Each year around this time, we take an in-depth look at how digital advertising is changing. What do marketers across industries need to prepare for? What can they do to maintain their competitive edge? And, perhaps most importantly, how can organizations make sure their advertising investments are worth it in the face of increasing data restrictions? Here’s our look at the top digital advertising trends for 2022.

Of all the debatable aspects of digital advertising, most experts agree that we’ll continue seeing exponential growth. My, has the growth been exponential. Back in 2020, Research from eMarketer predicted an 18 percent increase in total media ad spending for 2021. That was despite the global pandemic that disrupted so much of what we do on a daily basis. Today, Statista projects digital ad revenue will exceed 460 billion U.S. by 2024.

That prediction generally bore out. And yet, there’s more. Google reports a 62 percent increase in total ad revenue as of Q2 2021. Another report from eMarketer predicts “LinkedIn will cross the $2 billion threshold for B2B display ad revenue in 2023.”

Another rapidly emerging contender for advertising budgets is TikTok. According to Kantar’s Second Annual Media Reactions survey, the number of users who report viewing a TikTok ad has increased from 19% in 2020 to 37% in 2021. This trend will only continue as TikTok continues to invest in their advertising platform, and as demand for video content continues. In September 2021 the social network announced TikTok World—a new advertising offer to help brands and marketers collaborate together.

Digital marketers continue to invest in digital ads to reach and engage consumers.

A big reason for these upward trends is the fact that consumers have generally accepted advertising. They’ve grown accustomed to stopping to watch an ad in the middle of their YouTube binge, for example, or while scrolling Instagram stories. It’s a begrudging acceptance at times, and at other times, even somewhat enjoyable.

They want to actually enjoy advertising experiences. They demand ad creative that entertains, educates, and brings value to their lives. That might be why we’ve seen such a marked shift from hyper-segmentation and audience targeting to better creative—especially video. Of course, AI will play a greater role in getting that stellar ad creative in front of the right people, at the right time. Still, once there, it’s up to advertisers to ensure those ads convert.

 

Table of Contents: The Top 2022 Digital Advertising Trends

Now that the table is set, here are the trends we’ll dig into in this blog post:

Data Restrictions Will Become More Commonplace

Your Creative Matters More Than Ever

You’ll Need a Compelling Offer

Don’t Forget to Optimize Post-Click Experiences, Too

Oh, Hello there First-Party Data

It’s Decision Time on AI: Embrace It or Ignore It (At Your Own Peril)

Finally, Data Might Be the Guardrails, But People Still Shape Digital Advertising

 

Data Restrictions Will Become More Commonplace

Data privacy is first on this year’s list of trends and, if I had to put my money down, will be a trend that digital advertisers closely track in perpetuity. The sheer volume of data, alongside the ever-changing data privacy landscape, directly impacts the work of digital advertisers.

One recent change of particular interest (and frustration) was the iOS 14 update. While the fallout from the iOS 14 update has been considerable, digital advertisers who use Facebook and Google now face an uphill battle in terms of effective advertising.

apps that track you

The iOS14 update has created an uphill battle for Facebook & Google advertisers.

Source: Apple

 

With this update and others, digital advertisers are watching their access to user data shrink significantly. For some teams, Facebook advertising isn’t even viable anymore. And you can expect to lose more data access in the future as more companies go the way of Apple. Google Chrome, for example, plans to phase out browser cookies by 2023.

That said, look closely at what’s happening here: the Apples and Google Chromes of the world are trying to give users more control of their own data. Why not embrace it? These days, brands are finding that customers prefer vendors that protect their data. As we pointed out in Healthcare Marketing in the Era of Cookieless Browsing, there are plenty of ways to advertise effectively without the hyper-targeting that once characterized most strategies.

 

RELATED: Are Your Facebook Ad Campaigns Ready for iOS14?

 

Your Ad Creative Matters More Than Ever

In the recent past, marketers became enamored of data and the ability to segment. Us included! For a time, digital advertising was all about segmenting to find the perfect audience, something that—done correctly—can still be quite effective. As the access to that data is increasingly diminished, however, marketers have to go back to the fundamentals.

