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Paid search and digital advertising continue to be hit or miss for brands targeting growth and increased brand awareness due to an inability to fully leverage audience data and meet volume targets, a new study by Marin Software has found.

The State of Digital Advertising 2019 is an all-encompassing study of how B2B and B2C marketers are dealing with their quests to address challenges and take advantage of new opportunities now that six months of the year are over. The study canvassed 450 marketers in the US and the UK for their views on a variety of topics.

Paid methods are often used to complement organic content marketing to amplify reach and engagement, but the study found that brands face “constant challenges” due to the growing threat of data privacy and the need to use analytics effectively to target the right consumers at the right time.

Paid search remains the most popular digital ad channel, as it commands more than a third of total budgets on average. However, paid advertising in social media is on the rise, and activities on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms now make up 18% of budgets, putting it in second place overall, just ahead of display ads (16%).

It is perhaps no surprise to see brands increasing their ad spends on Instagram due to the photo and video-sharing service’s growing popularity, especially with younger generations, but the study found that Facebook is not losing ground. More than two-thirds said that their advertising spends on Instagram will come via incremental budgeting as opposed to pivoting away from Facebook entirely.

Amazon is also making waves in the ad industry, and 60% of respondents said they plan to increase their investment in the e-commerce platform during the next 12 months. More than half view Amazon as a primary growth opportunity, and around 25% want to use it to drive more purchases at the bottom of the sales funnel.

However, it’s not all good news for Amazon, as 23% believe its reporting tools are not as sophisticated as those on Google and Facebook, which is a problem in today’s world of tracking metrics to determine ROI. Three in ten also say they have not yet got to grips with the ad environment on Amazon.

Google remains the most trusted published overall with an impressive score of 4.5 out of 5 on the trust index, and all but 2% of respondents rated the search giant as either 4 or 5. Many are also looking forward to using Google’s updated Search Ads format to improve their paid search campaigns.

“This year’s report shows a shift in advertising spend as marketers explore alternative channels and emerging ad formats,” Marin Software’s SVP of Marketing, Wes MacLaggan, said in a statement.

He added: “The digital advertising landscape continues to evolve, with advertisers struggling to close the skills gap as publishers innovate. At Marin, we’re seeing a greater emphasis on video and new ad formats like Responsive Search Ads and Shoppable Images to gain mindshare and drive growth. The eCommerce landscape is a hotbed of innovation, presenting retail brands with many opportunities and some challenges to navigate.”


Four out of five brands are now confident that their digital marketing efforts are working, according to a new survey from B2B research enterprise Clutch. The belief is driven, in part, by the growing desire among consumers to read, watch and view content on their smartphones.

83% of businesses say they are effectively achieving their goals through digital marketing. The connected device revolution has been crucial in this growing confidence, as brands say it has given them more of a direct line of communication, making it easier to engage with audiences regularly compared to traditional marketing and ads.

“That number is high because digital marketing is where customers are,” said Flynn Zaiger, CEO of digital marketing agency Online Optimism. “Walking down the street, people aren’t looking at billboards or checking newspapers – they’re staring at their phones.”

It is no surprise that social media is the most popular form of digital marketing, as this allows brands to get in touch with millions of people across various platforms every day. Websites are the second most popular, ahead of email, which still takes a prominent role in the marketing mix.

More than half say content marketing will be a top channel in 2018, and a similar number said the same for mobile apps and display and banner ads. Respondents believe content and other digital channels are an excellent outlet for pushing evolving brand stories and messages, something other mediums struggle to support.

“People are responsive when you have the ability to tell your brand story, whether it’s on social media, your website, or email,” Jeremy Greenberg, founder of web design agency 97 Switch, said. “With other mediums, there’s not as much ability to tell your story.”

While content and social media reign supreme, SEO is falling out of favour among brands, as they believe it requires too much effort to get right. This appears to be a major blind spot for marketers, as a failure to invest in SEO can make it more difficult to drive maximum ROI from digital channels and corporate websites.

