Opportunities to grow business across the customer lifecycle
There is always a huge interest in digital marketing trends and innovation in marketing around the turn of each year. 2022 will be no different, in fact, it’s particularly true since the pandemic has forced downward pressure on marketing budgets meaning that marketers are looking for new cost-effective techniques. 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.
You can see that these cuts are consistent across sector and we can anticipate these reductions across businesses of all sizes. Consumer brands, financial services companies and healthcare seem to have been less impacted by the pandemic as we would expect.
Digital media spend increases while agency spend decreases
The Gartner research shows CMOs have shifted spending commitments across their channels and programs, with the digital channels that we focus on in this article dominating those priorities and accounting for 72.2% of the total marketing budget. The breakdown of budget across paid, owned and earned digital channels is interesting suggesting 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 (Martech, which we also review in this article) continues to be important, taking up 26.6% of the total budget.
Another significant trend across marketing is the move to in-house resourcing prompted by pressure on budgets. 29% of work previously carried out by agencies has moved in-house in just the last 12-months alone. The focus of in-housing is changing as well – 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 Gartner.
Customer lifecycle opportunities
The best marketers are constantly looking for new digital marketing trends based on the evolution of technology, and platforms, to identify new opportunities that they can tap into... if they're looking in the right place and know the right questions to ask...
I can help here since I’m constantly scanning for the latest developments to help keep our members content up-to-date and to feature the latest techniques in updates to my books.
Each year, towards the end of the year I review the digital marketing trends landscape to help give recommendations on the digital marketing trends marketers should focus on in the future. I like to keep it practical, showing real-world techniques that businesses can apply.
In this 2022 edition marketing trends review, I’ll review the main trends across our RACE customer lifecycle framework which defines 25 practical digital marketing activities relevant to all businesses. This means that you will get ideas from across marketing that can be harnessed by your business.
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70% of the time we're going to focus on things that we know that 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 a true crazy experimental stuff. Trying to figure out how to do uncomfortable things that we're going to fail at more than we will succeed at. But with every success, you build a competitive advantage.
So evaluating innovations can help you push the boundaries, but also improve your digital marketing activities in the second half of 2021.
Truth be told, at a high level, the trends across digital marketing tactics are similar each year - with a lot of interest in search, social and email marketing, and new web design and content marketing techniques to engage and convert our audiences. Traditionally, technology innovations are the drivers of trends in digital marketing including changes in:
Digital platforms: Innovations from the FAMGA businesses of Facebook Inc (FB), Apple Inc (AAPL), Microsoft Corp (MSFT), Google (GOOG) and Amazon.com Inc (AMZN)
Martech vendors: In particular, the big marketing cloud players with the biggest R&D budgets including Salesforce, Oracle, HubSpot, and companies with a larger user base targeting SMEs like Mailchimp
The latest digital marketing trends technology hype cycle
Across all digital platforms and marketing cloud services, the trends are well documented by Gartner in their digital marketing hype cycles which I summarize each year. Here is the latest visual from Gartner of the 2021 digital marketing hype cycle.
From reviewing the latest hype cycle, and from my recommendations on innovations in this post, here are the core marketing themes that I think will be most significant for marketers considering their adoption of digital technology in 2021 and into 2022 and beyond:
Right, let's get to the detailed recommendations on innovations which I have grouped by the RACE customer lifecycle activities to show how new techniques can be applied to marketing activities.
REACH : Increasing awareness through digital marketing medias
Within media, I'll concentrate on changes to search and social media marketing, the two channels that are most important to marketers - although the use of programmatic display advertising continues to increase amongst larger brands.
Recommendation 1. Organic search: Monitor core updates and EAT
“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".
The advisory and the more recent case studies often reference the perennial importance of content quality affecting Expertise, Authority and Trust signals. So anyone serious about competing in search should grab a copy of the latest search quality guidelines to benchmark their content.
In 2021 Google has also continued its ongoing battle against link spam with more guidance and an update in 2021. Check your approach against the guidance.
Recommendation 2. Organic search: Look at opportunities from structured data and the SERPs features.
Experienced SEOs pay close attention to the search engine results pages (SERPs), since Google and Microsoft are always innovating how they appear to help improve their experience and monetise their ads. As marketers, they give us opportunities to engage our audiences better than competitors and attract more visits by increasing clickthroughs – if we follow the latest changes.
For example, in August 2021 Google made this change to page titles which affected the SERPs which is worth reviewing against the impact on your business.
The latest SERPs Features summary from Moz shows where you could focus if you are missing out on visits from some of these features such as Related Questions. These have remained important.
