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

Mobilize Your Mobile Team

In this technological day and age ruled by the mobile phone, it is estimated that the average person checks their phone 150 times a day. In fact, 91% of people turn to their phones for help when met with a challenge (Grimshaw, 2017). In addition, 75% of internet usage is predicted to be mobile by the end of 2017 (Gibbs, 2017). 

(As a matter of fact, I am currently editing this blog post on my smartphone using the WordPress app!)

Time Magazine cover showing baby in stroller with smartphones in hands off to the side.
The above Time magazine cover attempts to comment on the ubiquity of the smartphone in the life of the millennial parent and perhaps warn us of the downsides of this modern obsession.

Out of those 150 daily interactions we have with our phones, most of them last for mere seconds, or occasionally a few minutes (Grimshaw, 2017). Back in 2015, Googled named this phenomenon the “micro-moment” (Lewis, 2017). Micro-moments can include checking your email while drinking your morning coffee, replying to an instant message while waiting in line at the supermarket, or scrolling through Instagram during the morning commute. In these highly personal moments, businesses try to discreetly compete for the user’s attention. Any blatant interruptions would be intrusive, however it’s also important to note that these are the very moments (the 91% figure, as listed above) where users are seeking help (Grimshaw, 2017). If brands are quick, relevant, and can successfully help the user find the best deal, research a product, or provide the restaurant reviews, then they will have successfully engaged with the user. 

Google’s Matt Bush illustrates this concept with one of Red Roof Inn’s marketing campaigns. When a series of flight cancellations in the United States caused tens of thousands of passengers to be stranded at the airport, Red Roof Inn’s marketing team tracked these cancellations. Then, they quickly released smartphone advertisements for mobile searches of “hotels” near the airports. The campaign was a success! There was a 60% increase in bookings across non-branded search activity (Grimshaw, 2017). Red Roof Inn expertly grasped the thousands of micro-moments of the stranded passengers – they were quick and firm, and their efforts paid off. 

Evidently, the proliferation of these micro-moments entails that companies (especially mobile companies) should modify their marketing approach, in order to continue influencing consumers across all stages of the purchasing cycle. As an illustration, consider these two comparisons:

  1. The Research. Consumers are constantly and actively researching purchases on their mobile devices. In fact, research conducted in 2016 reveals that across nineteen markets surveyed, nearly “half of all mobile consumers have looked for a better price for a product on their phone” (Gibbs, 2017). Moreover, 43% have researched additional product information, and more than 50% have looked up product reviews (Gibbs, 2017). In this micro-moment, metrics such as brand awareness and recall are relevant, and effective marketing strategies for this are rich creative formats such as video and interstitial or banner creatives (Gibbs, 2017). To build a strong brand, the campaign should grab the audience’s attention and be immersive, while simultaneously providing product information and influencing product awareness. 
  2. The Purchase. Consumers are comfortable with making purchases on their mobile devices. With more and more consumers using the mobile wallet (18% in 2017), as well as simplified online payment platforms, there’s a greater propensity for mobile shopping (Lewis, 2017). To further illustrate, 75% of mobile users have made an mobile purchase in the past six months (Gibbs, 2017). Compared to brand-building, for which highly visual creative formats are most effective, purchase intent warrants simpler and subtler approaches. Specifically, if companies are able to identify the micro-moment when consumers are considering making a purchase (this can be identified with behavioral analytics and search data), they can then sway the decision with interstitial ads and banners (Gibbs, 2017). 

For the average smartphone user, it is standard to scroll around 150 million times per week (Lewis, 2017). That’s 150 million flashes of information passing before our eyes. This also affects mobile attention span. Advertisers have 100% of viewer attention at the beginning of a video advertisement. This number falls to around 25-30% by the fifth second (Lewis, 2017). As a result, in a way, the advertiser has to earn their spot in the feed of information. They must produce appropriately engaging content at the right time and place. By adapting themselves to the platform and the moment, they are then able to position their brand effectively and drive purchases. In terms of specifically capturing the micro-moment, it is a skillful combination of art and science, requiring both the creative and the analytic. 

I will leave you with a series of YouTube advertisements released by American insurance company Geico in 2015, which directly plays with YouTube’s skip feature for video ads (YouTube allows viewers to skip ads after 5 seconds). These advertisements are merely a glimpse at the creative possibilities of mobile advertising. 


Grimshaw, Colin. (February 2017). Mobile marketing: Be in the micro-moment. Admap Magazine. Retrieved from

Gibbs, Ian. (February 2017). How marketers can engage consumers effectively in micro-moments. Admap Magazine. Retrieved from

Lewis, Digby. (February 2017). The 5 strategies for communicating in micro-moments. Admap Magazine. Retrieved from

Further Down the Rabbit Hole

Through our last discussion about Forbes’ social media top influencer list, it’s evident that social media marketing is a firm reality that companies need to consider. In fact, the intimate, personable nature makes it a great candidate for companies looking to build relationships with consumers. In a way, online communities are “echo chambers” of thoughts, and the ability to penetrate these echo chambers and join the conversation is infinitely beneficial (Shayon, 2017). 

