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The New Definition of Branding (And 4 More Ways Digital Marketing Will Evolve in 2016)

The digital marketing landscape is changing… again.
At DigitalMarketer we spend a lot of our own money on testing.  We are testing tactics in dozens of markets including…

  • Men’s Clothing
  • Survival and Preparedness
  • DIY/Home Improvement
  • Beauty
  • Finance and Investing

This year alone we drove millions of clicks from paid traffic, sent over a billion emails and published thousands of pieces of content.
As a result, we detect new trends in digital marketing months (sometimes years!) before they go mainstream.
(RELATED: The Beginner’s Guide to Digital Marketing)
Here’s what the DigitalMarketer team and I are seeing as we enter 2016.
I’ll go ahead and kick it off…


Ryan Deiss

CEO & Founder, Digital Marketer
The definition of branding has changed as we approach the new year:
Branding is anything that makes a deposit into a customer or prospect’s relational equity account.
Allow me to explain…
I want you to picture a bank vault. A giant, round, metal bank vault. Can you see it?
But this is no ordinary bank vault. Instead of housing money, this vault houses “goodwill,” and specifically the goodwill you have built with your prospects and existing customers.
Some marketers have built up a positive balance of “goodwill” in their vault. In some cases it might even be overflowing. For others, however, the vault isn’t just empty…it’s running a negative balance.
I love direct response. I’m not so naïve as to believe the claim that many “new” marketers are making that all you have to do is give, give, give and eventually your market will buy.
It’s a lie.
If you want sales, you must ask for the order. Period.
That said, with the rise of ad blockers and the ongoing shift to in-feed ads (i.e. Facebook Sponsored Posts), advertisers will be forced to balance branding with direct response more than ever.
They’ll need to answer the question:

“Is this making a deposit into my prospect’s relational equity account, or is it making a withdrawal.”

BOTTOM LINE: Asking for the order draws down on that balance of “goodwill.” We can pretend it doesn’t, but it does. In fact, anytime you ask anyone for anything you are effectively “drawing down” on goodwill.
Content marketing and many “branding” efforts, on the other hand, can raise the “goodwill balance.” Unfortunately, it’s difficult (actually, it’s impossible) to get direct response results from branding campaigns.
Can you see how choosing one camp or the other is unsustainable?
Don’t get me wrong, if I had to choose — I’d be in the pure direct response camp all day long (because I like to eat and pay bills and fun stuff like that). But as 2016 approaches, I don’t need to make a choice.
The digital advertising landscape has evolved, and we can have our cake and eat it too.
What is this evolution in digital advertising?
In a word: Retargeting.
Ad retargeting IS NOT some new loophole tactic that promises to work for a month or two and promptly close. Retargeting is a shift in the way advertisers build owned media (much like your email list) and place the right offer in front of the right person at the right time.
Ad retargeting combines the best of branding (building goodwill) with the best of direct response (making sales) and does it all with the blessing of the ad networks and the customers you are serving.
(Earlier this week I recorded an interview with Russ Henneberry about the digital marketing landscape of 2016 exclusive to DigitalMarketer Lab members, if you’re a member you can listen in here.)



Molly Pittman

Vice President, Digital Marketer

As we move into 2016, “direct response” companies will evolve their advertising to look and act more like “big brands”.
What does this mean?
Small businesses can now run “branding” ads (that will deposit into a customer or prospect’s relational equity account) WITHOUT breaking the bank.
But, this isn’t new news.
We’ve been talking about using paid traffic to build relationships with your prospects for most of 2015… BUT, in 2016 you’ll find it way easier to execute this strategy on mainstream traffic platforms.
Why? Two reasons:

  1. Because traffic platforms are making it easier for us to do so.
  2. Because we have to.

Digital marketing is becoming more and more about user experience, especially with the rise of ad blockers.
Businesses that build their marketing strategy into an experience, into a story… they will win.
You can do this via video ads or ads to pieces of content… on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube for ad budgets as low as $5.
(RELATED: Perpetual Traffic Episode 03: The Facebook Video Ad Game Plan)
You can now run ads that make people laugh. That make them cry. Maybe even make them feel like they are a part of something, or maybe give a ton of value.
Before, this would be a costly undertaking… think buying TV commercial time!
Now, they can get to know you first. Even on a small budget or without a ton of resources.
You no longer have to be the jerk running “one hit wonder” campaigns that continuously ASK your market to buy.
Don’t you want to be the nice guy? 🙂
Don’t you want to build a traffic system that acquires customers that are going to become brand evangelists?
This may not sound sexy, but as we move through 2016 businesses will no longer have a choice. Marketing is all about the experience you’re creating for the end user.
Small businesses are now able to do “branding” via paid traffic, or the new definition of it (branding is NOT your logo), for a few reasons…

  1. Video ads
  2. Further sophistication/development of content distribution networks
  3. The ability to track and attribute revenue to the above ad types
  4. Ability to create retargeting audiences from “branding” campaigns (think Facebook video ads… you can create retargeting audiences of people viewing your videos!)