Retailers in particular should also consider changes to semantic markup and structured data.
Recommendation 3. Organic search: Voice search remains hyped but will deliver little for most businesses
Sorry, I have to mention it since we so often still see the dumb recommendation that Voice search is the number one trend businesses must focus on. If you think back, you may remember the often misquoted 2014 prediction that “voice search will by 50% of all searches by 2020”. Well we're in 2020 and it's still being widely touted and of course, smart speaker use has increased dramatically, but the reality is that voice-based searches on mobile and desktop have a minimal impact on the practical execution of SEO for most businesses.
I agree with the views of Cameo Digital who explain the limited impact of voice search when they comment that regardless of whether the uptake for voice search increases, the game stays virtually the same for SEOs. They explain that Voice Search involves using a spoken command to retrieve the information you want from search engines with two types of voice search, each differing in their type of output. Only the first of these, however, is relevant to SEO:
Type 1: When a user chooses to use spoken voice commands as opposed to typing a query into Google. This is treated as a normal web search, the data of which will be collected in Google Search Console, so SEO as normal.
Type 2: When a user chooses to use a spoken voice command in order to receive a spoken answer. This is the case with many smart speakers such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa. These searches are not logged in Google Search Console and have very little relation to SEO.
So, businesses can tap into any voice-based changes in search behaviour by focusing on the fundamentals of SEO such as keyword research, on-page optimization best practices, structured data and creating quality content with high Expertise-Authority-Trust to fit evolving search behaviours, including more conversational queries.
I would add that changes in keyword behaviour prompted by rising local voice queries are important to optimize for if you target local buyers.
Recommendation 4. Paid search: Assess the use of machine learning optimization carefully
Although our research shows that the vast majority of businesses say they don't use machine learning internally, many will use it as an external service since it is a big part of organic and paid search and in particular offers options in Google Ads. . So, this is a major trend to consider if you are not using machine learning options within your paid media so far.
You may have noticed the 'Smart' prefix being attached to more and more Google Services. The aim is to help businesses manage the complexity of ad targeting to increase ROI, while of course protecting Google's ad revenue. Some of these should be treated with caution. For example, Smart Goals in Analytics assesses what a positive marketing outcome is rather than the business specifying it, which is preferable.
Smart campaigns in Google Ads have been introduced to simplify the complex process of managing Google Ads for small businesses. Yet there are large downsides in reduced insight and control over campaigns meaning that small businesses may outgrow this solution.
In 2021, Google continued to make changes to its bidding including this relatively minor update to Smart bidding in Google Ads.
Some see the application of AI as reducing control and they are right to question the ROI. But my view is that businesses should embrace Machine Learning and develop the skills to understand it. For example, Google’s Smart Bidding can help manage bidding across large product inventories on Google Shopping – but we have to question just how smart is Smart Bidding actually? This article from agency Precis introduces some of the mechanisms behind Smart Bidding for Google Shopping and suggests a practical approach to maximizing efficiency for your inventory. This article from White Shark Media gives further examples of the analysis techniques for machine learning that marketers should master rather than simply treating Machine Learning as a black box.
Recommendation 5. Ad optimization testing becomes more sophisticated as ad platforms develop
Using attribution and creative optimization becomes more 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, during Instagram Stories, Reels or within Instant Articles. These Facebook IQ case studies show how more advanced companies are working on ad optimization using Facebook's new ad placement customization to reach their goals.
Paid media investment
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Recommendation 6. Review changing adoption of social networks, especially video social platforms like TikTok and Reels
During the pandemic, social network usage has naturally increased, so changing the relative importance of social networks as a method of generating awareness. As we show in our social media stats updates, Datareportal reports that:
Social media user numbers have surged in the past 12 months too, with 520 million new users joining social media in the year to July 2021.
That equates to annualised growth of 13.1 percent, or an average 16½ new users every single second.
Reviewing social media trends, Global Web Index consider the influence of social media on purchase intent. They note the continuing importance of influencers, particularly in some age groups, reporting 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, their research shows the relative importance of different social networks on purchase. We would expect that Facebook and Instagram would be important, but this report highlights the influence of TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter and Pinterest, suggesting the importance of consumer brands having an effective presence on all of these networks.
Recommendation 7. Review engagement options for messaging platforms
Each of the social networks supports direct and group messaging and of course, there are many dedicated apps such as WhatsApp, Messenger and Snapchat. These are also offering more opportunities to reach audiences.
