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5 things the Digital Pulse survey has taught us: Part I

The digital space continues to grow as do the number of marketers investing in it

This upcoming October, Marketing and the Canadian Marketing Association will host our annual Digital Day conference — this year revamped as the brand new Digital Religion event. While there will be a lot of new faces on this year’s agenda, one familiar session will remain.

For the past decade, Ipsos Reid chief operating officer Steve Levy has delivered the results of the exclusive Digital Pulse survey at our Digital Day (now Religion) conference. The Pulse acts as a census for the Canadian marketing industry, and asks both members of the CMA and Marketing‘s readership to answer a series of questions as to where they stand with digital marketing on a yearly basis. Since 2006 the Digital Pulse has tracked several interesting changes, some of which Levy has gathered below for one of two posts about the insights this survey has uncovered over the years.

In the past nine years of the Digital Pulse, the definition of what is meant by “digital” marketing has continued to morph as trends have come and gone. Microblogging, for example, was at one point regarded as an aspect of digital marketing, but has since been removed from the survey to be replaced by other trends such as wearables. A few mainstays remain though, as the survey continues to ask questions regarding email, search engine, social and interactive marketing

Overall, “we know that the digital space continues to grow and that not only is senior management more actively involved, but increasingly they believe that digital marketing efforts are being effective,” Levy tells Marketing. Below are five reasons why.

The “perceived effectiveness” of digital has increased among marketers

One thing the Digital Pulse survey asks marketers to measure is how effective their digital initiatives have been. In 2008, the number of people who responded “very effective” was 33%, but this increased to 49% by 2014. Not only that, the marketing industry’s perception of who leads the way in digital has dramatically changed over the past decade. Ten years ago, when asked who leads the way in digital, marketers responded nearly every time with the name of a technology company. The 2014 results were quite different though, as marketers also named consumer packaged goods companies, retailers and financial service institutions as leaders in the digital space.

“Budgets” have increasingly shifted in favour of digital

The Digital Pulse survey asks marketers about their expenditures in print, direct mail, television, out-of-home campaigns, social media, email and online marketing. While the survey does not ask respondents to give budgetary estimates (and therefore the survey does not have concrete numbers on this point), we can say sentiment has shifted towards spending on digital in the past decade. “We do believe that the dollars will follow the sentiment,” says Levy. “Maybe not in the proportion we see, but they will follow them.”

So what sentiments have been demonstrated? First of all, the survey’s last decade of responses shows net negative changes downward for spending on direct mail, radio, television and out-of-home since 2009. At the same time, positive sentiment has increased for email, mobile, social and online marketing. While we don’t know if this is an expression of dollar change, notes Levy, it does demonstrate a change in positive sentiments toward digital marketing.

Email marketing is still alive and healthy

“I often hear people make the claim that email is dead or dying. That’s not true in this country,” says Levy. Email marketing is in fact “alive and healthy,” he says. “It remains targeted, it remains controllable, and it remains measurable.” Better yet, according to other Ipsos Reid data, eight out of 10 consumers are willing to receive communications from brands via their email addresses, says Levy.

Familiarity and frequency have both increased among marketers when it comes to email over the past decade. In 2006, 66% of survey respondents said they were “very familiar” with email marketing. In 2014, that number had increased to 83%.  Also in 2006, 39% of marketers said they “frequently” used email marketing. By 2014, that number had also increased to 83%.

The perception that email marketing might soon be dead was largely due to the introduction of CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation) last year. “In actual fact, that never happened at all,” says Levy. Instead, CASL was more of a catalyst for change, because it helped marketers to focus in on how to properly communicate with their customers via email. “The result was less email going out, and of course much less clutter,” says Levy. With the new rules, “brands were forced to pay much more attention to what they were doing, so it’s much more targeted,” he says.

Groupon was just a fad

We mentioned earlier that the definition of digital marketing has changed over the past decade, largely due to the fact that some digital advertising methods have come and gone since 2006. Some things haven’t changed — email marketing, search engine marketing, social media, digital signage, podcasting, mobile marketing, online videos, customer-facing websites and online advertising have all been part of the Digital Pulse survey since 2006.

A few things have had very little staying power, however, including ECRM (or electronic customer relationship management), behavioural targeting, the aforementioned trend of microblogging, online interactive gaming, and daily deals (i.e. Groupon and other group buying services). Another trend the Digital Pulse has stopped including in its questionnaire is the concept of “viral marketing.” Back in 2006, the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign created a host of problems for agencies when their clients started to demand their marketing efforts “go viral.” It’s a “ludicrous concept” to include in a brief, says Levy. “You can’t create something like that — it’s magic.” In more recent years however, agencies have gotten better at trying to ensure that some campaigns have the “key ingredients” to go viral, Levy added. These basic ingredients include social currency (a topic that can make you look smart or intriguing by bringing it up in conversation), emotion, a storyline, and the bravery to take a risk. “If campaigns have those four pieces, that doesn’t guarantee viral, but it has at least a chance at [being] really big.”

Increasing knowledge of the digital space

During the last two Digital Pulse surveys, Ipsos Reid included a question that asked the marketing community to rate themselves on a scale from “I know nothing” to “I’m considered a guru” when it came to their knowledge of digital. Responses on the level of “guru” have remained at 6% over the last two years, but more important is the number of people who now say they know a lot. That number grew from 39% to 62% between 2013 and 2014. “It’s one signal that the marketing community is more educated than it was, and that’s just in the last two years,” says Levy. Not only are more marketers feeling more familiar with digital, respondents note that senior management is taking a more active role in digital marketing plans. The level of engagement of those in senior roles rose from 43% in 2013 to 49% in 2014. While we don’t know if this means that bosses are asking more questions, or really diving deep into digital marketing, “there’s certainly more involvement from senior management than there was in the past,” says Levy.

Now for the plug:

Ipsos Reid, the CMA and Marketing have been busy collecting survey responses for the 2015 edition of the Digital Pulse survey, set to be presented at the Digital Religion conference on October 19th. We encourage you to take this survey so we can get the best possible reading on the Canadian marketing community in 2015. As an incentive, this year MasterCard has provided us with five gift cards to give away to some of our responders. Four individuals will get a gift card valued at $250, and one lucky individual will receive a $1000 gift card. Click here to take the 2015 Digital Pulse survey. We hope to see you at Digital Religion.

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