile ad revenues increased 54% (representing 30% of overall interactive ad revenue for that period), per the Interactive Advertising Bureau's (IAB) recent "Internet Advertising Revenue Report." AOL's "2015 US State of the Video Industry" reveals that spending on U.S. digital video ads totaled $7.46 billion (a 42% rise) during the past year and is expected to exceed $13 billion by 2019. The same report indicates that programmatic marketing is omnipresent, as programmatic video is benefiting 91% of brands and agencies and 88% of publishers.
In 2015, digital marketers increasingly turned to many proven tactics in an effort to reach customers, according to SEMPO's "2015 State of Search Report." These include SEO (employed by 94% of digital marketer respondents vs. 85% tallied in 2013), email marketing (86% vs. 63%), social media marketing (84% vs. 75%), paid search campaigns (83% vs. 78%), display ads (70% vs. 54%), and social media advertising (57%).
Ad blocking grabbed a lot of headlines and attention in 2015. In the past year, Apple rolled out its iOS 9 with built-in ad blocking as an option. PageFair and Adobe's "The Cost of Ad Blocking" report estimates that ad-blocking usage by Americans increased 48% from June 2014 to June 2015, to 45 million monthly active users.
Despite the ad-blocking threat, many believe digital marketing made significant strides over the previous 12 months, including Stacy Gordon, CMO of LatentView. "This past year, digital marketing finally moved away from being just about social media or managing online campaigns to being about insights. Marketers have increasingly begun looking at digital data to get a 360-degree view of their consumers," Gordon says. "This understanding has allowed more advanced marketers to deliver customized and personalized content to consumers by combining tools like geolocation data and search and browsing history."
In 2015, native advertising gathered momentum, putting a stronger spotlight on quality content. "This is prompted by the way people are consuming content via feeds and the shift to mobile and away from standard display," says Chris Tuff, EVP and director of business development and partnerships at 22squared.
One of the most important battles waged in 2015 was "mobilegeddon"--another name for Google's algorithm update last April that gives priority to sites that display well on mobile devices. "Now, if a company invests in content marketing and SEO, but not in converting a website to having a mobile-friendly responsive design, previous resources are being wasted," says Sing.
A Look Ahead
If the past year teaches us anything, it's that change in the emarketing arena is inevitable-if not predictable. "Mobile commerce will continue to grow and make up a larger share of digital transactions," says Gordon. "And wearable technology, the Internet of Things, and virtual-reality devices will gain more traction in 2016. ..."
Hassemer anticipates 2016 to be a pivotal year for marketers "to be able to connect our digital strategies to our databases like never before. But in doing so, we need to be mindful of the pitfalls within privacy, data accuracy, and fraud that exist within the digital space."
Push technology will likely make a bigger impact in the coming year too. "Marketers will benefit from expanded mobile capabilities that allow them to go beyond traditional mobile marketing and into the realms of app marketing, thanks to push notifications and mobile analytics," suggests Nicolas Mohr, digital product marketing leader at Teradata Marketing Applications.
Some folks, such as Sing, smell a brewing battle in 2016 between Google and Apple for consumer engagement and time spent. "Google controls and monetizes data from web search, and Apple does the same for the app market," says Sing. "Who will win the demand for the hearts and minds and, ultimately, take a commanding lead over consumer insight?"
Continued industry consolidation is also expected. "Companies are going to continue acquiring other companies and take a stronger hold on the market. Right now, the idea is that the bigger you are the more competitive you are, and I think that will continue," says Munchbach.
(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)