Digital Marketing Trends: How Performance Strategies Can Help Marketers Navigate Changes Ahead

Jill Hara
by Jill Hara 01 Mar, 2017

Gartner's Digital Marketing Conference is coming up in May, and this year's theme couldn't be more spot on: Managing Change, Risk and Opportunity in the Era of the Empowered Customer.

In a digital landscape that continues to transform and evolve at a rapid pace, change is perhaps our only constant. The varieties of content, devices and channels that command consumers' attention shift continuously, leaving marketers with more choices (and questions) than ever about how, when and where to allocate their spend.

But despite the now dizzying array of digital marketing options, what still matters most is this: What works? It's an obvious question to ask, of course, but not always so easy to answer.

Measuring and analyzing return on advertising spend has always been a primary function of performance marketing. Tracking performance helps us identify what's working and what's not. As new digital channels, audiences and engagement opportunities take shape, how can performance strategies be adapted to make sense of an ever more complex and multi-faceted marketing mix? Here are my thoughts on the three biggest trends impacting digital marketing in this era of change, opportunity and risk:


1. Understanding the "anonymous" customer journey is job #1.


Much of the typical customer journey to a conversion happens before a consumer takes any action to identify themselves, such as fill out a form or click on a coupon. This "anonymous" part of the customer journey - when a consumer searches for products, reads reviews, compares prices and makes purchasing decisions - is most often where the magic happens. So it stands to reason that better understanding the customer decision process is critical. Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Digital Marketing Hubs came out recently, and in discussing the importance of a master audience profile, the authors report that "a consistent view of customers (including anonymous ones) across marketing programs and processes is the baseline for effective communication." Here's what brands need to know: How did consumers get to my web site, coupon or social media page in the first place? While it's true that it's more challenging to capture insights about anonymous events - both from a data collection and privacy standpoint - advanced tracking and analytic technologies have evolved to give us a more complete picture of what's happening before the click. The goal of every marketer should be to gather as much decision-level data about the customer journey as possible, and connect that data to the second, more active, layer of the funnel. Strengthening connections with consumers before they've already made up their mind is going to be a valuable capability for marketers in the years ahead.


2. Authentic data is required.


There's no question that today's marketers are awash in data, but quantity doesn't always equal quality. As last year's snafu with Facebook's miscalculated metrics demonstrates, data accuracy has critical implications, especially when more and more marketers are making buying decisions based on data coming from "walled garden" platforms that provide proprietary metrics. Expect data authenticity and transparency to be top considerations for marketers going forward, with increased demand for third-party tracking that can help ensure that performance data is objective and, most of all, accurate. At the end of the day, marketing decisions are only as good as the data that informs them, and there needs to be transparency about where performance metrics come from and how this critical information is assessed.


3. The scope of performance marketing is broadening, big time.


Affiliate advertising is the original performance marketing model, but the lessons learned in the affiliate world are now being applied more broadly, encompassing social, search, display and more. Affiliate marketers rely on an array of innovate tracking strategies and technologies to understand what's happening with campaigns in real-time, from pixel tracking to multi-touch attribution analytics to visualization tools. Performance tracking not only helps marketers keep tabs on which publishers have earned a commission, it also helps them gain intelligence that can be used to refine campaign decisions. This kind of insight is not just useful in an affiliate environment of course, especially as advertisers across the board continue to demand more tangible proof of ROI. All marketers want to know if their strategies are working and pinpoint areas in need of improvement, regardless of whether or not they are engaging affiliates to help. Perhaps soon, "performance" will no longer simply be synonymous with "affiliate," but rather implied as a given for most, if not all, marketing approaches.