From 2007 to 2017

As a child of the 2000s, it’s sometimes difficult for me to envision a world without Google. There are faint memories of visiting the public library to do research for a project, before the days of search engines and online encyclopedias. Nowadays, I wake up and check my Gmail. Then throughout the day, I login to my (Google-owned) YouTube account to watch videos, navigate with Google maps, and encounter a handful of Google Adsense ads. And of course, I use the Google search engine. Over the past few decades, Google has grown to be so ubiquitous that the concept of search engine marketing today refers almost exclusively to Google search engine marketing. This brings us to today’s topic – the future of digital marketing. With this being my final blog post, I thought we could explore some thoughts and conclusions we’re able to draw from the topics of the past few weeks. 

In February 2007, WARC’s Admap Magazine published a journal article that attempted to predict the future of search engine optimization. I think it will be interesting to compare these predictions from the past with the reality today, and offer some thoughts for the future. 


The Prediction: “Increased personalization”

In 2007, when you searched for an “electrician” in a search engine, you would receive results for electricians from around the world. Of course you had the option of also adding your location as a search term, but the prediction at the time was that searches would become more local (Spiller, 2007).

The Reality: Personalization to the max!

Today, not only are search engines able to personalize search results by current location, they actively track data such as internet usage in order to offer the most relevant results. For instance, they may display advertisements for hotels in Venice if a customer frequently looks at Venice in Google Maps. This type of profiling is making the digital marketing landscape a much more personalized one. As we saw with email marketing over the last two blog posts, customers don’t just appreciate personalization; they expect it (Rousselet, 2017). Whether they know it or not, customers are so used to personalization that removing it would make the digital experience feel cold and ineffective. Of course, there’s the question of privacy, but that’s a topic for another day. In terms of next steps, companies need to search for that delicate balance between being helpful and being intrusive. 


The Prediction: “Social networking”

The most popular social networking sites in 2007 were MySpace and Facebook. It was predicted that more companies would begin using these “networking forums” to promote their websites and improve their search engine positions (Spiller, 2007). 

The Reality: Social networking!

Though we are now aware of the fate of MySpace, Facebook is still as strong as ever. Today, these social media sites are not merely used as promotional accounts for company websites. In fact, they have occasionally replaced the need for a website at all. Furthermore, they simultaneously serve the purposes of providing information, providing customer service, and building brand (Carruthers, 2016). For instance, Above Ground Art Supplies in Toronto has a company Facebook page. Customers are able to find the store’s opening hours, address, directions, phone number. In addition, the page promotes store events, sales, and it publishes instructional videos. A few months ago, I personally had a question about an online order I’d placed, and I messaged the store on Facebook. Within minutes, the store replied with the answer to my question. 

Above Ground Art Supplies replying to my messages.

Similarly to the topic of search results growing more personalized, brands are also learning to enhance the entire online experience and build a personal presence on social media. In many cases, social media marketing blurs the lines for consumers between the personal life and the impersonal (Carruthers, 2016). For instance, a person scrolling through Instagram and encountering an advertisement, sandwiched between posts from friends and family, undergoes a different psychological experience than if the advertisement was on tv. 

An advertisement discreetly inserted into my Instagram feed. It is also notable that I was in fact researching for a trip to Amsterdam at the time!

The Prediction: “Google’s dominance will be threatened”

At the time, Microsoft was labeled as Google’s “biggest threat”, which is still somewhat true today, though not to the same extent (Spiller, 2007). In 2007, Microsoft had just released its Vista operation system. With its search engine built into the desktop, some thought that it meant a decreased need for browsers (Spiller, 2007). 

The Reality: The world of Google

Evidently, Google has only grown bigger. Ten years ago, the focus of digital marketing analytics was on hindsight rather than foresight (Carruthers, 2016). Descriptive analytics were at the forefront. With the proliferation of big data, digital marketing entered a new realm where Google Search dominated. It was not only providing search engine services; it was slowly unveiling the new industry of data science (Rousselet, 2017). In the current stage, analytics are being used by all sectors of the organization, as a sort of foundation for digital services. As discussed in earlier blog posts, brands use these analytics for each digital marketing decision they make, whether it is establishing affiliate links, sending promotional emails, or releasing search engine advertisements. And this explains Google’s continued dominance. It doesn’t merely give the industry what it wants. It creates what the industry didn’t know that it needed.

An Internet Explorer ad from 2013. While this Microsoft ad did go viral, it was an isolated hit amidst a campaign that was simply all fluff and no substance. It epitomized Microsoft’s weakness of being too backwards-looking. 