“Businesses have a harder time with SEO,” Jon Borg Breen, co-founder of B2B agency Symbiont Group said. “It’s not as immediately impactful as having a brand-new design on your website that people can say, ‘Wow, that looks cool.'” Experts still state that SEO is an essential component in the marketing mix and that while it may not deliver immediate returns, it will elevate channels in the long term.

Finally, when asked why they continue to invest in digital marketing, almost a third said it was primarily used to drive profits. Many brands still use digital content to push consumers along the sales cycle more effectively. However, the survey also found that small to medium-sized enterprises are leveraging digital marketing to improve brand awareness, while large organisations use it to stand out from competitors.

Online Optimism CEO Flynn Zaiger added: “Using your digital marketing to help differentiate yourself will get you more leads and increase your close rate, an essential growth strategy for larger companies.”


A new study by Walker Sands Communications has found that marketers are struggling to keep pace with ongoing advances in technology, as just 28% believe they can leverage its full potential in strategies and content campaigns.

The study, titled Maximizing the Value of Martech Innovations, takes an in-depth look at the role of tech in marketing and attempts to determine whether brands are keeping pace with the ever-quickening march of new innovations and changes. The major takeaway is that it continues to be a major challenge.

While tech is a source of frustration, marketers are not shying away from investment, as 65% said they will spend more on martech during the next 12 months, while only 5% expected their budgets in this area to contract during that time. Three in ten say their budgets will remain steady.

Content marketing continues to be one of the most popular tech outlets for brands as 48% said news, blogs, videos and other creative resources were at the core of their martech solutions. Email marketing was also popular, while CRM and analytics are quickly gaining ground.

Making better use of data to inform content decisions has been a key trend this year, so it is no surprise that marketers are turning to AI, automation and machine learning to improve strategies. There is less experimentation in email marketing, where best-of-breed solutions appear to be slightly less important.

The move to AI implementation has started, but it is not widespread just yet. Just 11% believe they are fully capable of leveraging AI and machine learning, but a similar number are part of the way there, with an additional 17% only just getting these digital-focused initiatives off the ground.

The Internet of Things (IoT) and the growing variety of connected devices have been more of a focus for marketers with 26% revealing they have implemented IoT effectively. All the tech links in some way to data, and this will continue to be an important area for brands moving forward.

Top marketers from a selection of the world’s biggest brands, including Coca-Cola and Lazada, recently met up to discuss the critical role that data is now playing in making smart decisions and the need to track and analyse metrics to support brand safety and a wider transparent media landscape.

Digital-savvy marketers are better placed to make use of data to power decisions, but many of those present admitted that there are additional hurdles that are preventing brands from maximising their return on investment. Relevant topics, such as ad fraud and viewability errors, were discussed.

Meanwhile, Fonterra’s director of creative and media, Graham Woodall, said brands that have yet to truly embrace digital transformation schemes may be able to use this hesitancy to their advantage, as they will be able to approach new tech in a better way.

He said: “We’re at quite an early stage when it comes to doing anything interesting with digital. I look at that as a real positive in a funny way. Yes, it is sad that we are years behind a lot of the other contemporary brands, but the good news is that you can actually look at what’s out there and decide what you want to be. I think that’s a real advantage.”


Brands in the travel and hospitality industry are turning to content marketing to deliver more personalised messages to audiences, according to new research by digital enterprises MailCharts, Liveclicker, SmarterHQ and Cheetah Digital.

The study, titled “Marketers Are on a Mission: The State of B2C Marketing,” takes an in-depth look at the various marketing activities that brands in the travel industry are leveraging to connect and engage with customers. There is currently a laser focus on content, as it allows brands to deliver higher-quality ads and messages compared to “mass marketing” methods, such as email.

Almost three-quarters of millennials are frustrated at the number of “irrelevant” emails they receive each day, so it is perhaps no surprise that brands are looking to use more engaging and innovative forms of communication to appeal to both young and older audiences. In fact, two-thirds of B2C marketers in travel are now aiming to provide personalised messages rather than a one-size-fits-all message.

