Cover Story: Media Usage Survey 2015
Direct marketing media budgets increased markedly last year, and they show no signs of backsliding in 2015, according to Target Marketing's "2015 Media Usage Survey." Respondents appear to be embracing opportunities in search and display advertising to introduce their brands to new customers in a way we haven't seen in years.
Overall, about 45 percent report budgets are staying the same as last year. That's more stability than in 2014, but less than 2013 or 2012 (when roughly 50 percent stayed the same). Meanwhile, less than 15 percent of marketers report a budget decrease, while about twice that many are planning to increase budgets. The combined trend is overall steady growth.
The outlook is even rosier when looking at acquisition and retention budgets. Only about 5 percent of marketers plan to decrease budgets for acquisition or retention, while 42 percent are increasing acquisition budgets, and 32 percent are increasing retention budgets. The data suggests most respondents are out of the recessionary caution-spending era. Now it's full-steam growth mode for many marketers.
There are some surprises in where marketers are putting that money. How has online display advertising made a comeback? And what do marketers mean when they say they're "increasing mobile spending"? Read on to find out.
Overall Media Trends
Most respondents (65 percent) are increasing email spending. That percentage is very large, but in line with years past. In fact, more than 60 percent of respondents have reported increasing email spending in every year since 2010. We're surprised there's still fresh budget to be put into it after all these years of increases.
Search engine marketing (SEM) and optimization (SEO) both continue to be high priorities in direct media budgets, especially for acquisition. That shows up all across the media spending results. It's also apparent in the tactics and technology results in Chart 5, where content marketing, video and mobile optimization were all reported to be high priorities—each offers strong search benefits. Search marketing is one of the most powerful tactics marketers are using to be found by and connect with new customers in 2015.
Most respondents (61 percent) also plan to increase social media engagement investments in 2015. That's nearly as many as those who are increasing email spend. And as with email, this growth has been steady for several years. The tide has only risen 2 percent from last year, where 59 percent of surveyed marketers said they would increase spend on the medium.
On the other hand, social media advertising is way up compared with years past. Almost half (46 percent) are increasing budget on social ads, and only 21 percent are not using them at all. That's the largest increase over last year's responses, when 45 percent reported they did not use social advertising, and only 31 percent were increasing investment in it.
Social media advertising is now the fifth-most-used media, according to the survey, bumping direct mail out of the top five. This continues the slightly downward trajectory of direct mail during the past two years. One marketer noted that "user preferences have led us to increase e-marketing and decrease direct mail." When asked what media delivers the strongest ROI for customer acquisition—long considered email's weakest application—32 percent of respondents said email, while only 17 percent said direct mail.
Content marketing and lead nurturing are both growing, as well, as seen in Chart 5. During the past two years, we've tracked the meteoric rise of content marketing as a staggering 90 percent of respondents reported using it in the 2014 survey, and 65 percent were increasing spend. This year, that trend continues to hold strong, as Chart 5 shows that content marketing as a tactic still has the highest percentage of respondents planning to increase spending through 2015 (56 percent).
The catchphrase "Content is king" comes to mind. In the words of one responder: "Good content and SEO ... bring our best responses."
Direct mail is still a critically important channel to many direct marketers, despite the fact that 11 percent of respondents report decreasing budgets. Chart 4 shows that more than half of those surveyed are still using it for purposes of both acquisition and retention. It's not that mail is going away—obviously, when the majority of marketers are either increasing or holding steady their spend on direct mail—just that newer strategies are factoring into the direct marketing equation, and its share is being spread around to other corners of the media landscape.
What Is 'Mobile Marketing' Today?
The term "Mobile Marketing" means as many different things to as many different people as you'd ask their thoughts on it. A company that offers text marketing services says that mobile is SMS—and that's right. Companies that offer location-specific retail tech say mobile is marketing to consumers where and when they are—and they are also right. But how are marketers actually spending, according to our results?
Looking at the "Do Not Use" responses in Chart 5 reveals what's not happening in the mobile arena. It would seem many marketers are just not spending on things like QR Codes, SMS, NFC, location-based technologies and augmented reality. These technologies can be sorted into two categories: Those that may be past their peak (QR codes, SMS), and those with potential yet to be fully realized (NFC, location-based tech).
So why does "mobile" still remain a prominent buzzword—and spend category? In Chart 3, 45 percent of respondents report that they're increasing mobile spending this year, and Chart 4 shows that 43 percent are counting on mobile for acquisition.
Clues in Chart 5 indicate that mobile spend is going toward optimizing websites to be useful—or even prioritized—in an increasingly on-the-go world. Mobile is being treated more and more like an extension of the online marketing environment than a phone- or location-based channel. According to one B-to-B marketer: "I feel mobile must be incorporated and to continue face-to-face relationship-building."
It seems that this marketer wasn't alone in emphasizing the relationship side of things. In the responses, we noticed that word come up quite a bit—especially partnered with "mobile." "It's all about personalization," said another response. "Mobile, social and digital offer tons of opportunities to send more personalized messages."
The Rebirth of Online Display Advertising
Display advertising overall appears to be blooming. Search engine marketing, advertising on outside websites and social media advertising are all fairly similar mediums—and a rising tide is lifting all the boats in this harbor.
While there's much to-do over the rise of "Programmatic," the data seen in Chart 5 doesn't really support a correlation between the display boom and programmatic. With 69 percent of our respondents saying that they don't use programmatic tools with their advertising strategy, and another 45 percent noting that retargeting doesn't make the cut, it's hard to pin down what's behind the emphasis on display ads.
Although, speaking of logic and programmatic, one response said that "2015 marks a shift in focus from operational and programmatic refinement to promoting and marketing services. This year, it is all about implementing different logic-based strategies to cultivate business." We do wonder if the elements of programmatic ad buying are helping lift display advertising, even if that's not the word respondents use to describe what they're doing.
Not so long ago, online display advertising looked like it was on the way out. Marketers had seen clicks dwindle to just about nothing, and conversions were even worse. Today? Not only are marketers still using display ads, they're using them well.
One key to this revitalization is that the technology behind online advertising has gradually improved. Even without labeling itself as "programmatic" or "retargeting," technologies like AdWords have managed to reduce fragmentation in advertising at a time where exactly the opposite should be happening. This has occurred because even as the amount of content online—and therefore space for ads—increases at an astonishing rate, ad platforms are integrating tools which grant them increased reach across display mediums.
For example, you may now buy ad placements which run seamlessly across Google, social networks and other websites with display ad space. Consumers are liable to see the same ad everywhere from their online email clients to search results and social media feeds.
When we asked marketers, "What's influencing changes in your direct marketing media allocations?," one note came back that there was, "Poor performance of PPC advertising, [we're] shifting those dollars to remarketing campaigns." And that their B-to-C business was "Shifting those funds away from portals to increasing search and personalization on company site." So even where dollars are leaving online ads, they're moving to other forms of online ads. Thus, only 5 percent of responses indicated a decrease in that media spending.
Building a competent and successful integrated marketing strategy is a long journey, and there's no one right way to get to where you're going. Diversity is key. "Marketers shall not live on any one media alone" could be canonized and used as marketing scripture. Hopefully, this year's results will not stand as a be-all, end-all for what you could or should be doing, but rather help guide you to a toolbox of marketing media solutions which help you achieve your goals of profitability and success.