Recommendation 8. Privacy Wars: Review the implications of increased consumer privacy protection on advertising effectiveness
It seems a long time since GDPR was launched in May 2018 and it has been helpful for enforcing more transparency on privacy with similar laws enacted in US. The latest developments in privacy see a standoff between the bigger players in digital platforms. Chrome has been increasing privacy by promising to stop using third-party cookie tracking ads by 2022 while still protecting its advertising interests by launching FloC to track groups of similar users rather than individuals. FloC entered testing in 2021, but hasn't received a good-level of industry support, so this trend is "one to watch" in the months ahead.
ACT: Increasing digital marketing interactions through digital experiences and content
Recommendation 9. Consider adoption of design systems (most relevant to larger businesses)
Inside Design identifies the trend of an increased focus on design systems which it explains as a "collection of reusable components, guided by clear standards, that can be assembled together to build any number of applications".
The efficiency benefits for businesses to reduce costs and increase conversion through common web design elements, and for users who have less need to learn different interfaces, are clear. But it does beg the question of the difference between a design system and a style guide or pattern library? Well, one consideration is the scope; design systems can be much broader than the web site patterns and style guides as designer Siw Grinaker explains:
"A design system maintains the visual and functional elements of your organisation in one place, in order to fulfill your brand principles through the design, realisation, and development of products and services. It may include a sketch library, style guide, pattern library, organisation principles, best practices, templates, codes, and more".
Recommendation 10: Ensure visual designs fit the zeitgeist?
Across all communications channels, first impressions are important, so trends in visual and graphic design can have an effect in developing preference for a brand. Certainly, we can all call out a dated web design consciously or sub-consciously.
Often, articles on web design trends are based on web designer or agency sites pushing the boundaries using new design technologies - and while these approaches may go on to inform brand and company sites, more typically they don't. So we have to consider visual design trends across the most popular sites which our audience is familiar with to see whether a site. Venngage catalogues these web-graphic design trends that are likely to continue into 2021:
Recommendation 11. Consider innovations in interaction design and video to boost conversion
UX design have this great summary, with examples, of what they see as the latest interaction design trends which we can see continuing into 2021. My pick of interactive design techniques for marketers to be aware of include:
Micro-interactions: Interactions beyond simple clicks on static links to other pages that update content.
Animated illustrations: Also delivered through email.
New skeuomorphism” or Neumorphism: Design elements that are created in a realistic style/way to match the real life object.
3D graphics for mobile and web UI
Virtual and augmented reality: Apple has been driving innovation for iOS users with its ARKit now at version 4.
Asymmetric layouts: For many years symmetry has been enforced through grid design and mobile responsive web design, so asymmetry is distinctive.
Visual storytelling: Showing a useful blurring of marketer and brand teams with design teams.
Recommendation 12. Evolve content marketing management approach to better align content strategy with customers
The Content Marketing Institute is a great reference source for understanding trends in the management of content marketing thanks to its annual surveys that cover B2B, B2C and verticals within these like manufacturing.
One finding in the latest content marketing management research is that there is a lack of customer focus within content marketing. The research shows that the majority of content is currently prompted by projects / campaigns despite the importance of always-on interactions to create and generate leads through top-of-funnel content and then nurture through bottom and middle-of-funnel content.
However, the trend is to more persona and journey focused content. You can optimize your digital marketing strategy using the personal modules and resources in our Digital Experience learning path for Business Members.
Part of the Digital experience management Toolkit
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Recommendation 13. The growth of influencer digital marketing continues, but with more targeted use of influencers
For several years now there has been an increased focus on influencer marketing as organic opportunities for content distribution via search and social media has declined. Plus influencer marketing offers the potential of increased audience engagement and the power of endorsements and recommendations which we know are one of the main reasons for purchase.
Analyst Altimeter highlighted this trend in their report The Power of Influence where they recommended that brands spend 25 percent of digital marketing budgets on influencer marketing, which they estimated would reach $10 billion by 2020, a 5X increase.
With more focus on performance and ROI, influencer marketing tools will continue to evolve with a move away from unrepresentative Twitter follower based measures. For example, Onalytica have recently announced that they will blend B2B future influencer lists based on the Twitter API with traditional influencers who could include:
Brands and publications
I think this is long overdue since a focus on celebrity and micro-influencers alone misses the opportunities to form long-term relationships with the other types who are often more influential!
Part of the Content marketing Toolkit
Learn how to improve your process of influencer relationship management
CONVERT: Increasing conversion to sales through online and offline channels
Recommendation 14. Consider your use of structured always-on optimization
The options for testing are one of the biggest strengths of digital marketing, yet there are still many businesses that don't take advantage of these opportunities. From our free Digital Marketing Optimization 2020 report we see that around one-third of businesses have no or limited testing while only around one fifth have a continuous, structured programme.
