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Adobe Survey Finds CMOs Still Struggle With Digital Optimization

by David Gardner
Contributing Writer

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Article Highlights:

  • The need for improved testing was a theme that resonated throughout virtually all aspects of the study.
  • Cross-departmental approaches to testing improved conversion rates.
  • Site search optimization techniques will have a growing impact in the future.

What are the world’s digital marketers doing to improve their optimization activities?

That was the simple question behind a complex undertaking that surveyed 1,800 global digital marketers in the Adobe 2013 Digital Marketing Optimization Survey; the answers were voluminous but provide sweeping insights--many of them surprising--into digital optimization techniques in fields ranging from mobile and social to site search and automated recommendations.

“Year to year, this survey shows a state of growth and maturity in digital marketing,” said Adobe’s Kevin Lindsay in an interview with (Adobe is's corporate parent.) “Digital is becoming the hub of everything. It’s the catalyst of everything for business optimization.” Lindsay, who is director of product marketing for Adobe Target, said testing, or specifically, the need for improved testing, was a theme that resonated throughout virtually all aspects of the study.

“What is holding companies back?” Lindsay asked. He then answered the question: “For almost half the survey respondents, testing is not a priority at their company. Budget and resources remain the two biggest challenges to test.”

Noting that testing is the core of optimization programs, the survey found that for 49 percent of the respondents, testing isn’t a priority; just 11 percent indicated that testing is a form of companywide decision-making. Even so, marketing tends lead the drive for more and improved testing. “Testing is the core of any personalization and optimization program,” Lindsay said. “Start with small wins, and expand efforts from there; failed tests are just as impactful in lessons learned.”

The survey found that cross-departmental approaches to testing improved conversion rates. “There is almost a democratization of testing under way,” Lindsay said. “We still don’t have a bedrock, but it’s important to help organizations to pull it all together, to get multiple departments to work together. Anecdotally we’re seeing this.”

The survey, which contacted digital marketers in North America, Europe, and Asia, found that optimization still isn’t generally considered a priority; most surveyed companies spend 5 percent or less of their marketing budgets on optimization activities; however, high conversion rates were recorded by companies spending more than 25 percent of their budgets on optimization.

“The right processes need to be in place,” according to the survey. “Crucially, the right people with the right skills within the business need to be incentivized to improve digital performance. Businesses need to instill a culture of testing and robust analytics, with a microscopic focus on measuring incremental improvements to justify further investment in resources and technology.”

The survey’s authors found site search opportunities to be an “untapped opportunity,” with many digital marketers unaware of new site search techniques beyond the baseline functionality of keyword matching. The authors predicted that site search optimization techniques will have a growing impact in the future.

As expected, the survey dug deeply into the marketing aspects of social phenomena like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. While hailing social as the “defining channel of the inbound marketing age,” Lindsay found that just 47 percent of digital marketers are using social media analytics--an omission that means most marketers can’t measure success or failure.

Two in every five companies surveyed said social sharing is “very effective.” Lindsay noted that just 6 percent use attribution modeling that could decrypt the interactions between social and other channels. In this regard, work is improving with most efforts aimed at enterprise-ready platforms, but these are still limited.

The good news about social found in the survey was the observation that marketers understand their weaknesses in social and are moving to correct the problem: nearly one-third said their businesses were moving to implement some social media analytics.

Turning to the mobile space, Lindsay said digital mobile optimization is “a hotbed of activity for business,” but business leaders still don’t have great understanding of mobile because it is “dramatically different” from traditional digital marketing. Last year, Adobe observed that mobile device traffic was doubling, but in the new survey, 45 percent of digital marketers said their organizations still haven’t built sites for mobile consumers.

Lindsay said CMOs were surprised by the sudden surge in consumers using mobile devices to make purchases during the last holiday shopping season; now they are increasingly learning that digital marketing for smartphones and tablets is very different from PC digital marketing. For instance, purchasing activity for smart phone users needs to be extra simple and easy to use. Lindsay noted it can be difficult to type on cell phones. He said: “The more you ask people to type a message, the more they will leave.”

In another area, the survey found interesting developments in the personalization space. While 55 percent of digital marketers scored personalization as being “very” or “somewhat” important for their long-term goals, they appeared to be reluctant to take advantage of automated recommendations. The survey’s authors called automated recommendations “a hidden gem” and, indeed, its use appears to be hidden by many digital marketers.

In spite of the advantages of automating recommendations, 38 percent of the survey’s respondents still do not use any content or product recommendations. Automated recommendations are promoted as a natural personalization tactic that quickly and dramatically can improve consumer engagement and conversion.