Social investment to continue its uptick

The latest Digital Pulse study also goes deep on which platforms seem to be seeing the most impact from in-housing.

The effectiveness and proven short-term results of social is going to lead a lot of marketers to increase investment on the platform.

That’s among the findings of the the 15th annual Digital Marketing Pulse Survey, conducted by the Canadian Marketing Association, Ipsos Canada and strategy, which found that 70% of marketers expect to increase their spending on social next year. Even as pre-pandemic behaviours begin again, more than 93% of marketers and agencies say they use social tactics always or often.

That’s roughly in-line with consumer habits. About three-quarters (74%) of Canadian consumers polled visited a social networking site in 2021, up from 69% in 2020. Over half (60%) say they’re willing to receive information from a social network, reaching a three year high.

Email marketing remains an important tactic with marketers, going to 86% after a slight dip in last year’s study. It’s not the same story with agencies, where use moved from 58% in 2019, to 52%, and back to 58% in 2021 – although this could be the result of marketers taking email marketing in-house. Email marketing is a tactic that is well accepted among consumers, with eight in 10 willing to receive information via this medium. Six in 10 have responded to an email campaign – slightly more than last year. This could be because targeting mechanisms are better and email marketing can be controlled by the consumer who can opt out of receiving these communications.

Search engine marketing continues to be a popular tactic, with 79% of marketers and 73% of agencies saying they use it often or always, compared to 80% and 69%, respectively last year. Search engine optimization is practiced by 85% of agencies and 72% of marketers, up from 83% and 63% in 2020.

Programmatic marketing seems to have plateaued amongst agencies with 53% (2021) and 56% (2020) saying
they use it always or often. That said, use by marketers is gaining momentum, clocking in at 52% this year and 47% last year. The report says its likely that clients are taking programmatic in-house more often, since it is time consuming for agencies that have to “justify and defend” what they’re doing.

As recovery in out-of-home recovers from the pandemic, use of digital signage by marketers has grown to 41% in 2021 from 34% last year, although agency use has dropped to 30%, compared to 45% in 2020. This could be due to more in-store digital signage being utilized by marketing to prepare for the return to in-store shopping. Use of location-based technology and targeting as part of campaigns also saw a further drop from 2020 in 2021, likely due to lower mobility, as well as data privacy concerns.

Companies continue to use social sites as direct marketing tools, with not much variance seen in 2021 scores (66%) compared to 2020 (69%). While there are privacy and security concerns linked to social, most Canadians have not changed their social media habits in the last few years. Higher engagement levels were seen this year compared to the
previous two years – possibly driven by the isolation factor of the pandemic.

In recent years, usage of influencer marketing among agencies drastically fell to 36% in 2020 from 44% the previous year, and struggled to recover in 2021 (35%). In contrast, and pointing to another instance in-housing, usage of influencer marketing by client-side marketers has been increasing over the past few years – from 35% in 2020 to 39% this year. This growth aside, there remains some level of negativity associated with either lack of authenticity or concerns over control.

Online video marketing has become part of a more integrated strategy and a main component of the digital media mix, even though production costs have gone up. Over 60% of marketers indicate that they are looking to include more video marketing in their strategies. Video is popular with consumers – 66% have watched an ad in the last six months and 76% having noticed a video ad. The number of marketers who say brand safety concerns have caused them to reduce their online video spend in the past year has gone from 12% to 6%.

One of the newer technologies, augmented reality, hasn’t hit its stride yet. Both marketers and agencies are familiar with AR but use remains low. ROI, applicability, and usefulness remain in question for AR as a tactic because the technology and implementation can be expensive and there remains a question mark over its ability to scale.

Use of digital audio has not been as strong as a tactic as expected with the growth of Spotify, Apple music, and podcasts. Both marketers and agencies say it is a powerful tactic but underestimated, and that more understanding about the medium is needed in order to maximize its potential.

Marketers and agencies are not very familiar with the emerging world of e-sports and gaming – only about one-fifth of each group – with fewer than 10% using it frequently. It is expected, however, to be a growing channel that will bring opportunity in the coming years.

Advanced TV, one of the newest forms of digital marketing, is an evolving channel and one to watch as a tactic as streaming and on-demand services increase. Currently, a quarter of agencies and marketers are familiar with advanced TV and less than 20% use with any frequency.