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Digital marketing is accelerating – so what’s next?

By Julio Taylor



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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August 17, 2020 | 15 min read

In 2019, Hallam, Google’s Premier Partners Growing Businesses Online 2019 award winners, published one in a series of eBooks: The Future of Digital Marketing: 2019 and beyond. Covid-19 has ground the world to a halt, but has accelerated digital marketing, taking it down paths that have not been ventured before.

Hallam Digital Marketing

The team at Hallam recognises that and we’re at a stage where there is even more to add to this eBook. The Future of Digital Marketing 2.0, contains interviews with several industry experts and aims to break down exactly what the future of the industry looks like, and highlights what businesses and brands need to be prepared for ahead of digital marketing’s next big shift...

An introduction from Julio Taylor, CEO at Hallam

The latest change to digital marketing is something we have been building towards for some time now, and there are several factors behind that.

There is a massive generational change in the workforce, with 70% now millennial or younger.

We’re living in a world where, for the first time in history, the vast majority of the population is born into a digital world as standard. Digital transformation, for me, is the absolute priority and the audience is demanding it.

Because of that, there is a huge amount of complexity when it comes to digital marketing and the skill required to deliver deep and meaningful impact. You need expertise in all areas to make that happen, whether that be UX, SEO, PPC, PR, advertising, content marketing, strategy, or technical.

There is also the pace of change to consider. Factors like technology, automation, and user expectations are moving incredibly quickly. The things that were groundbreaking just a couple of years ago are now old news. Some of the topics that were hot just four years ago are now expected.

Within that, the demand for privacy is growing exponentially - partly because of the Cambridge Analytica situation, and partly because audiences are just getting smarter with it.

That has led to changes in legislation, which is restricting the use of third-party data and cookies but has also led to changes in browser design and the technology of devices - meaning it is more difficult to advertise to people, compared to how it was a couple of years ago.

Everybody is advertising, so it's going to be about what makes you and your brand different from everybody else. That is going to be determined by the creative and the experience.

For me, it’s about precision and persuasion. That’s something we always talk about, and both are important. They are two sides of the same coin. They are extremes. But we’re heading towards an age where both need to be applied effectively.

There is so much more to this topic than the six we have outlined. We will be updating and re-releasing our Future of Digital Marketing eBook very shortly and these six key themes give you a flavour of how much our industry is going to be changing...

ePrivacy will shake the industry up

Arianne Donoghue, our strategic consultant, says: the reality is that advertising has become so focused on data and being able to target users easily that it’s really hard to see how it is going to change.

The issue now is that it may be forced to. What impact will there be if cookies disappear? Cookies, by no means, are the only solution.

There is a technique out there called browser fingerprinting, which takes so many elements of data from your browser like the fonts on your machine, the time zone and the screen resolution. It even looks at little things like the emojis a user uses.

All that data can be pulled through to form a digital fingerprint of who you are. It’s more reliable than any cookie out there. For those interested, there are a number of different sites you can use online to have your fingerprint assessed to see how unique and traceable you are around the internet. This data can also be tracked through your VPN (Virtual Private Network).

The whole point of a VPN is to store your internet history so it is harder to find and track you, but a browser fingerprint can circumvent your VPN. While somewhat terrifying, a lot of this is covered under GDPR and the ePrivacy regulation that is likely to come into force in 2021.

What does that regulation mean for digital marketing?

If cookies disappear, the industry as it has worked for the last 20 years, will just fall over. The reliance there has been on targeting users is not going to be available anymore.

So, for marketers, it is about figuring out what is next. There have been discussions about how contextual advertising is yielding good results in the market space dominated by big players, but we’re not seeing that filter down to the average advertiser.

I’m sure Google and Facebook have a plan and maybe we will see the first steps of that when IOS 14 is released later this year. It feels like we’re waiting for the ‘big five’ to lead and the rest will follow.

A zero-click and visual change to the future of search

Strategy director Ben Wood believes Google wants to give the best possible results. But they also want to give the best possible experience on their platform, which is essenially their search results page.

What we will see is that it is going to get more difficult to gain clicks from search because Google is wanting to bring everyone’s content on to their results pages wherever possible.

Take holiday bookings, mortgage calculators, or finding recipes, as an example. Zero-click search will be much more impactful in these areas because you will be able to book flights or tables on Google, demolishing the traffic those websites would otherwise be getting.

Others, like B2B software, will be totally different because Google won’t be able to replicate everything that is on their website. The levels at which clients will be impacted by some of these trends will vary depending on the industry but these features just go to show how susceptible businesses are to the evolution of Google’s search product, and highlights the importance of a diverse traffic acquisition strategy.

Something else we need to be wary of is visual search, which is still not being taken as seriously by SEO’s in the way that I expected.

Visual search has been on the rise for years with platforms like Pinterest evolving their features with a focus on lens technology. Google has latched on to that idea and invested in piloting Google Keen - a new visual way of building boards to track interesting topics.

What I think will be a game changer for many industries is lens/image recognition technology, which allows you to take a picture of something and search for it. Visual search is much easier than manually typing out and, as a service, I think that will continue to improve especially in retail, fashion etc.

Visual search and optimisation should be considered as a key part of SEO and right now, that’s not the case. We will see that grow a lot over the next two years and for more SEO’s to take image optimisation seriously and invest in adapting web usability to cope with new features such as visual search functionality for ecommerce just like larger retailers such as Macy’s have started to do by partnering with Pinterest to use their lens (visual search) technology.

