Category: Digital

How Good is Your Email Marketing Strategy?

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Email Marketing is one of the oldest forms of digital marketing. The first email was sent nearly 50 years ago (in 1971) and the first marketing email was supposedly sent in 1978.

Email was also one of the first digital marketing channels that I worked on. I have seen the strong role it can play in driving sales for businesses. And which is why, in general, the state of email marketing today disappoints me.

I truly cannot recollect any business whose email I look forward to receiving. Some of the better ones that I receive in my inbox come from thought-leaders. They seem to have a good understanding of what is it that their subscribers are looking for from emails, and they stick to delivering that in the simplest form with absolutely no bells and whistles. And you know what? It works! I can read the important points right in the email, without being distracted by unnecessary images. In many cases, I can get all the information I want right from the email without having to click to go to a Landing Page (though that option exists).

However, when it comes to ecommerce (including travel), the lesser said the better. I have unsubscribed myself from most mailing lists of businesses that I have shopped with. Why? It did not seem that they could be bothered to send me information useful for me. Receiving the same, standard one-size-fits-all message started getting extremely irritating after a while.

And one of the worst offenders have to financial services. It’s such a shame that, given the wealth of information that they have about their customers, they still do not seem to be using this to create interesting and relevant emails.

It is a well accepted fact that email marketing (to clean legally acquired lists) is one of the most effective and efficient forms of marketing. But to get these benefits requires businesses and marketers to invest in truly understanding their customers and building a robust customer data management strategy. The trick is not in the creative element of the email, but in the targeted and relevant messaging.

I sometimes wonder if, in their craze to adopt the latest ‘Next Big Thing’, marketers are forgetting to devote enough time to the basics. A well designed email marketing campaign has to be one of the first digital marketing strategies that any business should develop, if they are keen to derive the maximum benefits from their overall Digital Marketing strategy.

The role of AI in Digital Marketing

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There is no doubt that AI (Artificial Intelligence) is going to play an increasing role in our lives going forward. And I can already see that happening in my line of work – Digital Marketing.

Type in ‘Role of AI in Digital Marketing‘ and you will see pages upon pages of relevant results. I spent some time reviewing these, and most of them wax eloquently on how Digital Marketing is going to be (or is already being) transformed for the better due to AI. Some of the areas where AI is presently being used in Digital Marketing include:

  • Content Generation – AI is already being used to write news articles. And with the increasing consumption of visual content in the form of images and videos, AI can definitely help with the creation of content at scale.
  • Audience Targeting – Leading digital advertising platforms that have huge amounts of data on internet users are now providing advertisers with options to target these users based on factors such as their interests and relevant digital activities.
  • Personalisation – Combining both of the above to provide relevant information to individual users at scale.
  • Optimisation – Machine Learning algorithms can help rapidly speed up the process of marketing campaign optimisation.

However, I get worried when I read stuff like how Digital Marketing can help with Consumer Behaviour Analysis, Predictive Analysis, etc. Implied in these statements is the belief that Machines can help provide a better understanding of consumers (and therefore, marketers do not need to spend as much time as present on these tasks).

I completely agree that AI can help with the process of analysis at a speed and scale that humans, even with current processing capabilities of computers, just will not be able to match. But it is important to realise that analysis is just a process and not the end goal.

The end goal, and the key role of any marketer, digital or otherwise, is Consumer Insights. And Insights is very different from Analytics. What does the analysis tell us about the actual thought process of consumers? This requires, in addition to data and analysis, a solid understanding of the business context, industry trends and consumer behaviour. Maybe AI could do all of the above as well at some date, but that’s a topic for another article. My view is that businesses have to be very clear of this distinction between analysis and insights.

The second point that I disagree with is Predictive Analytics. This fundamentally assumes that future behaviour can be accurately predicted by detailed analysis of historical actions. This might well be the case in certain standard activities that change very slowly (financial modeling, risk analysis, etc.) But I am skeptical about the application of Predictive Analytics in Marketing. The landscape, especially media and technology, is evolving so rapidly that I simply do not believe we have enough data to accurately predict future digital consumer behaviour. This article perfectly encapsulates some of these issues.

So, while I am not disagreeing that AI is already playing a useful role in some areas of Digital Marketing, it is not a magic bullet that will automatically help improve your Marketing. I would urge all businesses and marketers to invest time in learning more about the role of AI in Digital Marketing and build their own views on what might be relevant for their specific use cases.

In future articles, I will explore what the impact of this increasing role of AI might be on marketers (and marketing itself).


What’s Your Visual Marketing Strategy?

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I was having a discussion around Digital Advertising with a client of mine recently. We were debating on what kind of Google Ad to run for her ecommerce business when she made a comment, “Sanjay, who reads a text ad these days? Someone I know only looks ate the Image results while doing a Google Search.” We ended up deciding to launch a Google Shopping Ad. But the comment stayed with me.

A bit of research made it clear to me that what my client was saying was not just a single person’s opinion, but reflective of broader trends in the digital space. Many of us, I am sure, are regular users of the leading visual based social network, Instagram. And, of course, there is streaming video.

Digital marketers who started their careers over a decade ago are likely to be biased towards Search marketing. We have seen the significant and out-sized impact it made on many consumer businesses. Having seen those kind of results, when we tried Display and Video advertising, we came across a few challenges:

  • Display and Video could not deliver the same kind of results that Search could, simply because we were able to target users with very high intent to take a specific action.
  • Ad Creation was significantly more complex than Search text ads due to the requirements of multiple, high quality image and video content.
  • Performance measurement was a challenge. Most users who see a Display and Video Ad are unlikely to click on the Ad and perform the desired action. Yes, we had View through conversion tracking, but there was always a question mark on what was the true impact of seeing the ad on the purchase behaviour.

