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Faced with an increasingly complex and constantly shifting digital landscape, the majority of marketers are struggling to get to the point where their campaigns are very successful, according to our newly released 2016 State of Digital Marketing report.

It seems that innovations in technology and changes in consumer behavior are outstripping marketers’ ability to execute.

To gauge the current state of digital marketing, we interviewed 275 marketing professionals, the majority of them B2B marketers at the executive level. We asked them what worked and where they struggled.

Success is a wiggly metric

The first thing we wanted to capture in our survey was central to this report. What exactly is the state of digital marketing efforts? How do you know when your marketing is working?

When we asked, “How successful are you at segmenting your digital marketing strategy to achieve important goals,” the answer was, “So-so.” Only 12 percent rated their strategies as “very successful.”


Our analysis is that this lack of clear success represents an over reliance on tactics and a dearth of strategy. Before they can execute tactics, marketers must have a clear view of what they’re trying to accomplish. The most successful companies we’ve ever seen in any marketing group are the ones that focus on the strategy first for any challenge.

We advise our clients to set aside one full day at the beginning of the fiscal year to clearly define the overall marketing strategy and to make sure that everyone on the team is aligned.

Storming the barriers

Of course, the most common reason given by companies for not setting aside time to define strategy is a lack of resources. This is not an excuse – this challenge is real. However, it can mask other barriers to digital marketing success that can be overcome once they’re identified.

Inadequate analytics and reporting, and the inability to measure ROI were identified as significant barriers by 34 percent of people in our survey. We wonder whether marketers are taking full advantage of the analytics baked into most modern marketing platforms.


Goals that matter

Whenever we have the opportunity to speak with marketers in the trenches for a survey, we ask them about the strategic goals for their marketing strategies. The current survey responses were consistent with those identified in earlier ones: The top strategic goal was to increase lead generation, followed by increasing conversions.

We were happy to see a greater emphasis on increasing sales attribution. In this multi-channel world, we’ve come to realize that last-click attribution skews results and doesn’t give an accurate picture of the conversion process.

As marketers gain access to more data, the complex path-to-purchase begins to become clearer. This is critically important because without the ability to attribute a conversion to multiple touch-points, marketers can’t successfully apportion their marketing budgets.


Bang for the buck

When it comes to the most effective marketing tactics, the most proven continue to be the most effective: email (61 percent) and the website (59 percent). At the same time, marketers said that these were the easiest channels to execute campaigns on.


It’s not surprising that social media topped the list of the most difficult channels for marketers. There’s a constant flux in their features as social media platforms struggle for dominance and revenue. Meanwhile, new entrants are constantly coming into the market, each heralded as the new thing “everyone is using.”


Although search engine optimization (SEO) has been around almost as long as email marketing, our survey shows that it remains a black box for many marketers. Google seems to be perpetually refining its algorithms, sometimes undoing the SEO work or at least engaging marketers in a constant battle.

Unfortunately, expertise and insights gained in one channel are not often applicable to other channels. This is why the majority of marketers in our survey use a mix of in-house and outsourced resources to navigate the shifting landscape.


We know everything about nothing

At Adestra, we’re experts at email marketing – and our platform and services do indeed make it easy to execute on tactics. But we know that creating an effective email strategy is still difficult.

Perhaps marketers in our survey were swayed by the effectiveness of their email campaigns into believing that they’ve mastered every aspect of it.

In fact, there’s a great deal of innovation in the email space that marketers may not be taking advantage of. Today’s email can do so much more than providing pretty images and a buy button. Not only has functionality increased tremendously, a flood of new data is being generated that can help marketers understand the effectiveness of multichannel campaigns and attribute conversions correctly.

If a marketer’s email campaigns are highly effective, but the overall marketing strategy is only somewhat effective, maybe it’s time to take a closer look at email innovation. Instead of assuming it’s easy, let’s challenge ourselves to step it up – and take marketing campaigns to new heights of ROI.

To download our 2016 State of Digital Marketing report, click here.