 

They have to go back to the origins of effective advertising: developing great ad creative.

In 2022, marketers will need to invest in their ad creative by prioritizing buyer research, copywriting, graphic design, and video production. They’ll need to build a foundation of solid research to understand their target buyers. What motivates them? What barriers prevent them from taking action? What triggers are tied to the buying journey? Answering these questions will be key to developing copy that resonates and persuades.

Digital Advertising meme

Simply writing “Click Here” is not enough to drive conversions. Thorough research, copywriting, and graphic design all go into creating a successful ad. 

 

Speaking of good ad creative, take your time. We see too many marketers rushing to churn out or refresh existing ads. Good creative takes time, first and foremost. It also takes time to understand whether or not ad creative is effective. Instead of making spot changes on the fly, review, analyze, and incorporate feedback from internal creative reviews. Work with your analytics team to identify winners and losers. And create those constant feedback loops that serve as ongoing quality control.

 

You’ll Need a Compelling Offer

For all that, your ad creative will only go so far if your offer is weak. For advertising to work, you need to have a good offer, and it needs to be reviewed and examined consistently. You simply cannot afford to use the same ad creative and offer for months on end—it just won’t work. Eventually, the numbers will slide due to variables like seasonality, audience fatigue, new competitors, and changing consumer behavior.

People’s preferences and needs change rather quickly these days. The same goes for the information and signals you get from your customers and performance data. If everyone’s telling you to bundle home and auto, Mrs. Allstate, it might be time to roll out that national campaign.

Here are two ideas on how to build better offers:

Identify what you can offer that your market actually wants and that’s going to provide value. My cousin recently got pitched by yet another solar power provider. He told me that their offer was a zero-cost installation without signing a twenty-five-year contract. This he liked, as the last three people who knocked on his door were offering long leasing programs that really turned him off. Imagine if that solar company built a digital ad campaign around that offer?

Identify offers along the entire funnel. Quick-hit, top-of-funnel offers are all well and good. The $20, twenty-minute oil change is a staple for a reason. It works, and it gets people in the door. But we’re not all selling car maintenance here. You need to build offers that bring value across your marketing funnel.

That includes transitional offers that furnish consumers with valuable information, especially for high-consideration decisions (B2B software, for example). You’ll want to build out bottom-of-the-funnel offers, too. One good example of that is a customized quantitative impact statement—a report or assessment that’s personalized.

 

You’ll Need to Optimize Post-Click Experiences, Too

Yes, you’ll need to get both your creative and offer squared away. But your job doesn’t stop after creating the ad. You also need web pages, landers, and other digital experiences that convert people after they’ve clicked your ads. Consumers demand exceptional digital experiences after they click. There’s a reason that Amazon is so widely used: they set the bar extremely high in terms of intuitive and personalized digital experience. 

The Amazons of the world seem to anticipate a person’s needs and respond to them at every turn, without being asked to do so. People want those kinds of experiences. Amazon knows that if their customers are met with hurdles, they’ll  just bounce to the Walmarts and Targets of the world.

To improve ROI for ad campaigns, more people are looking at the post-click experience and investing in conversion rate optimization. Here’s our own Rich Briddock talking about the important role of user experience (UX)

“User experience and conversion rate optimization are definitely becoming more prevalent. I think that’s an increased catalyst for the need to do CRO because chances are, at least one of your major competitors will now be implementing it. Obviously, you don’t want them to have a competitive advantage over you and be competing on an unfair playing field.”