But, over the past few years, large advertising media players have invested significant efforts in addressing all of the above issues.

Targeting – There are now powerful ways to target users for visual advertising. These include, in addition to demographic targeting, the ability to target users based on their interests and online behaviours, across both a brand’s own website and other websites or apps.

YouTube Targeting Options

‘Responsive’ ads – Advertisers no longer require to have a team of graphic designers to create ads. As long as you have the basic assets ready, you can use the various automated ad creation systems now available to create a vast number of different creatives across multiple sizes. Even an average smartphone user can create very good video ads these days, as we can see on Instagram stories and other similar sites.

Responsive Display Ads
Example of Responsive Display Ads being auto-adjusted for mobile and desktop views. Courtesy Google

Advanced Measurement Tactics – Smart marketers are able to leverage the multiple data signals available to them across the spectrum of digital channels to have more detailed insights into the impact their visual advertisement is having. In addition, many media agencies are also able to provide ‘lift’ metrics soon after the campaign ends.

If you would like to learn more about how to develop a Visual Marketing strategy, then you might find the following articles helpful:

How To Create A Visual Marketing Strategy

The Beginner’s Guide to Creating Visual Content Marketing Strategy

How to Plan Your Visual Content Marketing Strategy

Some recent SEO Developments

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I have written a few times previously on the importance of SEO in your Digital Marketing Strategy. Here are a few recent developments in the field of Search Engine Optimisation that I wanted to highlight:

Technical SEO and Page Speed – Google continues to put more emphasis on how quickly your page loads, especially on mobile. They have recently introduced a Speed Report within Google Search Console that shows how fast your pages perform in real world usage. Two key metrics in this report are First Contentful Paint (FCP) and First Input Delay (FID). 

First Contentful Paint (FCP) is the time from when the user requests the URL until the browser renders the first visible element in the URL.

First Input Delay (FID) is the time from when a user first interacts with your page (when they clicked a link, tapped on a button, and so on) to the time when the browser responds to that interaction.

This article has more details on these two terms.

Why Schema Markup is a Pivotal SEO Strategy For 2020 – Schema Markups have been around for a while, but it just does not seem to have gained the attention that other elements of SEO have. I believe, though, that this will change. The rise of Voice Search and other Machine Learning / AI led developments will lead to structured content will become increasingly important. This podcast does a great job of talking about these Scheme Markup topics. Interesting insight for me was that one can use Structured Data within Google Analytics .

What is SEO Content? How to Write Content that Ranks – Ok, there is nothing new here. But I like the comprehensiveness of this article that can be your single reference source when you are figuring out your next piece of content.

E-commerce category pages outperform product detail pages in SERPs – If you are an e-commerce merchant, chances are that you do not spend too much time worrying about SEO for category pages, choosing to focus on product pages instead. Recent research seems to indicate that you might want to relook at this and that category page optimization could be a valuable area to prioritize to boost your organic search rankings and traffic.

Changes in ‘nofollow’ links – This has been a topic of discussion in the SEO world ever since Google announced, back in September 2019, that it was making some changes to the way it treats ‘nofollow’ links. This detailed article will help you understand everything about what’s changing. And in case you are looking for a primer on ‘nofollow’ links, you can refer to one of my earlier posts on SEO and ‘nofollow’ links.





Key Digital Marketing Trends for 2020 (and beyond)

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Yes, I know I am late to the party. We are well into 2020. But, as the saying goes, Better Late Than Never!

Here are my views on what key Digital Marketing trends for 2020 (and beyond) might be and the key questions you need to be asking:

  • Rise of Voice Search – The stats for Voice based Search are quite staggering. How are you going to stay relevant when most searches are going to be voice-based?
  • Content is King – A very old statement, I know. But this is going to be increasingly important as brands strive to differentiate themselves and stay relevant in this day and age. How are you thinking about your content strategy as a key strategic element of your marketing and brand strategy?
  • SEO is not going anywhere – It is surprising how many brands directly jump into social amd other media strategies before evaluating and optimising good old Organic or Natural Search. It seems like almost every year fresh obituaries are written for one of the oldest Digital Marketing tactic. To adapt the famous quote (or possibly misquote) from Mark Twain – “Reports of SEO’s death are grossly exaggerated”. Do you have a robust SEO strategy in place, that incorporates the changing nature of Search?
  • The pendulum will keep swinging between Data-Driven and ‘Creative’ Marketing – There will continue to exist two camps in the (Digital) Marketing field. One that believes that data-driven and performance marketing will rule and the other that bemoans the loss of creativity and asserts that marketers will have to stay creative to build and differentiate their brand. A few years ago, I felt that the pendulum had shifted significantly to the data camp. I believe we are now seeing a shift towards the creative side. How will you balance the requirement for creativity with holding your marketing accountable to specific ROI metrics?
  • Process-oriented marketing will be key – AI is helping automate many marketing activities. And we will see more applications of AI when it comes to marketing, especially marketing automation. I have written previously about the importance of process when it comes to Digital Marketing. Do you have a robust processes in place to drive your marketing?

What are your views? What else do you think will be important in Digital Marketing in the near term?