Guest post by Gaetano DiNardi, VP of Marketing at Sales Hacker

First, what to expect in the digital advertising playing field:

Advertising is in flux. Traditional channels such as television, print and radio still hold significant share of total ad spend but digital has recently upturned the market like a hurricane, grabbing the dominant position for the first time in 2016. In the US, digital advertising expenditure is expected to tip the scales at $83 billion in 2017 and clock a two-digit annual growth rate to $129.23 billion in 2021, representing around half of total advertising expenditure.   

The digital landscape itself has undergone a massive shift. At the same time television executives finally accepted new market realities, search advertising has relinquished its seemingly unassailable position to display ads amid the exploding popularity of rich media such as videos.

As a search marketing practitioner, I can promise you that doesn’t mean Google nor search is losing its mojo.

Together with Facebook, Google — which also plays big time in the display ad arena via AdWords, AdSense DoubleClick and YouTube —  will dominate the digital advertising sector like a duopoly, raking in the bulk of total ad spend and preventing new competitors to even dream of placing a bet.       

Consumers are in flux. Tomorrow’s audience will be glued to their smartphones more than ever. Unlike their predecessors, they will be online even in their sleep. Many of them tend to use ad-blockers, making some subset of audiences difficult to reach. Tech savvy millennials (people born between 1977 and 1994) will be the new majority, both in the U.S. and around the world. Given millennials’ irrational attachment to their phones, mobile advertising will drive sector growth from here on. Millennials also think and behave quite differently from other consumer demographics, so much so that a lot have been said or written about their strange attitudes. Understandably, smart brands are listening.     

Advances in technology are outpacing businesses’ ability to catch up. Big data, artificial intelligence, computer vision, augmented reality, machine learning, and natural language processing are just some of the technological buzzwords that are driving strategic conversations from the floor to the C-suite. On top of the shiny data analytics software gracing a digital advertiser’s tool stack, AI-driven solutions such as image recognition and chatbots are aggressively helping brands send their message to their target audiences. Unfortunately, not all businesses are nimble enough to embrace new technologies.

So we stand at this junction a bit awed and perhaps intimidated. Advertising is in flux. Digital is shifting. Technology is fundamentally transforming businesses. Consumer behavior is changing before our very eyes.   

The real question is: Can we really afford to stay put and do the same advertising practices over and over?

Digital advertising tactics to get you ahead of the curve

Forward-thinking businesses — especially B2B companies — simply can’t afford not to change. The speed and scale at which the landscape is shifting obliterates any doubt that advertising practices must similarly evolve.   

Here are some ways you can use change to strengthen your brand, engage your audience better, and drive more revenue.

  1. Adopt omni-channel advertising. While focus is key, you can’t rely on just one or two channels anymore. Think of it as hedging your bet by investing on a wide variety of assets. In the digital arena, you need to have a strong presence in all channels (web, mobile, search engines, social media, etc.) and on all devices (desktop, mobile, laptop, tablet) or risk being left in the dust. Finally, even offline channels should not be deemed off-limits, especially when an offline campaign (billboard ads, transport ads, etc.) makes sense.   
  2. Embrace content marketing. Advertising a product via in-house or third-party content is an old trick in the book but it remains effective, especially when your ad perfectly but unobtrusively matches a  content that is informative, relevant, authoritative, and useful. Contextual call outs have been known to generate purposeful clicks.   
  3. Go mobile. Even now, most people will get snarky when parted from their smartphones for just a few hours. While that may be disturbing, treating mobile as a key component of each ad campaign is the only way forward. People use smartphones to take pictures, write journals, read news, set personal budgets, connect with friends, play games, collaborate at work, and a whole bunch of other things. They also use it for shopping, banking, and making both online and onsite payments. Every mobile engagement has become an opportunity for direct, personal and highly actionable advertising.
  4. Unleash your brand where it matters. Facebook and Google pretty much control the landscape simply because billions of people and possibly millions of businesses use their ecosystems. Overall, Google controls nearly 41% of the U.S. digital ad market while Facebook holds nearly 20%. They collectively control a similar chunk of the mobile market. Data indicate that Google will continue to dominate search while Facebook will keeping raking in those display ad revenues in the foreseeable future. Exuding a lackluster presence in either market will either bump up your opportunity cost or virally spread unfavorable publicity about your brand.
  5. Don’t ignore LinkedIn and other social media channels. Since millennials will account for much of the consumer market, better go where they usually hang out. It’s no secret that LinkedIn has become a massive content engine as of late, especially among young professionals. SnapChat, Instagram, and Slack would be reasonable places to promote your brand in fresh, creative ways. Twitter remains viable for some businesses but LinkedIn should be a staple advertising channel especially for B2B companies.
  6. Hire/partner with UX masters and digital content experts. Given the leapfrogging capabilities of computer hardware and software, brands gain the ability to tell their stories in new ways. By blending art and technology, you can provide audiences with clever, immersive, and compelling user experiences. New combinations and forms of rich graphics, videos, and sound can imbue your message with the right charm to keep customers engaged and primed towards making a purchase.             
  7. Leverage known facts about human behavior. People generally resent being forced to experience ads. In fact, at least 200 million people use ad blocking software. This calls for a new form of advertising that go beyond just being unobtrusive to being contextually relevant. Add the finding that you only have 37 seconds before consumers’ ever-shortening attention spans shift from your message to another and you’ll see the crucial importance of behavioral economics to digital advertising. To get ahead, you may want to deploy classic advertising tricks that appeal to human emotions or partner with innovative ad startups like GameWheel and GumGum which offer new ways of telling your story.    
  8. Optimize your content for millennials. Millennials may not represent your ideal customer profile (e.g., you’re selling travel packages for retirees, etc.) but if you’re part of a B2B company, then leads and point persons at your target enterprises will likely be millennials themselves. That means knowing their common interests, views and online behavior will help you tailor your ads and establish more meaningful connections. For example, many millennials — not all of them certainly — value experience more than material things and tend to postpone traditional milestones such as marriage, owning a house, raising kids, and having their own cars. Fortunately, most are online 24-7 and hang out at sites like SnapChat and Instagram where you can take a shot at their notoriously short attention spans.   
  9. Partner with influencers. In the age of virtual connections, luminaries with significant social capital wield enormous influence over people who follow their social media accounts. Advertisers have long stumbled upon this new cultural phenomenon and have been harnessing its potential benefits for their brands. Always get influencers to tell your story if doing so doesn’t go against your branding fundamentals. Otherwise, your competitors will.
  10. Embrace technology. Given its disruptive nature, technology consistently serve the same business role: as game changer and a competitive advantage. Businesses who embrace technology often lead their industries. In digital advertising, emerging tech can always find a use case. Enhance your ad campaigns with doses of interactive content, video streaming, AI-driven chatbots, and data analytics enhanced by machine learning.

Digital advertising is changing and so should you

A June report by PwC and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) recorded the “highest ever Q1 earnings for digital advertising in the U.S.,” clocking in at $19.6 billion. This milestone reinforces pundits’ projections that the world of advertising is inexorably shifting towards digital, with more and more companies investing in beefing up their online presence.  

But it’s not only about funneling cash into online campaigns you’ve been used to for several years. It’s also about strategy, focus and realignment with rapid advances in technology and dramatic shifts in consumer behavior.

Gaetano is the VP of Marketing at Sales Hacker – previously, he was the director of SEO at Pipedrive. Outside of marketing, Gaetano is an accomplished music producer & songwriter. To get in touch, follow him on Twitter via @gaetano_nyc