A Look at Some Current Digital Marketing Trends
It’s often said that change is a constant, and nowhere is that truer than in the realm of digital marketing. Over the years, not only have we seen commonly accepted “best practices” remain in a near continual state of flux, but entire once-vital platforms have fallen by the wayside. Many of us still remember when MySpace was king of the social media hill and Facebook, created only a half year later and fueled by a more user-friendly interface, would go on to eat its digital lunch.
Similarly, it wasn’t all that long ago that Instagram marketing was mostly the province of small, modestly-funded businesses. Until five years ago, the platform didn’t even accept advertising and it would be two years after that that Coca-Cola shook things up by targeting Instagram users based on the images they liked on Instagram and shared on Facebook.
Because change is so prevalent in digital marketing, it’s hard to predict what the landscape might look like well into the future, so instead let’s take a look at some of the current trends in digital marketing that are already exerting their influence over the behavior of content producers and their audiences.
Google Analytics (aka Universal Analytics) is Giving Way to GA4
In most respects, this comes as absolutely no surprise. When Google introduced GA4 in October of 2020, the company came right out and labeled it “the future of analytics” right off the bat and made it the default setting when its users first began the process of setting up their accounts. After all, Universal (Google) Analytics has been the dominant analytics platform since its introduction in 2005 — when Google first acquired it — so such a transition would be expected.
UA had seen some upgrades during that time and, of course, you couldn’t beat its price — the vast majority of its users have always opted for its free version, as the top-tier GA360 offers substantially greater capabilities but also comes with a hefty price tag that’s out of reach for most individuals and small businesses.
Nonetheless, many accomplished analytics professionals saw no pressing need to migrate from UA to GA4. True, GA4 offered a number of decided advantages upon its release — it can monitor and provide analytical data for both websites and apps and display its findings in one place, whereas its predecessor can only be used to monitor websites, for example.
Also, with GA4’s emphasis on machine learning, a subfield of artificial intelligence, it has predictive abilities that were beyond the capabilities of UA, so it can point out anomalies in its findings and can more closely track the customer journey.
GA4 lent itself to customization from the time it debuted, but this was seen by some as a mixed bag. Sure, there were plenty of analytics experts who appreciated the ability to tweak the platform to their liking, but others felt that UA handled their needs just as it was configured and felt that a change was unnecessary.
Like it or not, that change is coming. Google recently announced that Universal Analytics will be shelved and, as of July of 2023, it won’t be processing any more website activity.
If you’re set on continuing to use UA until its demise, it’s best to start running both UA and GA4 side by side, so that you’ll have plenty of data to analyze once the transition takes place.
The Continuing Decline of Organic Reach
Many marketers still remember the days when they could put out a well-crafted, compelling organic post for their Facebook audience, then sit back and refresh their screen as the platform would deliver it to an ever-increasing number of users. Because of this very substantial reach, organic posts often had a substantial impact on fostering audience behavior — so much so that many businesses saw paid Facebook advertising as an unnecessary luxury, despite its relatively modest cost.
Those days are long gone. According to HootSuite, the popular social media management platform, as of late 2021, the average reach of an organic post on a Facebook page had dwindled to a mere 5.20% overall. For businesses, it’s even lower than that. Think about that for a moment — even for a page boasting a healthy 10,000 fans, only a little over 500 will have the chance to see a given post. And that’s the best-case scenario.
The organic reach figures are only slightly higher for business-oriented LinkedIn and visual-centric Instagram.
Of course, some of this decline was inevitable. With the ever-increasing amount of content being put out, regardless of the platform, a given feed would have to be nearly endless to accommodate the uptick in content. Despite their varying emphasis, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and most other players are, at their essence, social media, so there’s an inherent logic in de-emphasizing the reach of organic business posts so that users can see more content from friends, colleagues and family.
The most obvious antidote for this decline would be to augment organic efforts with paid advertising. Social media advertising doesn’t come at the bargain basement rates it once did, as the entrance of big brands into the arena has driven up prices, but properly targeted advertising can still be very cost-effective.