“While ‘personalization’ has been a buzzword with marketers for years, it’s clear that brands have yet to master tailored messaging; as consumers are growing increasingly frustrated by generic communications that don’t align to their specific tastes, interests, or behaviors,” SmarterHQ CEO Michael Osborne said.

Data has been a headline topic in recent months with the arrival of GDPR, and travel brands are eager to make use of the growing mass of information they collect to serve up better content to people across the web. More than half of the respondents said personalisation was a priority; however critically, the report noted that brands still must get better at using data to support their marketing objectives.

“When it comes to personalization, data is paramount,” Cheetah Digital’s executive vice president for global marketing, Judd Marcello said. “Customer data is typically underused or used inefficiently. It tells brands, especially retailers, so much about where they can improve or what their customers want, and they can use that data to make a big impact on their business.”

There are now a variety of digital touchpoints available for brands to engage with audiences. In fact, almost one-fifth of marketers are planning to spend more to improve their multi-channel content output, with social media and mobile apps among the most popular platforms. Marketers are also investing more in running ads across a variety of channels rather than opting for a single channel approach.

While customers often see email marketing as a nuisance, 54% of the brands surveyed said it still delivers the best return on investment overall. The technology has been in place for some time now, making it a cost-effective and consistent means for getting in touch with customers. Behavioural emails will take centre stage in the future, with 30% of the brands planning to spend more in this area, which again shows the need to make better use of big data and analytics. Around 30% of the brands are also turning to cutting-edge technology, such as artificial intelligence, to improve their marketing methods.


In 2017, agencies and brands alike began to see the importance of digital marketing in targeting and connecting with niche audiences, the IAB Digital Video Centre of Excellence says. This was particularly evident with video ads. The results of the March 2018 survey of 353 media buyers and brand marketers conducted by Advertiser Perceptions indicated that 23% of video advertising budgets in many businesses are set aside specifically for ads on social media sites. IAB revealed the results of the survey in April, with 50% of all respondents claiming they intend to spend even more money on video ads over the course of the next 12 months.

Social media advertising spending

Ads on social media often incorporate video content in the form of advertisements on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Professional guidance can help these video ads to increase their click-through, conversion and customer acquisition rates. A third-to-a-half of a company’s advertising spending should be spent initially on content that allows scaling, according to Chamber Media’s Travis Chambers. As the advertising spending grows, content will need refreshing every quarter for a couple of reasons.

One reason is that content will become less effective as the audience watches that content multiply over time, and another is that social algorithms are aware of this and that content’s reach will also begin to decrease if there is not enough new content being uploaded. However, evergreen content can be served to new audiences continually and still retain its effectiveness. For high-converting mobile video, the most effective format is to have a hook within the first couple of seconds that will keep the viewer interested. Make sure both the problem and its solution are referenced very early, and then use humour, strong calls to action to entice a purchase, with press references and testimonials included to enhance credibility.


With social media videos, many advertisers have rather polarised strategies, either being of a more traditional mindset and expecting to get results with a focus on brand awareness or more focused on e-commerce and immediate sales, often at the brand’s expense. These mindsets are correct together but not independently. Both avenues are required to achieve success, with several brands making huge top-funnel video adverts for social media but lacking any plan to ensure the customer stays engaged afterwards. Once the high funnel video has been served, it should be followed up to the same consumers with mid-to-low-funnel content that gives credibility, offers reminders and creates a sense of urgency, such as offers, origin stories and product demonstrations.

Mistakes to avoid

One easily avoidable but common mistake in regard to social media buying is viewing numbers in a vacuum, with many marketers examining ad platforms individually rather than as a whole. This mistake can result in a misinterpretation of failure when the opposite is true. A holistic mindset is vital when judging the effectiveness of campaigns. Another common mistake is using lower-paid junior ad buyers with limited experience, which rarely works out. It is far better to invest more in elite advertising buying talent, which over time can end up being worth millions.