Good CRO Starts with Good UX

Before investing into CRO, you need to have a website that adheres to a few fundamental best practices for UX. Testing one or two things won’t yield results if your overall experience is garbage. Your audience might not be able to define UX, but they care about it. Consider this: 

UX Best Practices to Focus On

Okay, we know people will leave if the UX is bad. What can we do about it? Start here: 

  • Optimize for mobile. It’s no longer an option. The data is overwhelming. Optimize all of your digital experiences for mobile or risk turning away lots of people.
  • Use social proof early and often. Are there testimonials, stats, case studies, quotes, badges, logos and other proof signals you can deploy across your digital channels? Do so and do so often, because trust and authority matter today more than ever.
  • Optimize for specific stages in the funnel. You deploy different ads for different stages of the funnel, right? That means you need dedicated landing pages for those stages, too. Otherwise, the experience is too disjointed for the people you’re trying to convert. 
  • Use motivational CTAs. “Call us today” is all well and good but try using more descriptive and motivational CTAs. Instead of “Call Today,” how about, “Solve Your Stress in a Single Phone Call.” You get the picture. 
  • Insist on clear and concise messaging. Most regular consumers get overwhelmed when they have to read or consider too much. Distill your primary message, trim unnecessary content, and adhere to the rule of three. 
  • Build relevant hierarchies. That means organizing content in a way that leads people through the path to conversion with ease (and without too much thinking). 
  • Personalize everything. We know personalization isn’t always easy for a variety of reasons (data privacy, for one). Start by matching page content to the ad that drove the user to it and you’ll already be ahead of the game.

Where to Direct Your Efforts Around CRO

As you can see with the UX best practice we listed above, CRO is about removing friction. Someone clicks your ad, comes to your site, then what? Do you make it stupid-simple for them to take the action you want them to take?  RO is all about turning your ad clicks into tangible, lead- or revenue-generating outcomes. That could be a form-fill, appointment request, or trial sign-up. 

The improvements you make through systematic UX testing and CRO can vastly outweigh potential improvements in media optimizations, especially for mature accounts. We’ve seen conversion rates increase by 100, 200, even 500 percent. Makes sense, right? All you’re doing is acquiring the same volume of leads, patients, etc. with far better efficiency. 

It’s a simple principle at the core of CRO. The tactics, on the other hand, can be quite sophisticated. To get started with CRO in 2022, let’s look at the CRO process in earnest. Typically, your process will break down into two core parts: 

  1. Audit & Roadmap
  • Conduct quantitative and qualitative research from Google Analytics, Mouseflow, reviews, and so on.
  • Form hypotheses based on research and current treatment, then add to the roadmap.
  1. Testing:
  • Design test your treatment in the testing platform and put it through QA.
  • Run experience through a testing platform and report on testing progress.
  • Analyze the data and provide a test wrap-up analysis that details variant performance.
  • Run Follow-ups and adjust testing roadmap as necessary. 

As you dig into CRO, think about the entire journey from ad to conversion. There are likely ample opportunities to test, tweak, and refine the experience so that more people convert. To help you get there be sure to check out the aforementioned Podcast Ep. 22 – The CRO Process and Podcast Ep. 11 – Intro to CRO.

 

Oh, Hello There First-Party Data

Refining your offers, investing in better ad creative, CRO—these are all great ways to advertise effectively without relying so heavily on user data. As we move toward the so-called “dataless” world, you can’t rely on other data sources being available. As mentioned, Facebook, Google, even web browsers are preventing that capability outright (with more developments on the horizon, I suspect).

Is there another option for using data for digital advertising? Are there legal and ethical sources of data that marketers can actually use? Indeed there are. You’ll just have to harness first-party data. That is, you’ll need to get a lot more out of the data you already generate and own.

 

What is First-Party Data?

The great news is that a marketing team of even basic competence is already collecting first-party data. This could be as simple as the names and email addresses of people who fill out forms or contact you through your website. People who’ve registered an account, made a purchase, etc.

Gather First-Party Data

Requesting information from lead generation forms on your website can help you gather first-party data.

 

Here are some other examples of first-party data that, we hope, are being fed into your customer relationship management (CRM) solution as we speak:

  • Lead generation forms on your website (eBooks, webinars, etc.)
  • Facebook and LinkedIn Ads with custom forms
  • Chatbots and other messenger bots that collect user information
  • People who sign up for your newsletter or mailing list

Lastly, you can also use Google and FB click IDs based on how people arrive at your website. The point is, there’s useful data out there that your customers are voluntarily giving to you.