A company that has been ever-present in the social media marketing world is Amazon. My last blog post discussed social media Influencer Zoella providing affiliate links in her video’s description boxes. Those links were by Amazon. When a viewer clicks through to buy the product, the affiliate receive a commission on those sales (Perez, 2017). Just a few weeks ago, Amazon released its new phase in affiliate marketing, the Amazon Influencer Program, combining affiliate marketing with the growing influencer culture. The new Influencer program differs because of its exclusivity. You may apply to become an official Influencer, however Amazon will only accept those with “large followings” (Perez, 2017). Amazon also considers metrics such as fan engagement, quality of content, and the level of relevancy for Amazon. After being accepted, the Influencers are given a unique vanity URL that is easy for customers to remember and find. On their personal Influencer page, they may create a curated selection of products that their followers can scroll through. 

For example, the YouTube channel “WhatsUpMoms” has been one of the first Influencers invited by Amazon. WhatsUpMoms is a collaboration among a group of parents who share parenting tips, recipes, life hacks, and they have over 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube (Perez, 2017). Their new Influencer URL is You will be led to a page featuring thumbnail images of the suggested products, their pricing, their Prime status, and a brief description.

Screenshot of WhatsUpMoms' new Amazon Influencer page
WhatsUpMoms’ new Amazon Influencer page.

“We are really excited to be a part of this new program. As the #1 Parenting Network on YouTube, we are constantly asked by our community for product recommendations and about the products used in our videos. Now that we have our own Amazon store makes it much easier to have a curated collection all in one spot”. – Liane Mullin, President and COO of WhatsUpMoms

Through this program, Amazon is not working directly with the Influencers on product selection, nor are the brands working through Amazon to speak to Influencers. Amazon is simply providing the platform. Although brands often have separate relationships with the Influencers outside of Amazon. Perhaps, the next step is for Amazon to also provide this “middleman” service. 

Screenshot of comments
On a news article announcing Amazon’s new service, a reader leaves a comment, calling Influencers “better than sales people”. And in terms of online sales, it is true.

It will be interesting to see the new Influencer program unfold and watch for Amazon’s next moves. For consumers, it is important to grow more discerning as well. There is a high level of trust between consumers and the influencers they respect (Hall, 2010). Knowing that companies highly covet these relationships and are willing to pay, consumers should grow even more aware and consciously alert of their purchasing decisions. On the other hand, companies have the opportunity to explore the possibilities of social media and affiliate marketing. If utilized correctly, they will gain access to pre-defined new markets of passionate consumers. And these consumers are willing to listen. 



Shayon, Sheila. (April 11, 2017). Forbes Announces First Class of Social Media Influencers. BrandChannel. Retrieved from

Perez, Sarah. (March 31, 2017). Amazon quietly launches its own social media influencer program into beta. Tech Crunch. Retrieved from

Hall, Taddy. (2010). How consumer attitudes and behaviours are shaped in social media. ARF Experiential Learning. Retrieved from

Down the Rabbit Hole

I thought it would be fitting to start off my first blog post with a bit of recent news. 

Just two days ago and for the first time, Forbes released what it called its “Top Influencers” list, ranking the top thirty global social media icons. The 30 “influencers” span three categories – beauty, fitness, and home – and they garner more than 250 million online followers (Shayon, 2017). This doesn’t merely entail thirty kids sitting at the cool table during lunch; these influencers currently earn up to thousands of dollars per sponsored social media post (Perez, 2017). 

For instance, in first place for the beauty category is British Influencer Zoella. Online, she has over 11.6 million YouTube subscribers. In real life, her popularity has allowed her to have her own line of candles, lotions and beauty accessories (Shayon, 2017). But online is still where she makes most of her money. On YouTube, companies pay more than $300,000 per video for a partnership (Shayon, 2017). This could entail Maybelline paying Zoella to create a makeup tutorial featuring exclusively Maybelline products. A Forbes spokesperson explains that highly visual platforms like YouTube and Instagram are coveted by companies seeking brand partnerships (Shayon, 2017). 

Screenshot of Zoella's Instagram post
An Instagram post by Zoella promoting a single company.

Screenshot of Zoella's YouTube video

 A YouTube video where Zoella talks about her favorite products. In the description box, there are affiliate links where viewers may purchase the same products. 

If we define an “influential user” as someone who’s sharing action results in at least one additional site visit, then the average amount of influential users on a site at a given time is only 0.6%. Yet, these influencers regularly generate up to 50% of site traffic (Hall, 2010). Moreover, they cause a signifiant share of conversions. 

“It’s time to recognize the influencer economy as a legitimate entrepreneurial pursuit.” – Christina Vuleta, VP of Forbes Women’s Digital Network.

Social media influencing works well because the influencers have already built entire communities of like-minded members. These influencers go beyond the mould of the traditional brand sponsor – they’ve curated a careful market around their passions and lives. Their audience has genuine affinity for the words they say. 

Nowadays with the younger generation in the western world, there is a decreasing sense of nationalistic patriotism. Especially compared to decades past. A young person today may feel much more connected to their community on YouTube, for example, and much less connected to their physical neighborhood community. The influencer culture is born from this phenomenon. In fact, the entire industry has been created by brands that leverage these influences to reach the most passionate, relevant markets. The value of a “like” or a “follower” is intangible, but the results are very much real. 

~ Stay tuned for part two, where we’ll talk about Amazon’s recent innovation in influencer marketing and what it means for consumers. ~


Shayon, Sheila. (April 11, 2017). Forbes Announces First Class of Social Media Influencers. BrandChannel. Retrieved from

Perez, Sarah. (March 31, 2017). Amazon quietly launches its own social media influencer program into beta. Tech Crunch. Retrieved from

Hall, Taddy. (2010). How consumer attitudes and behaviours are shaped in social media. ARF Experiential Learning. Retrieved from