Today, Google is not merely working on existing profitable services. It has bigger plans. One of the emerging projects in the industry is the concept of cloud computing (Carruthers, 2016). Evidently, there’s a growing trend for automation. In fact, “marketing technology and automation systems”, which ranked 31st in a 2011 survey about priorities for marketers, is now the eighth priority (Rousselet, 2017). Moreover, “digital and social marketing”, perhaps the best example of a artificial intelligence-enabled skill, was eleventh six years ago and is fifth today (Rousselet, 2017). 


Final thoughts

For brands, these three key points are not meant to overwhelm, but rather to inspire. Digital marketing has endless potentials and I would like to finish my last blog posts with a few takeaways. 

  1. Be open. Don’t restrict yourself and greet new challenges with open arms. From new trends to new markets, all are opportunities to evolve, explore and expand. 
  2. Be bold. Take risks and don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm. All current practices were once new to the industry. Do what is right for you. 
  3. Be patient. Brands take time to establish and marketing efforts often require many stages. Don’t rush into things and plan strategically. 

It was a pleasure sharing my thoughts through this blog over the past few weeks. Thank you for reading and perhaps we will meet again in the future somewhere out in the land of digital marketing. 


Spiller, Jeremy. (February 2007). The future of search engine optimization (SEO). Admap Magazine. Issue 480. Retrieved from

Carruthers, Brian. (November 2016). The evolution of marketing analytics: automation is next. WARC. Retrieved from

Rousselet, Vincent. (2017). The rise of the machines: artificial intelligence in marketing. Market Leader, Quarter 2. Retrieved from


Much More Than Mail

Continuing on with the stories of Zizzi and Axis Direct… Both companies had found themselves troubled by the same conundrum. Promotional emails were being send out to lengthy subscriber lists, however open rates were low, and click through rates were even lower. 

Zizzi began its exploration of email marketing possibilities by unveiling to its customers the concept of gamification through email. The conclusion? Customers were willing and eager to play games to win prizes, and these prizes were much more likely to be redeemed in store (Barley, 2016). The final stage of Zizzi’s journey was ambitious – a virtual board game. Customers had a game piece and they created a user account to play. They received two free rolls of the dice every day that they logged in. In addition, they could earn extra rolls of the dice by performing special actions, which included providing additional personal information, food preferences, or by sharing the game on their social media accounts. Zizzi had tens of thousands of people willingly answering personal questions and this data gave Zizzi important insights. In fact, they discovered a greater demand for vegan food and subsequently expanded their vegan menu. The company’s marketing agency explained that this was not just a new type of email; it was a whole new communications channel (Barley, 2016). Furthermore, the psychological aspect of “winning” an offer, rather than simply receiving one by email, offered the engaged consumer a chance to build that relationship with the brand. 

Zizzi screenshot 1
Various screenshots from Zizzi’s email game.
Zizzi screenshot 2
Mobile version of Zizzi’s board game.

On the other hand, Axis Direct introduced to its emails a concept called Real Time Personalization (RTP). RTP is an innovative email marketing strategy that allows emails to be updated, even after arriving in customers’ inboxes (Direct Marketing Association, 2016). These emails could be updated with current news, personalized information, etc. at the exact moment that the email is opened (Direct Marketing Association, 2016). It’s like Shrödinger’s cat in a way! Shrödinger’s email – simultaneously personalized and impersonalized until the email is opened. I still remember the first time I personally experienced an email with Real Time Personalization. A company emailed with a promotional offer – at the top of the email was a live countdown timer, which displayed the amount of time I had to redeem the offer. I was incredibly impressed and I spent a while afterwards Googling to see how it worked. Evidently this wasn’t as complex as Axis Direct’s version, but it was memorable enough that I still tell people about it, years later. 

For Axis Direct, this was perfect because it was able to design email contents that changed in real time as market conditions changed. The emails were able to display relevant information such as market close time, industrial averages, current events, and the stocks that subscribes are particularly interested in. In addition, if the email is opened before or after market hours, the subscriber would be presented with summaries of yesterday or tomorrow’s market. This sophisticated campaign had both tangible and intangible results. Surveyed subscribers explained that they much prefer this style of personalized, interactive email. Compared to statistics prior to the campaign, open rate increased by 45%. Click through rate increased by 100%. Above all, the volume of trades increased due to the raise in CTR (Direct Marketing Association, 2016). 

Axis Direct screenshot
Axis Direct’s Real Time Personalization in action!

These two companies took the same problem – unopened emails – and resolved then in completely different ways. Zizzi incorporated games into their promotional emails, which resulted in more subscribers redeeming vouchers in restaurants. This worked because customers felt like they “earned” the reward, rather than simply being given it. On the other hand, investment company Axis Direct incorporated Real Time Personalization, which resulted in a higher volume of trades. This worked because the information in emails became much more relevant for subscribers. Both solution share one thing in common – emails grew more effective when they were customized and interactive. Subscribers are becoming more sophisticated. They are exposed to so many promotional efforts throughout the day that they require something striking to capture their attention (Forootan, n.d.). Instead of the traditional static, text-based emails, newer email marketing templates are becoming something of a mini-website running inside an inbox (Direct Marketing Association, 2016). 

