Digital marketing budgets are on the rise, so why are the people in charge of them so confused?

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Questions

Unless you’re a completely blinkered old media type, there’s not much about the growth of online advertising that will have surprised you in the past few years. Globally, it’s already overtaken print and is poised to overtake TV. That growth isn’t showing any signs of slowing down either. According to technology research house Gartner, digital marketing budgets are set to increase 10% this year. So why are the people in charge of those budgets so confused about what to do with them?

A new survey by Adobe, conducted among over 1 000 US marketing professionals, shows that while most people in the space want to reinvent themselves, fewer than 14% actually know how they plan on going about it.

Perhaps they can take a cue from the results of a smaller Gartner survey covering the same space, which shows some pretty distinct areas that leaders in the industry are working on:

“Marketing leaders are securing bigger budgets to define markets, develop offerings, and attract, acquire and retain customers,” said Yvonne Genovese, managing vice president at Gartner. “Digital marketing is taking an increasing share of the marketing budget with annual digital marketing operating budgets totalling 3.1% of a company’s revenue in 2013, as compared with 2.6% in 2012, representing a 20% increase.”

That explains what to do, but how they should go about it seems to be presenting a good few problems for people in the space. Among the problems they report facing are a lack of training in new marketing skills and organisational inability to adapt. The latter in particular could tie in strongly to the fact that 65% of the marketing professionals surveyed by Adobe say they are more comfortable adopting new technologies once they become mainstream.

Making the right hires

The also seems to be a sense that some companies are still reluctant to hire digital and social marketers, data analysts, creatives and mobile marketers — all positions which many of those surveyed by Adobe would see as essential additions to their teams.

The common thread among many of those positions is that they enable people to connect directly with people.

“Customer experiences with a brand or organisation span so many channels — both online and off — that customers have come to expect consistent experiences, no matter where an interaction initially takes place,” says Laura McLellan, research vice president at Gartner. “Customer touchpoints include websites, mobile apps, social profiles, directory listings, on-site search, email interactions, communities, call centre and more; hence, the increasing popularity of the role of the chief customer officer to help guide the customer right through the buying cycle and beyond.”

That suggests that a part of the problem, at least, comes from the fact the people higher up than a lot of the marketing heads still tend to think in old media terms. It’s also worth taking into account however that the people put in charge of company marketing budgets continue to wrestle with digital advertising’s effectiveness.

That may sound a little strange, given that digital’s measurability is what sets it apart, but there’s no doubt that there have been issues over the years.

The fact that industry associations, advertising agencies, media, technology, and metrics providers and brand advertisers are all working to address this concern by improving attribution models and cracking down on phony web traffic is however bound to pay off in the near future.

Too much choice

Another important factor worth considering when it comes to figuring out why so many people in marketing are so confused is the number of products available to them. You only have to look at where people are putting their money right now to see that. According to Gartner:

Design, development and maintenance of the corporate website account for the second-largest share of digital marketing budgets as the increase of inbound marketing channels such as social networks, customer forums and the blogosphere creates more traffic on the corporate web site.

Digital commerce, social marketing and mobile marketing — three activities that increasingly overlap — are closely tied for the third-largest share of digital marketing budgets.

There’s absolutely no proof that this division is the right way of going about things. It’s just the way that most people seem to be doing things for now. As a further indication of just how complex the space is, take a look at Gartner’s transit map — which has a layout familiar to anyone who’s ever used a major public transit system, shows the relationships among business functions, application services and solution providers.

Gartner Marketing map

Full size, interactive version

Small wonder then that nearly half of the people surveyed by Adobe report “trusting my gut” to guide decisions on where to invest their marketing budgets.

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