With the better part of 2015 behind them, digital marketers continue to shift their attention (and budget dollars) towards mobile, video, and social media.
Marketers this year have experienced a flood of real-time data, welcomed a slew of new tech options, grappled over ad blocking software, and put billions of dollars in creative accounts up for review.
Here are the top 10 trends to watch in digital marketing as we approach the new year.
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1. Data is key to modern marketing
With the growing influx of real-time data across industries, data management is becoming an increasingly core part of a modern marketer's job. Shopify CMO Craig Miller told Marketing Dive in June that quantitative skills plus inventive strategies make up the essence of the next generation of marketers. The importance of data has even led to the rise of new corporate roles, such as Chief Data Officer and Chief Marketing Technology Officer.
But despite the emphasis on data and growing support from the C-suite, the overwhelming amount of data coming in is causing marketers to enlist third parties to help with data management and analytics. Almost three-fourths of marketers intend to seek outside help to deal with their data needs, according to research from the CMO Council and Ebiquity. In fact, only 29% of marketers surveyed said that handling data is something they did "well" or "very well."
Despite the challenges, the potential of data remains appetizing for marketers, as those already taking advantage of this new data are gaining deep insights into consumer preferences. As the amount of data coming in continues to grow, marketers will need to increasingly hone their quantitative skills and consider how to best leverage data for their marketing efforts.
2. Social media is the channel of choice
Social networks are today's "It" channels for communicating with target audiences — and it's no surprise why that is. Social media has become the place on the Internet where everyone from millennials to baby boomers congregate, get their news, shop, and mingle. It's the new town square of the 21st century and marketers want to be a part of that.
From Facebook and Instagram to Twitter and Snapchat, marketers are designing campaigns specific to these mediums in order to reach their dynamic users. Even B2B marketers, who have traditionally been slower to adopt new channels, are now finding social media to be valuable in their digital marketing efforts. A series of case studies from MarketingSherpa show how B2B marketers have successfully carried out campaigns on LinkedIn and are using video to drive traffic.
Marketers eager to join the social conversation are jumping at the opportunity to use the advertising options these platforms open up to them. Social media has proved to be a boon for many brands, particularly on highly-visual apps like Instagram and Snapchat. Fashion and beauty brands have been especially successful on such image-centric platforms.
3. Video is having its moment in the spotlight
According to study by Cisco Systems, consumer video will account for 80% of all internet traffic by 2019.
Facebook has doubled down on its video efforts in recent months, even putting out updates to its notoriously complex newsfeed algorithm to favor videos in news feeds. Video has grown so popular that marketers have even started to format videos for vertical viewing.
Meanwhile, Twitter flipped the switch on auto-play videos and its live streaming app, Periscope, seems to have quickly surpassed the early promise of rival Meerkat. To give marketers access to larger audiences, the micro-blogging site opened the Twitter Audience Platform ad network to sell promoted videos to other mobile apps. An added benefit for advertisers is the ability to sell video ads outside of Twitter's immediate audience. Twitter's Periscope also allows it access to the increasingly popular live-events space as users continue tapping into the app during, for instance, breaking news situations or awards shows.
Live events are increasingly becoming an area of focus for social networks like Facebook and Snapchat. Facebook rolled out an enhanced version of Place Tips, which gives you localized inforomation about the nearby area, while Snapchat, a pioneer of vertical videos, allows users to see a fuller picture of events as they unfold through Snapchat Live by aggregating user-generated content in real-time. One major advantage for marketers running campaigns around live events and video is the ability to connect with the highly-sought-after millenial segment, who make up a big portion of social media users.
4. Marketing budgets continue shift towards digital and mobile
The ad landscape is shifting gears.
Duke University's Fuqua School of Business conducted a survey on CMO spending that found B2B and B2C marketing budgets as a whole are shifting towards social media, mobile, and data analytics. Spending on digital marketing is expected to increase 12.2% over the next year, while social media spending is slated to grow to 14% over the next year. Meanwhile, a new report from Forrester on the video ad ecosystem estimates digital video ad spend will grow 21% annually – which serves as another reminder of how digital is top of mind for marketers.
One of the challenges that digital faces, however, are the discrepancies over viewability standards that are causing tension between mobile ad buyers and sellers. The problem is that there are no established or endorsed rules to track views for mobile ads, and both sides are fighting over how much (and when) buyers have to pay. Until there is a clear standard, marketers will have to grapple with how much of their resources they should really be putting toward digital.