According to a new study of the industry released by the news site, most large brands are now publishing at least one piece of content marketing material every day and are investing a significant amount of resources and time to drive a better return on investment.

Content marketing has been a focal point for some brands for more than a decade, but the study suggests there has been a laser focus on the practice during the last two years. In 2016, just over one-third of digital marketers said it was important to allocate resources to the strategy, but this number has since soared to 53%. When next year rolls around, the figure is likely to be even higher.

Brands are now recognising how the right content marketing formats can make a difference to engagement levels. Therefore, marketers are increasing their publication rates significantly, with 51% saying they now push out videos, blogs, editorial articles, infographics and other resources every day. It appears that it is no longer an either-or situation for brands in terms of quantity and quality.

“Even ten years ago, content marketing was seen as a new buzzword,” said Lauren Fairbanks, CEO of S&G Content Marketing. “But over the last few years, it’s really moved into the marketing mainstream. Marketers know that content marketing is essential in reaching consumers in a very organic way.”

Thus, content is king, and more brand managers are eager to ascend the throne with targeted and relevant pieces that can strongly drive positive actions. The desire to think big is more evident at larger organisations, as 62% of enterprises with more than 5,000 employees said a new form of content is published every 24 hours.

The report said that this frequent schedule is now considered as the “gold standard” in the industry but admitted that keeping up with the pace may be challenging for an SME. A marketing agency is an excellent resource for anyone struggling, as the knowledge, expertise and general infrastructure offered by a third party can support higher quality creativity and busy schedules.

Video has emerged as the de facto content option for many during the last two years due to the rise of social media, but the written word shows no signs of losing out in relevance. A sizeable 69% of organisations said blog posts were their most popular content type, which suggests these are still desirable outlets for thought-leadership pieces and high-quality editorial content, while 72% said they prefer to use video.

As always, a unique mix of content formats is usually the best option, as brands need to target different subsets of consumers across a wide variety of different channels. Moving forward, marketers revealed that they are aiming to improve how their content ranks in search engines and their ability to optimise content for a range of connected devices. About 10% of marketers also want to create more actionable content to boost their engagement levels.


Data and analytics have often been cited as a key factor in delivering more relevant content to audiences, but that may not be the case on YouTube, where a new study by Zefr has found that more basic content targeting methods are actually better at driving engagement and favourability with viewers.

Zefr worked with Magna and IPG Media Lab for the study, which took in the responses of over 3,000 people who consume ads on Youtube through three primary methods of targeting: content, demo and channel. The results are somewhat surprising as the power of content targeting may have previously been underplayed.

Content targeting is defined as a method for placing ads alongside content at video level, which means that ads served up are generally more relevant to the content that is being viewed. In contrast, demo targeting leverages demographic signals such as age and gender to determine reach, while channel targeting merely focuses on channels that are the most popular on YouTube.

Content targeting was found to be the most effective overall as it did a better job of capturing the interest of end users. The study noted that the method was particularly good at keeping users engaged for the entire run time and cutting down on the number that skip or click away elsewhere after a few seconds. This is because the ads were more relevant.

In terms of raw statistics, content targeting for ads resulted in a 34% higher completion rate for viewers on smartphones when compared to demo targeting. It also provided much better user experiences as content targeting was also deemed to be 33% less intrusive than the other methods studied.

“Because YouTube is an intent-based platform, aligning video ads with relevant content is a key for consumer experience, without the broad strokes targeting of channels and demographics,” a Zefr representative said. A failure to align content correctly can also annoy audiences, which can have a detrimental impact on engagement and brand reputations.

“The way advertisers operate on platforms like Facebook and YouTube is under more scrutiny than ever before,” Zefr Co-Chief Executive Rich Raddon said in a statement. “We’ve long been big believers in the power of content targeting at the video level and how it can help brands effectively reach consumers without relying on audience data or violating their privacy, but this study takes our information to a whole new level.”

