In a way, it's appropriate that so much of the conversation around digital marketing today involves talk of what happens in the "cloud." The subject is big, constantly changing shape, a bit fuzzy at the edges and, like all clouds, hard to get a grip on. But as this year's Chief Marketer Interactive Marketing Survey reveals, there's not a marketer who thinks it's likely to dry up and blow away.
Not that some of them don't wish it would disappear, or at least the pain points associated with interactive marketing today. Asked to identify their biggest problems in digital campaigns, the more than 1,000 respondents voiced a broad range of complaints, from not being confident they are using the right platforms to reach their target audiences and ceding control of their messages to consumers, to finding the budget resources to implement those tactics and managing the fire hose of data that somehow still doesn't illuminate the true ROI of campaigns.
Expanding Tool Box
Despite all those gripes, the list of interactive tools marketers can reach for to engage with customers grew longer than ever for this year's survey. Presented with a menu of some 35 interactive marketing tools and asked which they currently use in digital campaigns, more than 30% of respondents cited 10 basic web marketing tools—mainstream web marketing tools, in a sense. These turned out to be largely the same as the basic tactics cited in last year's survey: email first (78%) then email newsletters (59%) and social network presences (58%).
Interestingly, web display ads (49%) came from behind to edge out website SEO this year (48%); and display ads in social networks rose to tie with pay-per-click search ads (each at 33%).
This is the first year Chief Marketer asked how many respondents had added their own video content to their sites or to their YouTube channel. As it turns out, about a third had done so, making it an important tool. A new entrant in this group, using QR or barcode scans to drive consumers to a website (32%), reflects fast growth in 2011.
The biggest gainers in the group of "secondary" tools were social apps (20% this year versus 10% in 2011); branded games on any platform (13%, up from 7%); and webinars (28% compared to 24% in 2011).
Search and Display Missions
More than half (55%) of respondents said their websites were optimized for organic search results in the last year, and almost as many (43%) said SEO performance for those sites is monitored on a regular schedule. Among the SEO options, most (68%) have added social media sharing buttons to their web pages, with fewer syndicating those out to specific product descriptions (42%). Careful targeting of landing pages (51%) can also improve search engines' regard for those pages.
But a good number of respondents said they are optimizing by adding fresh content frequently, either directly to their sites (47%), through blog updates (45%) or by adding video (37%) or user ratings and reviews (24%).
When it comes to performance-based search ads, a majority of respondents (43%) said they outsource management of keyword campaigns, while about 32% run their PPC ads in-house. (About 19% said they don't use search ads, and 6% don't know if they do.) Forty-two percent of respondents said they monitor competitors' keyword strategies and performance, but an almost equal number (39%) said they don't, and a substantial 12% say they don't know.
About 29% of respondents say they will increase their display ad spending in 2012, but a slightly larger proportion (36%) expect to keep that spending level. Among those who will hike spending for display, by far the greatest number (59%) explain that their aim is to reach users not on the web but in social media or over mobile devices. The higher engagement potential of display ads is also a big factor (37%) among marketers planning to spend more on banners and other visual ads.
Obstacles to Retargeting
The 52% of respondents who sell goods online was asked if they currently employ ad retargeting on those retail sites—that is, noting what products visitors are looking at and reaching them on subsequent visits with ads that refer to those products. Only a bit over a third of that group retarget advertising to previous visitors; almost half (46.9%) said they don't.
Asked why they don't retarget, 44% said their budgets won't take the strain. Another 15% said the tactic is not right for the product or service their brand offers, and about a tenth (9%) said their customers would object to being "pursued" by ads that recall pages they viewed on earlier visits or shopping-cart items they abandoned. Responses in the "Other" category pointed to a range of issues, but the most common response was a variant on "just not there yet"—implying that retargeting might still happen in time.
Finally, CM thought it might be instructive to ask the marketers polled about their personal experience interacting with digital platforms, as a rough indictor of what they think most non-marketers are likely to do online. It can't be a surprise that adding content to a website (76%) or posting to a social page via a mobile device (62%) are the most popular activities in the last year. But it might be revealing that more than half of those polled have also scanned a barcode or QR code with a mobile device (58%) or checked in somewhere on their phones (51%).
The 2012 Chief Marketer Interactive Marketing Survey was conducted online between February 12 and March 5, 2012, and polled 1,004 active marketing professionals distributed across both business-to-consumer and business-to-business models from brands and agencies working in the manufacturing, retail, financial, healthcare, travel, entertainment, advertising, publishing, database and nonprofit sectors. More results can be found at www.ChiefMarketer.com (registration required).