Referring back to my last few blog posts, these different aspects of digital marketing – social media, affiliate, mobile, email – all follow a relatively similar trend. Brands are working to make their marketing efforts as personable, customized, and seamlessly integrated as possible. They aim for their brands to be unobtrusively inserted into the everyday lives of the consumers. Consumers are also becoming more sophisticated. They are generally busier, with shorter attention spans, and they have higher expectations in regards to being conveniently serviced and being entertained. The key is to first properly identify the primary goals of the project. Then the company should section off defined target markets. According to customer type and mobile platform type, the company would then choose the most appropriate solution. 


Barley, Emily. (September 2016). How Zizzi used an online board game to boost its email marketing. WARC Event Reports, Technology and Marketing. Retrieved from

Direct Marketing Association. (2016). Axis Securities Limited: Real-time Personalization of Emails. Direct Marketing Association (US). Retrieved from

Forootan, Dan. (n.d.) Email news and strategy. Stream Send. Retrieved from

More Than Mail

In class, we discussed the low costs typically associated with email marketing. As a result, it has sometimes become a simple numbers game – companies think that the more emails they send out, the more likely someone will open the email. However, this “throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks” approach is extremely ineffective. Consumers will inevitably begin thinnng that the brand is irrelevant and unsubscribe. Or worse, email providers may mark the company’s emails as spam and prevent any further emails from being sent. Clearly, there are “tricks” to this game. 

With effective email marketing software, many companies are segmenting their customer base based on factors that include the length of their relationship, spending habits, and other relevant criteria (Forootan, n.d.). Then, they send targeted information to the targeted consumers. Yet, this is oftentimes not nearly enough to capture the readers’ attentions. As discussed in my last blog post, the proliferation of the micro-moment has shortened readers’ attention spans even more. Consumers do not want companies interrupting their busy lives with irrelevant news. If companies want to increase their open rates and click through rates, they need to raise the bar. 

Here are two cases of companies that have sincerely attempted to explore the possibilities of email marketing to the max, from which we may draw valuable conclusions about the nature of email marketing. 


Take Zizzi – a Restaurant chain in the UK that was struggling with its email marketing strategy. A few years ago, Zizzi was sending out promotional emails every week to the two million people it had on its mailing list. However, only 12% of readers were opening the emails and only 1% were redeeming vouchers (Barley, 2016). 

“In order to build a dialogue you’ve got to have something to say.” (Barley, 2016)

The goal for Zizzi was to build a relationship with the customer, and in order to increase engagement, the first attempt was to add a gaming element to emails. Zizzi wanted to know who was interested in these components and how interested (Barley, 2016). The new emails included hyperlinks to enter simple lucky draw-style competitions. Readers had the chance to win meal add-ons like bottles of wine or discounts. As a result, open rate increased from the previous 12% to 15%, and click through rate increased by three times (Barley, 2016)! Moreover, this began Zizzi’s venture into gamification in email marketing. 

The next round was a campaign that it labeled with the hashtag #ZizziTacklesCancer, in parternship with the charity Stand Up to Cancer. The emails included a more sophisticated gaming component – digital scratch cards that readers could “scratch” using their finger on a touch screen. The prizes were similar to the previous campaign, and this time click through rates increased even further (Barley, 2017). 

Screenshot of Zizzi's scratch card email

Screenshot of Zizzi's scratch card email 2
Screenshots of the emails that subscribers received. These successfully piqued their curiosities.

Our second example features the financial retail broking company, Axis Direct. For a long period of time, Axis Direct had been sending out emails with summaries of stock market information (Direct Marketing Information, 2016). However, the problem was that the market was volatile. Yet, emails are static. By the time the eager reader opens the email, the financial information would have been irrelevant. Axis Direct’s challenge was the find an email solution that was both equally customizable and easily maintainable. It aimed to have consumers who enthusiastically opened their emails and engaged with the company. 

Two companies. Different in size and different industries. Same challenge of attempting to find the golden key of email marketing. Stay tuned! In my next blog post, I will unveil Zizzi and Axis Direct’s drastically different solutions and how their choices represent a drastic turning point for the world of email marketing. 


Barley, Emily. (September 2016). How Zizzi used an online board game to boost its email marketing. WARC Event Reports, Technology and Marketing. Retrieved from

Direct Marketing Association. (2016). Axis Securities Limited: Real-time Personalization of Emails. Direct Marketing Association (US). Retrieved from

Forootan, Dan. (n.d.) Email news and strategy. Stream Send. Retrieved from