While analytics may not need to be the foundation for successful campaigns on YouTube, the 2018 CMO Pulse Study has found that data is crucial for connecting the success of content efforts to the wider business. More than a third said that data and analytics need to be improved to empower CMOs to deliver better return on investment.

“Today’s marketers have more data and analytics than ever before, so it would seem they should be able to tie their efforts directly to the success of the company,” Korn Ferry Global Marketing Officers Practice Managing Director Caren Fleit said. “Unfortunately, many measure the effectiveness of initiatives only in terms of marketing metrics and miss the opportunity to connect it to overall business performance as measured in terms of sales and profit, among other factors.”


Brands would be willing to boost their spending on online video ads and other forms of content if they could access timely and consistent reporting systems with improved transparency that gave them a complete understanding of how their campaigns are performing.

That conclusion is the major takeaway from a new Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council member study titled “Engage at Every Stage: An Investigation of Video Activation,” which found that one-fifth of marketers are now spending less on ads, as they are not satisfied with the transparency of metrics and insights. Seven in ten brand leaders also admit that recent negative stories and headlines about online safety and advertising metrics have had a detrimental impact on their budgets.

The study found that 95% of marketers believe that digital media platforms must finally deliver reliable advertising measurements. The fact that just 3% agree on the “viewability” standards set out by the Media Rating Council highlights the scale of the task.

The lack of transparency has been a hot topic in the industry for a while now, as social giants, such as Facebook, continue to shift the goal posts and admit to making major errors in their recording of metrics. The unhappiness also stems from the fact that even though digital marketing and advertising can potentially have a positive effect on an enterprise’s growth and revenue, unreliable metrics remain a limiting factor.

“The frustration across the marketing ecosystem is palpable, and new headlines that breach trust and showcase systemic carelessness have inflamed the issue,” CMO Council marketing vice president, Liz Miller, said. “The industry as a whole must align on transparency and reliability. If we don’t live up to these expectations, we will see more accounts up for review and more orders being pulled. That’s not to say all is lost; there is still excitement about the next evolution in digital engagement, especially through online video content.”

Marketers are eager to glean more from their content investments and want the industry to deliver total transparency for reporting metrics, such as engagement, viewers and traffic. Almost half also want real-time access to intelligence, analytics and customer data, while a similar number want to know exactly how much they must spend to achieve specific performance outcomes.

ViralGains CEO Tod Loofbourrow added: “This research indicates that the timing is right for a massive revolution in digital video. Marketers can’t continue to judge success through superficial metrics like impressions when they are increasingly held accountable for driving meaningful, bottom-line results. Unfortunately, current industry solutions and standards are failing to facilitate this change on a number of levels—from antiquated definitions and measurements to massive breaches of data privacy.”

While there are growing concerns about transparency, 95% of the 233 senior marketing leaders surveyed said they would increase their investments in online video advertising in 2018, with a quarter planning to boost budgets by up to 25%. Loofbourrow concluded by saying that advanced technology and high-quality storytelling would enable marketers to generate the insights they need to drive more related messaging and improved results in the long term.


Last week saw the release of many digital marketing statistical studies. Here we provide a summary of the most important.

Advertising spending increases across all major social media channels

4C Insights has released data that shows advertising spending on Snapchat increased by 73% in the third quarter of 2017 and on Instagram by 55%. There was an increase in advertising expenditures on all social media channels, with an average quarterly increase of 31% on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram.

More speciality retailers offer loyalty programs than brands

Astound Commerce reported that 60% of speciality retailers offered loyalty programs to their customers compared to 22% of global brands. Also, the survey noted that 75% of speciality retailers had a mobile app, while less than 25% of global brands offer one to their customers.

Majority of UK consumers plan to purchase Christmas gifts online

According to a survey by Salesforce, 56% of UK consumers expect to conduct more than half of their holiday shopping online. Frustration with experiences while shopping at brick-and-mortar retailers appeared to be the main reason for this finding. Due to the efforts of online retailers to provide content that is effective in informing consumers, 56% of those surveyed said they knew more about products they wished to buy than store employees.