Recommendation 15. Review the use of conversational digital marketing trends and communications styles to increase conversion
When discussing the Gartner hype cycle I noted the importance of conversational marketing. This is sometimes perceived narrowly as chatbots which have their place, but have not proved popular with end-users because generally, the AI is not intelligent enough and human-assisted chat and sales support has proved more practical in practice. In B2B categories, the growth of conversational marketing and sales (or revenue acceleration) platforms such as Drift, Intercom and Lyft looks set to continue.
Prompting micro-interactions doesn't require a full chat-like conversation, it can be a simple dialogue based on an onboarding interaction like this from Grammarly which is aimed at segmenting customer journeys, a similar approach is used on the Smart Insights home page for 3 use cases for using our platform.
Recommendation 16. Dark patterns: Consider the ethical and legal ramifications
Dark Design Patterns emerged from the growth hacking mindset where CRO teams have targets to increase conversion and guardians of the brand aren't sufficiently involved. With many of the obvious wins from CRO achieved, there may be more tests that involve obfuscation, but this reflects poorly on the brand and with more specific privacy or distance selling laws catching up with these practices.
It might be thought that dark patterns are limited to smaller ‘get rich quick’ schemes, but they also offer big advantages to large brands who test techniques. Econsultancy gives these recent examples of large brands using Dark Patterns including: Airbnb excluding additional amounts, including cleaning fees and Airbnb’s service fee and Amazon prompting new customers who check out with a default order qualifying for free shipping.
It's ironic, but a recognition of the problem that Tim Allen VP, Design at Airbnb suggests that Brands should champion inclusion. He says: "Designers, business leaders, and engineers will continue to embrace inclusivity and the need for brands to reflect a rich diversity of perspectives. This will lead to increased advocacy for human interests in technology; a more intentional integration of ethics, equity, and justice into design decision-making; and the dismantling of sustained bias within algorithms, products, and services".
Recommendation 17. Review the sophistication of your website personalization
According to a SmarterHQ, 72% of consumers say they now only engage with marketing messages that personalized and tailored to their interests.
Despite this, the same report also reveals that 86% of consumers are concerned about their data privacy. Of these, Baby Boomers and Gen X are the least trusting consumers, with Millennials and Gen Z being around 47% more trusting than their older counterparts.
80% of self-classified frequent shoppers will only shop with brands who personalize their experience. So, it becomes important to explain the value proposition of data collection to reassure consumers about privacy and understand what is valued most.
Beyond retail and transactional e-commerce, use of personalization for recommended content remains surprisingly low, but this will increase as platform providers make it easier. For example, HubSpot's Smart Content criteria to personalize web pages and email, but many people use WordPress for their CMS like us which doesn't have plugins to support this. This is the case with Smart Insights, so we use rules-based personalization instead, but it's time-consuming.
Part of the Digital marketing strategy and planning Toolkit
Learn about the principles and best practices for setting up a simple AB test and a broader CRO programme
ENGAGE : Improve customer communications to increase loyalty and advocacy
Recommendation 19. Increase use of techniques to understand and improve customer journey effectiveness
Our Digital Marketing Optimization research shows the popularity of AB testing to support conversion, but techniques for assessing voice of the customer are relatively rarely used.
Recommendation 20. Review the relevance of micro-communities
Referring to communities of designers, UX Design give an assessment of online communities that many marketers will be able to relate to:
"The promise of large online communities where designers can talk freely and learn from one another has not panned out... The reality of online communities is quite different from what they initially seem to promise.
Groups with thousands of designers either become inactive once members realize they have little in common, or remain active but end up devolving into an endless stream of self-promotion and content marketing pieces.
Discussion threads on Reddit or DesignerNews don't delve deep enough into a topic because they are held back by miscommunications between participants. Design Twitter slowly becomes a shallow stream of polarizing, angry, and loud voices.
Instead, micro-communities are on the rise. Pick one or two trusted colleagues, select a few mentors outside of your bubble, and build your own sounding board if you are looking to have more honest and in-depth conversations".
Recommendation 21. Assess relevance of community insights platforms
For brands, support communities are only relevant for some sectors such as telecoms, so the trend I see in larger brands is gaining customer insights by developing a consumer insight panel supported by platforms like Qualtrics or Vision Critical - see these examples of customer engagement plans.
Recommendation 22. Improving email personalization through lifecycle and behavioural segmentation
Our email marketing lifecycle targeting infographic shows the fantastic potential for using personalized email marketing to deliver more relevant communications through the customer lifecycle.