For those not planning on hopping aboard the “pay to play” express, fostering maximal user engagement is the most effective pathway to maximizing organic reach. The brands that continue to do well in this respect put in the time and effort to make sure that their organic posts are something that a wide swath of audience would WANT in their feed. They keep things conversational, focused on the user and steer clear of hard sell tactics.
And even though it’s likely to yield only modest incremental results, paying more attention to when an audience is online and scheduling organic posts accordingly — by monitoring Facebook Page Insights, as well as the other relevant platform monitoring dashboards — makes more sense now than ever.
Digital marketing expert Neil Patel also recommends paying close attention to what content performs best, noting patterns of successful topics, length and format, then shaping future efforts along those lines.
The Continued Evolution of SEO . . . Thankfully
Pore through much of the content on Pinterest, as well as many blogs, and you’ll still see the vestiges of the common SEO practices of yesteryear. Keywords that are repeated with such frequency that it seems they’re being uttered by Dustin Hoffman’s “Rainman” character in what was once an effective SEO-gaming strategy — keyword stuffing. It may have been the panacea for many content creators, but it was also the bane of many written content consumers, who would happen upon what they thought to be an authentically helpful article only to find near gibberish along the lines of the following . . .
“The best thing about these outdoor cotton couch cushions is that they’re very durable outdoor cotton couch cushions and are also among the most inexpensive outdoor cotton couch cushions.”
Pretty off-putting. Thankfully, as Google has continued to evolve over the years, it’s been better able to detect overt keyword stuffing efforts and minimize their benefits on relevant search results. In its place is a greater emphasis on the user experience.
As a result, content that is crawled by Google and found to be authentic and helpful, while featuring links to reputable sources where applicable, gets pushed higher up the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Creating content merely for the purpose of putting more content out into the ether makes no sense. On the other hand, designing and executing a content strategy that’s centered on producing benefit-laden, informative and helpful content can still yield substantial results.
The Evolution of Social Media Influencer Marketing
We’ll call it a maturation and hope it doesn’t backslide.
Social media influencer marketing is, without a doubt, the most parodied of all marketing initiatives and it also evokes some strong emotions. It’s a non-starter for many brands, rife with perceptions of self-important, self-professed social media personalities who habitually over-estimate their impact on a company’s bottom line — intentionally or otherwise.
While the two are now inextricably linked, influencer marketing predates social media by literal centuries. Many cite luxury pottery maker Josiah Wedgwood as the first practitioner of influencer marketing, when he designed, crafted, and then gave away a tea set to Queen Charlotte of England in 1760. Naturally, the Queen moved in exclusive circles, and Wedgewood was convinced that garnering “royalty-approved” status for his work would position it above his competitors.
Social media influencer marketing has been damaged by several major trust crises, but it has cleaned up its collective act quite a bit in recent years. It can still be sketchy territory if the right precautions aren’t taken, as there are plenty of remnants from the past in the form of influencers claiming artificially-inflated audiences that were obtained via bots and not a sincere appreciate of the influencer’s content.
To combat this, those brands seeking to partner with influencers must perform thorough due diligence. A low follower-to-engagement should be a flashing red light to warn of an audience that not only will be disengaged but was also likely amassed through less than honest means. Seeking out influencers that are a close fit for the brand is also vitally important — an influencer’s huge audience does no one any good if its members aren’t prospective buyers.
When done right, social media influencer marketing can yield substantial benefits. For example, when Dunkin Donuts, already a very established and mature brand, partnered with Charli D’Amelio, TikTok’s #1 most followed content creator, the resulting viral campaign led to a 57% increase in Dunkin Donut’s app downloads on the campaign launch day alone, as well as a 45% increase in cold brew coffee sales the next day.
The Increasing Prevalence of Artificial Intelligence in Digital Marketing
It’s been an important part of email automation for a while now, and of course it’s what gives advertising platforms like Facebook and Google their substantial predictive abilities, but now artificial intelligence is making its way into what have been historically viewed as creative endeavors, such as content creation. One of the most high-profile examples of this trend has been the ascendancy of Jarvis AI, a copywriting tool that appears to be far more advanced than any of its predecessors. Getting its name (we would surmise, anyway) from a fictional character in the Marvel Universe film franchise, Jarvis AI has garnered strong positive reviews for its ability to create SEO-effective content and advertising copy, as well as the effective repurposing of previously generated content.