Marketers worried about the impact of GDPR compliance

Research conducted by DMA found that 15% of business still have not developed a compliance plan for the GDPR that will take effect in May 2018. In addition, 65% of the respondents thought the GDPR would hinder their marketing efforts, with 45% saying they would be “very affected” and 22% saying they would be “extremely affected”.

Almost all UK consumers think marketing personalisation is inaccurate

A study by Sitecore and Vanson Bourne has reported that 98% of consumers in the UK believe that brands do not deliver personalised experiences that are relevant, and 66% think that brands are utilising outdated personal information in their marketing efforts. In addition, 42% of the brands surveyed said they didn’t have the capabilities to integrate the personal data they collect into their marketing efforts.

Residents of developed countries more suspicious of global brands

A survey of 70,000 people in 56 countries by Kantar TNS revealed that customers in the US and the UK are growing more suspicious of global brands. Over half of consumers in Nigeria and China said they trusted brands, while less than 25% of consumers in developed countries held the same sentiment.

Advertising spending on video ads overtakes spending on banner ads

The Internet Advertising Bureau UK has issued a report stating that in the first six months of 2017, advertising spending on video ads exceeded expenditure on banner ads. Total spending on digital advertising increased by 13.8% during the first half of 2017 to £5.56bn as compared to the same period last year. However, expenditures on online video ads increased by 46% to £699m, compared to a 2% increase in banner ads to £685m.

Consumers believe global brands should work to eliminate gender stereotypes

A survey by Choozle revealed that most consumers believe that brands have the responsibility to shatter gender stereotypes, with 37% saying that brands should not use them at all. Also, 36% of survey respondents said that they had a higher opinion of brands when they broke stereotypes, and 25% said they were more likely to make purchases from those businesses.


Building a new business can be a stressful undertaking, with owners struggling to get their brand heard in a marketplace that is all too often already very crowded. Without any brand equity, new companies have to do more to ensure their brand is seen at least as equal, if not more desirable than other options. Content marketing, therefore, should be a core focus area.

Gain credibility  

It’s fair to say that many online audiences are becoming increasingly cynical, so it’s never been more important to establish brand credibility from the very beginning. Smart content marketing strategists can use campaigns to gain trust and credibility from readers by offering value in every piece of material published.

Create traffic

Start-up businesses are fighting obscurity, and it’s essential to let target audiences hear about new brands. However, whilst advertising is one way to do this, it can be expensive. Another tactic is to turn to search engines. Landing a website page or article in one of Google or Bing’s top results can help create a sustainable source of web traffic.

Content marketing is one of the best ways to support this endeavour. Through web and blog content, strategists can focus on long-tail keywords often used by target audiences. Over time, rankings will rise, leading to increased long-term exposure.

Contact list increases

Marketers understand that a single message rarely converts people into paying customers. Instead, it takes a stream of positive brand exposure. Initially, content marketers should look to create material that leaves audiences wanting more. People can then be prompted to sign up for newsletters to access gated content, which will likely result in an increase in leads.

Value proposition is explained

Content marketing also allows new firms to clearly set out their values from the very start. This is especially important if products and services cannot be explained in a single sentence. Instead of using promotional methods to introduce ideas and values, these can be conveyed via videos, whitepapers, blog posts and infographics.

Create the foundations for future digital marketing 

Ultimately, a new business’s initial content efforts will help create the foundations for all digital marketing to come. Producing content should serve to create a backbone for a more fully fleshed out digital strategy. Core content principles can be used across strategies, including those for email marketing, social media and websites. Even better, with a little careful adapting, the same materials can be shared across multiple platforms.

Content marketing is extremely cost effective. For example, even starting a business blog, building a social media presence and creating gated content can be accomplished for little other than hard work. When new businesses are opening, it’s important that brands are able to insert themselves into their desired industry to talk alongside their competition without breaking the budget and putting themselves into serious debt. The digital era has allowed this and by harnessing the power of content marketing, many new firms can gain a presence similar to industry leaders that might have been around for decades before.