5. Publishers are bringing sponsored content in-house
Native ads, sometimes also known as sponsored or branded content, are making their way in-house.
Joining a list of publishers taking control of branded content, Fox Sports debuted Fox Sports Engage – a multiplatform branded content distribution program that will include Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Other publishers engaging in sponsored content in-house include Vox Media, Atlantic Media’s Quartz and Condé Nast’s 23 Stories, which pushed out its first in-house ad in July. Not to be left out, The New York Times is joining the mobile ad sector with Mobile Moments, while the storied paper also plans to create its own ad content through the T Brand Studio, its in-house commercial content group. And last week, Bloomberg Media introduced an advertising widget called Trendr, the first product from its Ad Innovation Group. These moves show publishers see an opportunity to provide marketers with customized advertising directly.
But not only are publishers taking the reigns on creating branded content, native ads are also becoming more prevalent in a variety of online spaces. Native ads are no longer relegated to the side bar and are now appearing in places like comment sections, a move that agency insiders are particularly skeptical of, arguing it may benefit publishers looking for revenue but it poses a risk for brands.
6. Marketers are enlisting influencers to help woo millennials
Millennials have long been the focus of Madison Avenue, and the current path to reaching the coveted group is through influencers. For marketers looking for better ways to reach millennials across channels, especially social media, influencer-centric campaigns have been a win. Research from RhythmOne found earned media value from influencers during the first half of 2015 was 1.4 times higher than the yearly average from 2014, earning $9.60 for every dollar spent in the first half of this year.
Brands and publishers are taking note of influencers’ attention-grabbing prowess. Capital One recently granted three Instagram influencers access to its account to post images and videos based on the ongoing “What’s in your wallet?” campaign. Nine pictures were turned into Instagram ads and, according to Capital One, ad recall among all consumers rose 16%. Meanwhile, Digital publisher Refinery29 recently launched its Here and Now network to link brands up with select social media influencers, enabling marketers to gain access to Refinery29’s millennial audience in a less obtrusive fashion.
Marketers are still testing out ways to reach millenials and are not only relying on influencers to target them. Old Spice challenged Imgur’s largely male millennial audience to a “GIF-off,” the Indianapolis Colts are the first NFL team to run a campaign on Kik’s promoted chats, auto makers are luring Gen Y-ers via experiential marketing and music, and Miller Coors ran a web series to emphasize the craftsmanship behind its brews, easily crushing the campaign's goals.
7. Use of ad blocking software is soaring
Ad blocking software is proving to be a serious hurdle for marketers. PageFair and Adobe’s 2015 Ad Blocking Report found ad blocking software has cost almost $22 billion in lost ad revenue this year. The number of people using the tools grew by 41% year-over-year globally, with ad block usage in the U.S. alone surging 48% in the past year to 45 million monthly active users in the second quarter. Currently Firefox and Chrome hold a 93% share of mobile ad blocking, but the new iOS 9 will also allow for ad blockers.
Research by Genesis Media found only 3% of consumers reported using blocking software on smartphones, compared to 24% of respondents using these tools on work and home computers. The PageFair and Adobe report asked consumers why they might want to use ad blocking tools: 50% reported misuse of personal information to target ads, while 41% reported an increase of quantity of ads.
But while mobile was seen as one place where audiences weren’t installing the software, industry insiders warn that the new ad-blocking feature on Apple's Safari will only accelerate debate over the issue.
Campbell Foster, director of product marketing at Adobe, told Marketing Dive that the issue could even hit video soon. "Interestingly,” Foster noted, “the demographic group that uses ad blockers most frequently is one that’s highly coveted by advertisers: millennials and gen Z."
Foster advised brands to pay more attention to the way they use technology so as to minimize the impact of intrusive ads by delivering them to the right audience at the right time. Ad blocking software draws a line between privacy and revenue, and marketers need to become familiar with this dynamic to navigate the new ecosystem of customer-centric marketing.
While digital advertisers are still sorting out how to deal with ad blocking and privacy issues, the EFF along with Medium, Mixpanel, AdBlock and DuckDuckGo created a new “Do Not Track” setting for browsers to protect web users from unwanted online tracking and targeted ads. Integral Ad Science’s latest quarterly Media Quality Report found ad fraud down almost 3%, but so is viewability — more than 5% actually.
