For digital marketers, 2016 was a year of innovation and change. And while some of the most prominent challenges were familiar, there were brand new hurdles that seemed to emerge daily. So, what were the most critical ones?
As marketers close out the year and consider strategies for 2017, here’s a look back at five of the biggest obstacles they faced over the last year.
1. Ad fraud is still a big problem.
The United States has one of the worst ad fraud rates in the world. This year, the rates will cost the industry more than $7 billion in advertising spend -- up, once again, from the previous year (in this case, 2015). For comparison, other countries like Australia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom all have better rates.
On the bright side, as the problem has grown, so has awareness among advertisers. This has led to supply-side changes, with publishers eliminating high-risk and potentially fraudulent inventory. We’re also seeing more industrywide standards and incentives in place this year than there were two years ago.
For instance, the IAB has put in place a Traffic of Good Intent Task Force, designed to combat ad fraud and offer recommendations and best practices. And, this past summer, the Trustworthy Accountability Group launched an anti-fraud certification program.
Together, these things are turning the tide -- albeit slowly. As fraud lingers, however, marketers might look at other channels that have more inherent engagement and audience buy-in -- such as mobile apps and email -- as a means for launching launch campaigns.
2. Marketers are stuck on data collection.
Today, more than 92 percent of marketers collect information on customers or prospects. Data-driven marketing is the industry standard. But we’re still stuck in idle, focusing on data collection. Most marketers are just learning how to crawl when it comes to making data actionable at scale; and 2016 didn’t see much progress in that direction.
When it comes to data implementation, an alarming number of marketers still lack the internal experience -- either at the functional or operational level -- to be successful. This is why, according to a report from IDG Connect and Avention, more than 40 percent of marketers can’t draw insights from harvested data.
This will hopefully change as marketing tools offer more self-service, automating data analysis and implementation. And others will offer machine-learning capabilities to drive immediate applications of customer data.
3. Marketing software is too hard to use.
During this past year, 2016, technology’s ease of use has become a much bigger focus for the marketing industry. This is because of the complexity in the customer journey. Scott Brinker, the CTO of ion interactive, said it best when he characterized the funnel as “hundreds of touchpoints” that are “aching to be addressed every month.”
As the customer journey has grown more complicated, with more touchpoints and data, software supporting marketers needs to be simplified. Companies that do that will optimize adoption and support ROI.
Marketing software shouldn’t be a rite of passage. To navigate the complexity of the modern customer journey, it must be built for ease of use, with intuitive UIs and functionality. This has been the focus of many software providers this year. Advertisers, agencies and marketers want more platform simplicity from vendors.
4. We’re still under-using location.
This past year, 2016, was also the year of Pokémon Go. And, despite a fade down the stretch, its overall popularity of 55 million users in its first month out made one thing very clear: Location-based data is still the key to understanding customer context, as mobile becomes the dominant screen.
According to AOL’s Chief Mobile Officer, Mark Connon, “Understanding the customer journey through mobile means understanding location and proximity-based patterns. If [marketers] have this information, they can deliver more relevant, direct ad experiences.”
From traditional channels like email to more cutting-edge platforms like AR, VR and 360-degree video, location data powers insights on how to best engage customers in a more personalized way through mobile.
Still, marketers have been slow to weave location into their campaigns. But 2016 will go down as the year most advertisers finally realized just how critical geo-spatial data, in a post-mobile environment, will be for the future.
5. Platforms aren’t open enough.
More than 50 percent of marketers are using five to 10 technology platforms. Another 30 percent use 11 to 16 platforms. Even as vendor consolidation occurs in the market, it will take years for these platforms to truly unify. This is holding back more integrated marketing strategies.
The key, in the interim, is openness and technology agnosticism. Programmatic platforms, marketing automation services and other solutions need to be able to talk to one other with two-way connections.
These technologies need to be open and integration-ready, with more and more services. Increasingly, integrations are a determinative factor when marketers choose vendors. It’s simply a necessity given the way vendors operate today. Services that are closed systems won’t stand a chance.
This past year, the marketing industry experienced numerous challenges. It’s up to advertisers to determine the best strategies for handling these hurdles in 2017.