How Does First-Party Data Help Digital Advertisers?

Regardless of the source of your first-party data, you can glean plenty of information that lends well to better digital advertising. First and foremost, you can use first-party data to hone in on intent. Let’s take the pool of registrations for your latest webinar, for example.

Based on title, organization, and other information that each person surrendered to register, you can build a campaign that provides relevant content and information based on those particular needs. If the webinar was about using AI to improve eCommerce conversions, for example, you can reasonably conclude that some of the attendees intend on solving this problem with the software.

Knowing this makes it much easier to move prospects through the funnel—to better understand a user’s intent and location in the buyers’ journey. From there, you can make more informed decisions about what a relevant ad looks like or when to enroll specific profiles in tailored email marketing sequences that work in tandem with digital ad campaigns.

What Technology and Processes Do You Need to Capture First-Party Data?

We mentioned some of the ways to generate first-party data. A lot of that will involve your website and marketing channels, which are technologies and processes you likely have in place today. As to where you send, store, analyze, and leverage that first-party data, here’s a few members of the orchestra:

  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Data Management Platform (DMP)
  • Analytics and Reporting Tools (Google Analytics, for example)

Generating and storing first-party data is one thing. You’ll also want to make sure you have the integrations in place between various systems so you can extract, share, and act on the insights you need. Many organizations now rely on comprehensive data orchestration platforms that bring all of these technologies and processes together for more accessible and agile decision-making.

A Note on First-Party Data in Healthcare

We work with a lot of clients in the healthcare industry, where data privacy regulations are quite stringent. In healthcare, you can still capture first-party data. As long as a user consents to your compliant data collection (a webform, registration, etc.), you’re good. However, HIPAA and other requirements will influence how you use that first-party data (you can’t, for example, build an email marketing list based on everybody in your database that’s had their tonsils out).

For more detail, Out-of-Pocket published a terrific in-depth guide to how data is acquired and used in healthcare.

 

It’s Decision Time on AI: Embrace It or Ignore It (At Your Own Peril)

I’ll be frank: if you’re not embracing AI-powered advertising, you need to start. The time really is now. The advertising platforms you use are increasingly relying on machine learning to serve ads to the right audience, automate bidding, and provide automation optimizations.

There’s just too much opportunity here to pass up. Here’s what Mike Kaput of Marketing AI Institute has to say on the matter:

“Performance optimization is one of the key use cases for AI in advertising. Machine learning algorithms are used by commercially available solutions to analyze how your ads perform across specific platforms, then offer recommendations on how to improve performance […] In some cases, these platforms may use AI to intelligently automate actions that you know you should be taking based on best practices, saving you significant time. In other cases, they may highlight performance issues you didn’t even know you had.”

We’ve seen AI target audiences more accurately, predict click-through rate (CTR) and conversions, and guide decisions around campaign creative and messaging. When used correctly, ad AI like Google Smart Bidding can use machine learning to automate bid strategies, reduce advertising costs, and decrease manual input significantly. Here are some other benefits:

  • Reduce cost to serve display and search ads
  • Meet efficiency and volume goals more reliably
  • Optimize ads against revenue goals
  • Pull out certain locations for incremental budget adjustments
  • Adjust strategy for underperforming channel

Then, of course, there are responsive search ads (RSAs). With RSAs, all your team needs to do is craft some outstanding variations for headlines and descriptions, then let the platform’s algorithm serve up the right combination dynamically based on thousands of signals. It’s a great way to boost performance and improve ROI.

The Stages of the Funnel are Blurring

Given the growing role that AI has in media placement, your top-of-funnel, middle-of-funnel, and bottom-of-funnel content doesn’t matter as much anymore. It’s non-linear. One stage in the funnel doesn’t necessarily follow the next. What you’re really doing is creating lots of good content and campaigns that meet users in their time of need—on their terms. Then, thanks to machine learning, AI can use thousands of signals to determine where to put the next dollar most effectively.

