Statistics represent more than just numbers on a page. Those facts, figures, and percentages tell the stories of brands—where they succeeded, where they fell short, and how they plan to approach their next chapters. They can also tell the story of consumers—what they respond to and what they feel misses the mark, as evidenced by what, or where, they did (or didn’t) spend. A really great report accomplishes both, breathing fresh air into how we approach our own companies. How can we deliver more value? How can we measure that? What will the numbers say? In this post, we’ll take a look at the findings from a recent survey on digital marketing that might have you asking yourself those questions.

Report Findings

Extole, a referral marketing company, recently released Perfect For You: How Referrals and Other Top Channels Drive Retail Revenue. They surveyed 302 professionals responsible for marketing and technology in the retail industry to gauge their experiences with (and budgets for) different types of digital marketing tactics, from SEO to social to content. The results were eye-opening and, while the responses are specific to retail, there are takeaways that we can all apply to our digital agendas to market better and smarter in 2016.

Digital marketing is on the rise, and social leads 2016 spending. A whopping 41 percent of survey respondents said they planned to spend more on social marketing next year—think Facebook ads, Twitter for Business campaigns, etc. There is good reason for this spend increase, as the report also found that social media marketing generates at least 36 percent of new customers for 31 percent of those who use it. Backed by those metrics, it’s no wonder marketers are willing to spend more on social. Mobile advertising and email marketing will also see significant budget increases next year. On the opposite end of the spectrum, paid search, content and affiliate marketing (among others) will see less money. SeeFigure 1 for a complete breakdown.

Figure 1: Spend on tactics vs. last year, Extole

Figure 1: Spend on tactics vs. last year, Extole Perfect For You: How Referrals and Other Top Channels Drive Retail Revenue, page 9

Acquisition and retention rule marketing goals. A majority of survey respondents chose customer acquisition and retention as the most important goals they had in mind when marketing in the digital space. As you can see from Figure 2, conversion came in a very close third, and awareness trailed. We’ll talk a little more about awareness—in this case, content marketing tactics—a little later, and I’ll call out why I think that part of the funnel is so underrated.

Figure 2: Acquisition and retention are top goals

Figure 2: Acquisition and retention are top goals, Extole Perfect For You: How Referrals and Other Top Channels Drive Retail Revenue, page 11

Email marketing scores big for conversions. Email marketing (followed closely by social) was chosen by 44 percent of respondents as the most effective digital tool for converting customers. In the retail space, especially with the popularity of online shopping and the ease with which coupons or discounts can be sent to scores of consumers, this high ranking makes sense. Let’s take a big picture approach to these conversion numbers, though, which you can see in full below in Figure 3. Are there ways your business could up your conversion numbers using digital tactics? If you had to re-rank the list for your industry, would it be similar or strikingly different?

Figure 3: The Digital Programs That Get Results 

Figure 3: The Digital Programs That Get Results, Extole Perfect For You: How Referrals and Other Top Channels Drive Retail Revenue, page 15

PSA: Content Marketing is Not Dead.

Extole’s survey respondents may have rated content marketing poorly compared to other digital customer reach programs, but there’s a bit of irony in that: The very report summarizing the findings of research is, in fact, an example of content marketing. What’s even better? The fact that we’re here talking about it now is an example of how pervasive content marketing can be when it is done well.

And listen, of course marketers want to use tactics that help them attract and convert leads—that’s a no-brainer. They also want to retain existing customers. But a focus that shifts away from content (in a variety of iterations) that helps your customers along the way as they work to research and learn about products and services they want to buy is, to my way of thinking, short-sighted. Also, shifting away from content that helps retain them after the sale is equally short sighted.

Let me give you an example: I’m a long-time pro user of the MyFitnessPal app. I started using the app before Under Armor purchased them, but following that acquisition, I’ve seen a great increase in the amount of content they generate, and how the app works to continue to connect with me on a more deep level. Their email marketing is spectacular, and their blog regularly delivers content that is helpful to me, focused on fitness, exercise, and diet—and all the things that a MyFitnessPal app user might care about. Would I still use the app without that content? Probably. Do I like it even more, and am I less likely to move along to the newest, latest and greatest fitness app on the market as a result of the “relationship” that I’m developing with MFP? Absolutely. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Everybody wants an easy button. Why focus on what we could do to inform our customers when we can instead focus on things that bring us leads? If you can figure out a way to do both, you’ll add to your brand’s value proposition and build some serious customer loyalty.

Leads are great. Conversions are better. Happy customers are fantastic. But don’t forget that along the way it’s not always just about you, and what YOU want from customers (more money). Sometimes, it’s equally as important to focus on things like: What do they want (and need), before they buy as well as after they buy, that can make them love us even more? Let’s do more of that.

Where do you spend your digital marketing dollars? Do two or three of the digital tactics outlined in this report stand out as uber important to your business and, if so, can you identify ways to funnel content through those channels to make your brand even more useful to customers? Maybe there are other ways you plan to market smarter in the digital world in the coming year. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Additional Resources on this Topic:

Customer Experience is the Future of Marketing
The Most Valuable Time to Build Relationships With Customers: Post-Sale
Strategy And Tactics Are Both Key In Digital Transformation…

A version of this post was originally published on The Marketing Scope blog.

Image credit: StockSnap.io

Shelly Kramer

Co-founder, V3*Broadsuite at V3*Broadsuite
Shelly Kramer is the Co-CEO of V3 Broadsuite, a marketing agency specializing in the digital space. A 20+ year marketing veteran, she's a brand strategist focused on delivering integrated marketing solutions and helping businesses leverage the web for growth and profitability. She's an expert at content strategy and execution and tying social media to business initiatives. Recognized by Forbes on a number of occasions, most recently as one of the Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Expertsand Top 50 Social Media Influencers, she's half marketer, half geek, with a propensity for numbers, producing results and a dash of quick repartee. Her blog has been recognized by Forbes as one of the Top 20 Best Marketing and Social Media Blogs and by PostRank as one of the Top 100 Most Engaging Social Media Blogs. Find her on LinkedIn, Google+ or Twitter.