This article is based on a study made by Extole and Experian. It shows the main trends on digital marketing and how marketers use different tactics to engage with customers and build a trustworthy brand. Also, the study points out the reasons marketers use specific techniques and how they treat customers across the marketing funnel.

For more than 91% marketers, the most important objective in digital marketing is traffic acquisition. Raising awareness seems to be the second important objective, while conversion has a lower score.

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Before starting a marketing campaign, every marketer should define a clear set of goals they want to reach. Having precise objectives regarding customer aquisition, awareness or conversions will help marketers measure results and campaign efficiency. For instance, objectives have to be exact, specific, for a limited period of time and measurable. Everyone wants to know how the efforts invested pay back. The main reason to obtain and analyse data is to see the impact your procedures have on sales and profits.

Also, if you gather data and valuable information about your customers, you will have a basis for the A/B Testing experiments.

Related to the main objectives they set up, marketers say the most used technique in acquring the results they are looking for is e-mail. E-mail marketing helps companies to build a personalized relationship with customers, because you can easily speak to your customers in an intimate way (according to their name, age, location, purchase history, etc) that is not possible with other marketing channels. Furthermore, e-mail marketing is a cost efficient tactic, compared to social media or search engine optimization. According to Kevin Gao, CEO &Founder Comm100, an effective email marketing program only needs a great email marketing platform or service and a good marketer who knows how to put the right offers and the right copy and graphics in front of the right portion of your user or customer list.

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Even though email marketing is the most used, it’s not the one that receives the most spending. Social media receives the biggest spending (38%), followed by content marketing (28%) and e-mail marketing (25%). Small companies tend to use content marketing more than big companies, because it is one of the most effective tactic when it comes to awareness (34%) and retention (32%). Also, content marketing is a very popular technique among marketers, as it is consumer behavior oriented.

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The last 3 programs receiving spendings are: paid search (12%), referral marketing (10%) and affiliate marketing. There is no surprise that paid search gathers only 12%, considering the strong competition and the fact that it involves more and more costs.

The research reveals 4 main categories of digital tactics:

  • E-mail (the work horse)

E-mail marketing is the work horse, because the study results show that marketers consistently ranked e-mail as the single-most-effective tactic for awareness, acquisition, conversion, and retention.

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For even better results, e-mail personalization might be the answer. E-mail personalization enables marketers to make the communication more engaging, more personal and closer to the customers tone. Unlike a generic email, a personalized message that speaks directly to the receiver shows you care about them, about their preferences and about making a relationship with them. Sometimes, it costs less to mentain a relationship with a loyal customer than to attract and build one with new visitors.

The study concludes that even though e-mail marketing is a measurable and cost-effective digital tactic, brands still have a long way to go to coordinate other marketing channels with e-mail: Fewer than half of major retailers ask for customers’ e-mail addresses at the point of sale.

  • Social Media

Marketers tend to spend more money on social media than on any other digital tactic. This might be explained by the fact that social is the most populat online activity in the United States, according to the study.

Just like e-mail, social media seems to be a good tactic for customer retention (33%) and, also, for branding objectives (14%). Social media has a lower impact when it comes to rewarding existing customers (only 8% share of respondents).

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According to the study, other explanation for the huge investment in social media marketing is that marketers are buying on faith with social, as they struggle to prove its ROI. It’s a known fact that it is difficult to keep track of investment in social media, and, as the study reveals, this is the main characteristic of social media (52%), along with the fact that social media marketing enables marketers to engage with customers on a regular basis (51%).

ROI might have a simple formula, but it is a very complex key performance indicator in e-commerce. Usually, ROI works with exact data, for a determined period of time. So, the difficulty in tracking and analyzing ROI properly on social media comes from the fact that social media doesn’t offer exact numbers and information.

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Even if social media marketing is a very popular digital tactic, there are some marketers who recognize that social media has a lot to promise but the industry hasn’t figured it out yet (25%) and that the company they work for doesn’t have enough expertise to use this tactic efficiently (21%).

  • Refferal Marketing (the dark horse)

Refferal marketing seems to be the champion when it comes to acquiring customers (31%) and driving up conversions (31%). When it comes to awareness, only 23% of the respondents say referral marketing is an efficient tactic.

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Referral marketing is a digital tactic used for its lead generation possibilities: you get new customers and you build a stronger relationship with an existing customer. Marketers all over the world should acknowledge one of the greatest advantages of referral marketing: it can optimize the sales cycle of your business, giving you qualified prospects that will maximize your sales funnel. This means it helps you get more qualified leads from your satisfied customers circle of influence.

Referral marketing is a good tool for retaining customers, considering it is a systematic cycle of customers, based on the power of influence. As we all know, one of the best advertising channels is word of mouth. The power of WOM is unlimited, as it can transform your detractors into passives and your passives into promoters. Read more about this here.

  • Content Marketing (the show horse)

The study reveals that content marketing takes second place (right after social media marketing) in the spending area and it is most effective when it comes to marketing objectives such as awareness (34%) and retention (32%).

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People seek information and advice on topics they are interested in. Give them relevant content and gain authority on your field, by becoming a helpful and reliable resource. Lance Cummins recommends to encourage writers to use a personal voice and to try not eliminate the human voice on your website. From the Gigaom Research we find out that consumers have already accepted brands as content publishers and that they trust content from businesses that aim to educate readers about a particular topic.

In conclusion, here are the main recommendations of the study. In order to aquire customers and reach the goals you want, it is necessary to combine all the digital tactics available and not focus only on one of them. Find the mixt that suits your business and make the best of it. Also, remember to treat your customers according to the part of the sales funnel they belong to, using a balance of social media.