Development is no longer just for building websites

Jon Martin, our technical director, says that one of the big things taking shape right now in the digital marketing community is the programming language, Python.

Only a few years ago it was all about PHP because it was open-source, anybody could use it and you didn’t have to pay to learn it. Python, however, is now becoming the go-to tool because it’s nice to work with, easy to learn, and is allowing SEO professionals to do what they want to really quickly.

Developers and SEO professionals need to have a strong understanding of Python, but also have a holistic view of the landscape and understanding of SEO and PPC. Certainly in the future, developers are going to be important in helping businesses and brands automate things that were previously manual.

UX is becoming a ranking factor, but that doesn't necessarily mean you need a new website

Joe Powell, our creative director, explains that UX is one of the most important elements of digital marketing and underpins everything we do as an agency. The demand for UX consultancy has been increasing through the need for user-ability testing from our clients to validate their theories and mitigate risk before making a decision.

User testing allows us to learn where things have gone wrong, so we’re not making the same mistakes again. A typical flaw of businesses is that they have objectives they want to achieve, but they don’t consider what impact that will have on the consumer. It’s a delicate balance between representing the stakeholder and the users’ needs.

The less resistance you add to the user experience on any platform - whether that’s in-store, on a digital interface, website, or even a book - the easier it is to use, the more intuitive it is, and the higher the probability that it will convert into a sale or enquiry.

There’s a common misconception that improving UX means you need a new website build. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. UX can be practised on a single page or a website and you can make conversion-focused enhancements to existing websites.

There are other options, however. If you’re happy with your current website’s design, but want to increase engagement, then our advice would be to review the experiences of certain areas and make ad-hoc changes to those sections to improve the offering.

A lot of sales teams are interested in getting new websites, but sometimes smaller changes can make the world of difference to CRM.

UX is an immensely important thing to get right. It’s not something that can just be picked up. It is acquired through years of experience and moving through different disciplines, like brand, design, copywriting, development. Every decision has to be made with one question in mind; does this add value? If it doesn’t, it’s not worth pursuing.

SEO and PPC are evolving and will face some challenges

Charlotte Tomlinson, media director, explains: SEO and PPC, for a long time, have been very separate disciplines. There has been a big effort across the industry this year to address that because the results, when the disciplines are combined, are clearly better.

What we’re going to see is SEO and PPC come together to form integrated search and shared data campaigns, which will, ultimately, save money for businesses and brands in the long run.

A great, but simple, example of this is taking the data from a business’ paid campaign to make decisions around what SEO should be optimising in order to drive conversions.

What we’re seeing, quite often, is that what businesses didn’t think was important is actually becoming more so, allowing the teams to pivot accordingly to target audiences and keywords that hadn’t been considered before.

The relationship between businesses and their PPC agencies is also going to change significantly, and that is down to the growth of automation. PPC is going to become very strategic, creative, and consultancy-focused, rather than manual.

There needs to be an education piece around that. Google is at the forefront of that automation and PPC professionals will face a lot of questions by clients when it comes to value for money. It is down to us to deliver that value that in-house teams simply cannot get.

Again, though, that comes back to down integration; design teams and PPC working together to create awesome creative that is going to make advertising more successful than it has been before.

Headless will be the future of web development for the next decade

Martin says that while it has been around a while, Headless, including its various platforms, including Ghost, is a concept that lets you decouple the back and front end of a website.

For example, this allows you to have a WordPress driven website, but your front end looks completely different and you’re not reliant on the WordPress templates to do that. This gives you a huge amount of flexibility when coding, but the big benefit is around speed, performance, and usability of the site.

Essentially, you’re cutting a lot of the time that would be spent loading up WordPress and, instead, focusing on these small, nimble, pages that take far less time to load. This is predicted to be the future for the next decade of web development in the same way responsive web design was previously.

We’re only touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the influence of AI

Kieran S-Lawler, head of marketing, explains: This is a topic that gets spoken about a lot. AI has got a big role to play in the forecasting of data-driven content. It is still learning - doing so at a supernatural rate - and it will get to a stage where it’s finding patterns and analysis far faster than we ever could.

That forecast might not be 100 percent accurate, but it will give you insight into what life for a particular sector could look like. It’s also got a big role to play with interactive content, too, and how marketers use AI systems to engage and interact with customers.

We’re seeing it with bots already. Bots are not AI, but it gives you a flavour of what we can expect from AI in the future. On the flip side, there’s a general feeling that marketers and content creators are going to be redundant because of the advanced technology, but, for me, that’s far from the case.

Someone is going to be required to feed that AI and inform them what is right and wrong. It will make our life easier and provide us with data and insight that we would otherwise have to spend multiple hours trying to find.

I think we’re only touching the tip of the iceberg with what is achievable with this technology. There’s a lot more to come. Right now, it’s not totally accessible and it isn’t in a format that is easily digestible for marketers to truly use and understand.

Final thoughts

Just as marketers are only touching the tip of the iceberg for AI, we’re also only touching the tip of what the future of digital marketing looks like. The industry continues to develop at a rapid rate and from the future of Google and privacy, to the next steps in platform advertising, data, automation and content, it will all be covered when Hallam releases its new eBook, The Future of Digital Marketing 2.0, this autumn.


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