Reviewing case studies of how businesses are using email marketing automation shows signs of more sophisticated techniques, but if I'm honest these automated techniques like welcome sequences and basket abandons have been possible for over 15 years, so I can't get too excited about them, it sometimes seems as if just the labels have changed... We now talk about 'lifecycle email marketing' and sales cadences within B2B nurturing. These do highlight the trend to increased integration between channels though and email marketing to prospects and customers is now treated as a channel that is better integrated with web, social, display ads and personal ads.
However, these techniques are exciting for the businesses and marketers involved if they are novel and should result in improvements in engagement and sales. This lifecycle email marketing case study of Nike in Hong Kong caught my eye. Automation of 10 new lifecycle campaigns and improved relevance and targeting increased website visits by +32.5% and automation revenue by 110% (abandoned basket campaigns were already in use). Lifecycle segmentation included categories like purchase lifecycle groups, first-time buyers, inactive, and defecting customers.
Recommendation 23. Applying Big Data analysis and machine learning to improve customer email targeting and website personalization
More novel is the use of these techniques, which weren't practical 10 years ago. Previously, many email marketing systems were limited to reporting on individual newsletter and campaign email broadcasts. These are still the 'bread and butter' of email marketing for many marketers. However, a more sophisticated approach (which I have been recommending for over 15 years for more advanced email marketers) is to consider lifecycle engagement reporting and targeting based on this. Predictive analytics can be used to identify:
Best send times to engage an individual (can be based when they originally bought or subscribed, but this can be refined through time)
Best timing and offer for follow-up communications based on analysis of latency (average interval of response)
Best product or category combinations from cluster-based segmentation
Understand principles of machine learning and AI
Part of the Email marketing and marketing automation Toolkit
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Recommendation 24. Using machine learning to create more engaging communications
In addition to these targeting techniques, machine learning has a role to play by boosting relevance and speaking in a more personal tone. Persado is an interesting tech here.
Persado uses a copy impact classification applied to existing copy, which is used to tailor copy and calls-to-action on an individual basis.
For example, using Persado Natural Language Generation to run an experiment, Air Canada sparked a higher response using Anxiety language getting a 3% engagement lift, compared to a 5% drop using Exclusivity language, and a 3% drop using Safety language.
Another example of AI application is nutrition and wellness retailer Holland & Barrett using AI to provide better-targeted emails. This Machine Learning approach from Tinyclues goes beyond optimizing copy using a tool like Persado, instead, it also involves targeting based on the behaviour of individuals to create more micro-targeted campaigns.
Speaking at a session I chaired at the Email Innovation Summit, Richard Lallo, Head of Digital Marketing, described what he calls ‘strategic promotions and mono-product pushes’ in a campaign. The business was able to drive campaign revenue and increase re-purchase rate while sending emails. Campaign revenue increased by 27%, open rates increased by 19%, while email send volume decreased by 23%, which also gives cost savings.
Plan: Creating a strategy to drive improvements
Recommendation 25. Put a plan in place to support digital marketing transformation
Our managing digital marketing research revealed many challenges in terms of how digital marketing is run in companies today. Problems included 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.
To counter these types of problems and to make the most of the opportunities for growing a business through digital marketing trends, many businesses are now putting a digital transformation programme in place.
The aim of digital transformation is to develop a roadmap to improve digital capabilities and skills, while at the same time, integrating ‘always-on’ digital marketing activities with brand and product marketing in the business.
This chart from the research shows that many businesses are active in transformation to try to achieve this aim through the success factors covered in this briefing.
To review your digital readiness, either for integrated digital marketing or individual channels, download our free digital marketing benchmark templates or take our interactive capability graders. These templates will give you a quick review for digital marketing governance and the key channels like search, social, email marketing plus analytics, content marketing and digital experience.
Digital marketing trends in 2021 and beyond
All the best for grasping the opportunities from digital marketing trends in 2021 and beyond! I'll continue to cover the innovations through the year via my LinkedIn profile, so do connect if you'd like these insights or to ask me any questions.
If you're looking to rapidly implement one or some of the digital marketing trends covered in this blog, don't forget to ensure you have an integrated digital marketing plan in place, so you can reap the rewards of the latest digital marketing trends across your customer lifecycle.
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Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of online marketing training platform and publisher Smart Insights.
Dave is editor of the 100+ templates, ebooks and courses in the digital marketing resource library created by our team of 25+ digital marketing experts. Our resources are used by our Premium members in more than 100 countries to Plan, Manage and Optimize their digital marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here.
Dave is a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice.
My personal site, DaveChaffey.com, lists my latest Digital marketing and E-commerce books and support materials including a digital marketing glossary.
In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing.
Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.