The rapidly increasing investment that’s being poured into AI on the whole is a testimony to the expectedly prominent place it will have in the future of digital marketing. A recent PWC survey indicated that companies began to place bigger bets on AI right about the time when the COVID pandemic started to exert its influence on consumer behavior and this spend-fest shows no signs of letting up.
The ever-increasing popularity of programmatic advertising is another vestige of AI’s rise. Replacing most of the human element with software, programmatic advertising employs AI to optimize results for both advertisers and publishers (those selling ad space). For advertisers, AI offers the ability to schedule their creative elements to be seen at just the right time and to a precisely segmented audience to bring enhanced efficiency, while for publishers, the intrinsically auction-based nature of programmatic advertising is powered by AI to ensure that available inventory goes to the highest bidder.
Worldwide, programmatic ad spending has reached $130 billion a year, with most of that investment coming from the U.S.
Buyers Expect an Increasingly More Personalized Experience
Some of the previous examples of attempting to meet this expectation now seem downright primitive. Chatbots were once tasked primarily with giving the impression that a helpful cyber-being was standing by and ready to help website visitors through a series of scripted answers. Many of these answers were delivered in an almost non-sensical fashion due to improper configuration, as has been the case with countless Facebook autoresponders.
Chatbots are evolving rapidly. Once reliant on a rules-based paradigm that required an often-frustrating series of questions to be posed to prospective customers, some are employing AI to provide appropriate and even nuanced answers. PayPal recently took this technology even further, adding in elements of neuro-linguistic programming to equip its bots with the ability to identify user intent and even gauge customer mood.
The demise of email marketing has been predicted for quite a while, but it isn’t going anywhere. In some ways, it has become even more effective — especially in its optimized form. This includes an emphasis on proper segmentation that may begin even before a subscriber is on board, via pop-ups and landing pages that employ based on previously gathered information.
This expected higher level of personalization includes video content. Companies are now increasingly able to deliver helpful video content to prospects and current customers alike based on where they happen to be in the marketing funnel.
This trend brings about the need for an increased focus on customer avatars, delivering content and advertising based on their traits, and continually testing individual variables through properly organized ad sets.
Video Continues to be a Bigger and More Influential Medium
This is a trend that has been in place for a while, but it shows no signs of ending anytime soon. YouTube’s position as the #2 search engine — behind Google — appears solid for the near future, despite having recently missed analyst projections for advertising revenue. Some of that miss is likely due to a previous rate of unsustainable growth — YouTube enjoyed an unbelievable 46% uptick in advertising revenue when you compare the entirety of 2021 to the year before.
Another factor for YouTube’s recent slowdown has to be attributed to the ascendancy of other video platform alternatives — most specifically TikTok, which is projected to take in just under $6 billion in 2022 ad revenue itself, a year over year jump of 184%.
It’s been clear for quite a while that people are gravitating toward video content for both entertainment and instruction alike. YouTube’s own evolution as a bona fide purveyor of full-length news and live sports content via YouTube TV is further evidence of this trend.
The accelerating popularity of video content has made it a more essential part of the marketing mix for companies of all sizes. Whereas it wasn’t long ago that company FAQs were mostly in written form, many companies have started creating an array of “How To” and “Explainer” videos to make their prospective and current customers more comfortable with their products and services.
This doesn’t necessarily represent a barrier for more modestly funded businesses. While video content with amateurish editing and poor production values is rarely effective, an overly slick approach can be detrimental as well — many companies that go down this road get roasted in the Viewer Reply sections. Nor is the production of lengthy video content a necessity. The appropriate length of effective video content actually varies depending on the platform it’s delivered on — the best performing videos on TikTok averaged 47 seconds as of late 2021, while on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube those averages were 1:20, 4:17 and 4:11 respectively.
We’re curious . . . what trends in digital marketing are you most affected by and how are you responding to them? We’d love to hear from you.