As 2016 progresses, targeting options on traffic platforms will become even more effective.
Why? Traffic platforms are collecting more and more data on individuals. Traffic platforms are also rolling out new features and simply getting smarter.
This will make it even easier for us to reach our target markets and spend our ad dollars on people who will actually buy our products.
Because you can now run traffic campaigns to a targeted group in your market, branding is no longer the “shotgun” approach it once was… and now, we can even track the results of these campaigns and actually tie revenue back to them for justification.
But, you must be willing to…

  1. Figure out who you serve
  2. Figure out how you can serve them
  3. Deliver value you in advance in the form of content

Businesses are now able to balance branding and direct response.
Those who adopt and understand this mentality in 2016 will win. We’re looking forward to the ride!


russ_pic_150pxRuss Henneberry

Editorial Director, Digital Marketer
It’s finally arrived…
The business case for content and social media marketing has arrived in 2016! Not the hippy, feel good (We got more retweets and comments!) business case. Content and social media marketing now has a direct connection to lead generation and top-line sales.
Smart content and social media marketers will align themselves with those that understand how to put offers in front of targeted audiences using ad retargeting. Or, they’ll add it to their own skill set.
Allow me to explain…
Here’s what IS NOT new: marketing is about putting the right offer in front of the right person at the right time.
And content is an unbelievably powerful way to find that “right person”. The truth is that NOTHING on Earth is better at segmentation (finding the “right person”) than content.
If you’re consuming content (blog posts, videos, podcasts, etc) about organic gardening, I know you’re interested in organic gardening. If you’re consuming content about retirement planning, I know you are interested in… you guessed it… planning for retirement.
Here’s what IS new: Today, content can be paired with ad retargeting to make the right offer to the right person at the right time. In other words, I can run this ad…
… to people that read (showed interest in) this article…
In 2016, a balance between direct response marketing (asking for the order) and branding (making deposits of “goodwill”) is critical.
That balance requires the strategic use of content marketing.


Justin Rondeau

Conversion Optimization Manager, Digital Marketer

I’ll make this short and sweet — In 2016, the importance of analysis will finally overcome people’s obsession with raw data.
Successful marketers in 2016 will ONLY focus on specific, actionable data points and avoid meaningless vanity metrics  — vanity metrics are so 2015!
We don’t have a data problem; there is a ton of data out there. We have an analysis problem. In 2016, I see more marketers dialing in on the marketing metrics that matter to their business and will stop compiling data for the sake of gathering data.


john_pic_150pxJohn Grimshaw

Marketing Coordinator, Digital Marketer
2016 is all about the impending changes to how you evaluate what’s working (and what’s not).
This year we’ll see new performance metrics become accessible for medium and smaller businesses. Big data isn’t getting smaller, but tools are getting smarter. New software solutions are cropping up that will allow smaller businesses with smaller budgets to get out ahead of their data. While Earnings Per Click and Average Customer Value have gotten us this far, you’ll want to look at some new funnel metrics in 2016.
As social platforms mature, the cost of paid traffic will naturally rise. Being able to evaluate campaigns on their long-term performance, rather than immediate revenue generated, will help you make smarter decisions about your spending. And this doesn’t just affect paid traffic — knowing what lead magnets and tripwires drive the most profitable customers can help you make smart decisions about what products to create.
The two big metrics you’ll want to keep an eye on are Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and delayed ROI. CLV has been an important metric to many businesses, but it’s proven difficult to track (even for us here at DM). But with new tools it’s easier than ever to figure out how much customers from all over are worth to your business. The other key metric, delayed ROI, can help you better evaluate paid traffic performance.
(Related: How to Calculate Your Customer Lifetime Value)
Typically, when deciding whether a campaign is working, you compare the immediate earnings and followup series earnings to campaign spend. But with long-term ROI reports, the relationships you build with paid traffic will be easier to evaluate over the customer’s complete on boarding cycle, telling you which campaigns produce satisfied customers.
My advice for 2016? Keep an eye out for software and strategies that can help you think smarter about what your customers are worth. And let lifetime value be your guide.

That’s our predictions, folks… what’s yours?

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Ryan Deiss

Ryan Deiss

Ryan Deiss is the Founder and CEO of and Founder and Managing Partner of, a digital media and ecommerce group that owns dozens of properties. Ryan has been called one of the world’s leading digital marketers by Shark Tank star, Daymond John. A best selling author, founder of multiple companies collectively employing hundreds around the globe, and one of the most dynamic speakers on marketing in the United States today, he is undeniably a recognized expert on the digital era. Connect with Ryan on Twitter.

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