That Means More Time for Advertisers Must Do What They Do Best

At the end of the day, however, machines cannot replace human ingenuity and creativity. They can’t gain insight into a person’s motivations and challenges the way people can. And they can’t define your unique selling proposition or make decisions on how to communicate it as effectively as you can. On AI and the future of digital advertising Rich Briddock shares that:

“With smart bidding, Google can bid better than you, so don’t do it. Don’t do it because you’re not the best at it, but you’re the best at refining the UX on a landing page experience. You’re the best at crafting this amazing ad copy. Do what only you can do, but don’t try and fight against machine learning and these improvements that Google is bringing in, where they’re actually superior to us. There shouldn’t be hubris. You should ride with it and don’t try and fight against it.”

What will distinguish advertisers is their ability to gain deep user insights and transform that into advertisements that people want and need. Let AI do its work, certainly. Leverage AI to help you do what only you as an advertiser do best:

  • Get as close to the consumer/customer as possible
  • Conduct thorough buyer journey mapping
  • Develop a culture of deep empathy on your team and across your organization

Keep an Eye on What’s Coming from Google Ads

“The good news is that it’s possible to improve privacy while still delivering business results.” That’s Jerry Dischler

Vice President / General Manager, Ads writing for Google. In this Google Marketing Livestream, Dischler details a number of ways that advertisers can get more from the data they do have, including:

  • Responsive search ads
  • Broad match keywords
  • Smart bidding
  • New Performance Max campaigns (in beta)
  • Target CPA bidding

As Discler points out, you can now use Target ROAS in Discovery ads and Video action campaigns “to drive product discovery and purchases.” It’s yet another form of automation that might help you improve conversions. Of course, all of these developments are something to keep an eye on, especially if you rely heavily on Google Ads.

 

Lastly, Data Might Reign Supreme, But People Still Shape Digital Advertising

Data and AI give us tremendous power and insights. As we’ve demonstrated in detail, new developments in how we gather and use data will continue to shape digital advertising. You won’t get very far if you ignore user privacy restrictions. This brings us to a choice—and the last thing I’d like to say in terms of what’s coming in 2022.

You can view all of the trends we’ve detailed above—data restrictions principle among them—as constraints or opportunities. Despite pretty impactful changes across the digital advertising landscape, the industry itself isn’t going anywhere. There will still be companies, agencies, and people that find a way to not only get the most out of digital advertising but do so in sparkling fashion.

Because even though digital data and AI provide invaluable insight and optimization, they’re only as powerful as the experienced advertisers who harness them. Come 2022 and beyond, data still won’t replace human ingenuity and creativity. If anything, the latter will leverage the former in ways previously unseen.

And that’s pretty exciting!

Alex Membrillo Cardinal CEO

Alex Membrillo

Founder and CEO

Some say Alex Membrillo was born to be the CEO of a digital marketing agency focused on growing multi-location companies. Others say the Flock chose him. Together with his outstanding team of high-flyers, Alex has led Cardinal to the promised land. Awards proudly include A Best Place to Work designation. A spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing privately-held US companies for three years running.

And yes, a closet-sized office just past the foosball table by the restrooms.

Having once tasted the bright lights and stardom that comes with being named a Digital Marketer of the Year by the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), Alex is no stranger to the spotlight. He’s a Forbes Agency Council writer with placements in leading national publications including Entrepreneur, Search Engine Journal, Physicians Practice, and The Wall Street Journal. He has also served as an expert speaker for conferences including the American Marketing Association, SouthWired, SMASH Senior Care Marketing & Sales Summit, Vistage Executive Leaders, SHSMD, and HCIC.

More importantly—and beyond all the credentials and cool accolades—Cardinal has experienced exponential growth under Membrillo’s leadership. His innovative approach to digital marketing has transformed the industry, especially the world of healthcare and private equity. His team is also growing in lockstep with his client portfolio, the two groups of people he lives to serve (alongside his loving family, of course).