8. Martech adoption surging among marketers, but there is still more opportunity
Martech is a very active segment this year that has seen over 500 acquisitions in the first half of 2015 valued at $18 billion, compared to a little over 200 deals during the same period the year prior. IDC predicts martech spending in 2015 will reach $22.6 billion and will grow to $32.3 billion by 2018, up from $20.2 billion in 2014. Similarly, factors from a rise in real-time data and an evolving buying process are driving the need for greater tech adoption among sales teams. Money is flowing into the sales tech and ad tech sectors, spurring new companies to pop up.
A snapshot of the martech (marketing technology) landscape from Datanyze shows the technology is most popular among B2B marketers. Datanyze found martech usage is up across six categories: marketing automation, email marketing, analytics, tag management, ecommerce and web personalization. But although it is favored by B2B marketers, the top five-fastest growing automation vendors on the Datanyze list all focus on B2C or SMB companies.
Virtual reality is gaining traction in the complex B2B sales process. For those marketers, lower cost display devices could let them use virtual reality to showcase big-ticket items in a 3D environment, giving buyers a chance to virtually "try before you buy" larger purchases.
However, martech may not be all it's cracked up to be. Less than a third (32%) of respondents to Ascend2’s research said martech was improving their performance. Similarly, more than two-thirds reported not having all the martech tools they need, showing there is still more opportunity for martech companies to better meet marketers' needs. Because of this, funding for martech is projected by IDC to only rise over the coming years.
9. Marketers and publishers are zeroing in on the value of programmatic ads
According to eMarketer, programmatic ads are expected to make up over $14 billion of the approximately $58.6 billion total digital advertising spend in 2015. It’s estimated that U.S. video ad spend via programmatic platforms in 2016 will reach $3.84 billion, up from $2.18 billion this year.
The real value of programmatic ads for marketers is they bring vast amounts of data into consideration almost instantly. Brands are the biggest spenders on programmatic, accounting for 70% of total spending per the Index Exchange Quarterly Index Report for the first quarter of 2015.
Another interesting nugget from the report is that digital publishers are shifting more inventory to the private exchange channel, hoping to access premium inventory as well as avoid the threat of fraud. For example, Time Inc. launched programmatic print ads in February and already has expanded target categories from six to 18. Hulu is set to launch a private ad exchange, which will be powered by Facebook’s video ad exchange. "The rise of programmatic is undeniable," Peter Naylor, Hulu's senior VP-advertising, told Ad Age. "And we feel that this is a bit of a watershed for the premium video-on-demand space."
Twitter’s research into its own ad exchange shows the value of using programmatic ad platforms to track relationships with advertisers: Publishers with private marketplaces that acknowledge these connections are growing revenue 93% faster than purely open exchanges.
10. The multi-billion dollar ‘reviewageddon’ has everyone wondering what creative account will be next
As big brands rethink their creative accounts and budgets, reviewageddon — or mediapalooza — has ballooned to represent $26 billion in ad spending under review between big brands and big agencies, according to Morgan Stanley. The unexpectedly steep figure is higher than the last three years of account reviews combined, and includes a number of major brands including Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, Volkswagen and L’Oreal. Maurice Levy, chief executive of Publicis Groupe, attributed the reviews are result of brands looking to cut costs and fees paid to agencies.
The ripple effects are reaching Wall Street, where advertising holding company stocks are down over the last few months. “It’s simply their clients putting pressure on them to deliver," Bloomberg Intelligence media analyst Paul Sweeney explained to Fortune. "And, one of the ways you put pressure on your agency is to put that business up for review to make sure that you’re getting the best deal [and] the best execution out of Madison Avenue.”
Some notable relationships have come into play: In early August, MillerCoors put CoorsLight and several other of its brands under an invitation-only review, ending a three-year relationship with WPP’s Calvary ad shop. Shortly after, Coke selected three WPP agencies to handle its global ad campaigns. Coke also announced that the seven other agencies that did not make the final cut will remain on Coke's roster in some capacity. And after more than two decades of managing the brand and voice of Jack in the Box, the fast food brand cut ties with Dick Sittig in favor of the L.A.-based David&Goliath. Meanwhile, the newly-minted Kraft Heinz Company on Friday announced Starcom as its next U.S. media agency.
It remains to be seen whether all these dollars are really up for grabs — or big brands are using the review process as negotiating leverage.