Digital Marketing Trends With Neal Schaffer [Marketer Spotlight]

  • UPDATED: 10 November 2023
  • 7 min read

Reading Time: 7 minutes

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Editor’s Note: Marketer Spotlight is an initiative by MoEngage that covers opinions and advice from marketing leaders and influencers. The first marketer under the spotlight is Neal Schaffer, CEO of PDCA Social, a Forbes Top 50 Social Media Power Influencer two years in a row, and a Forbes Top 5 Social Sales Influencer.  He took time out from his family dinner to share his opinion about what’s hot and what’s not in the world of digital marketing this year.

MoEngage: Tell us something about yourself and your company?

Neal: I am the founder and CEO of PDCA Social where I offer social media agency, consulting, and speaking services. I started out as an author, then began speaking, and from my speaking launched a social media strategy consulting company. A few of my consulting clients liked my strategies but did not have the resources to implement them, so I launched a social media agency to meet their needs.

Apart from this, I teach digital and social media marketing to executives at three different universities around the world, Rutgers Business School in the United States as well as at the Irish Management Institute and the University of Jyvaskyla in Europe. I am also writing books. I plan to release a book next year on influencer marketing, which I believe is the hottest topic in social right now, called the Business of Influence. Everything I do revolves around helping businesses to leverage social media to attain their strategic objectives.

How has digital marketing evolved over the last few years?

There is a slide that I use for teaching executives that shows the journey of digital marketing starting from having just a website to having an app or a responsive and mobile-optimized website. It also includes other strategies such as search engine marketing, SEO, email marketing. But the areas where I see evolution are in social media marketing and personalization. I like to call social media as the social inside digital. If you want to improve your SEO, you need more content on your website in the form of blogs and other kinds of content marketing. So, this is one area where I have seen the evolution of digital and the growth of social. Organic social media is another area that has evolved over time. We have also seen the emergence of paid social media.

Spotlight Marketer - Neal Schaffer | MoEngage

Now we are into what I call the 6th type of digital marketing, which is about leveraging other people such as employees, fans, and influencers. I consider all this as a type of influencer marketing. Another interesting aspect that is gaining prominence is the focus on personalization. Companies, especially e-commerce websites and retailers, now personalize customer conversations across channels, be it push notifications, emails, in-app messages, or social media itself. This enables customers to engage with the brand more actively. So, yes, digital marketing has evolved quite a lot over the years and will continue to do so.

What are the key challenges that digital marketers face today?

Digital marketers face challenges in making their content seen and heard on search engines and their media channels. I think, in general, today’s challenges are the same as the last few years, which include mobile optimization, video optimization, and how to work more with influencers and get noticed on social media. There is also the challenge of authenticity and gaining more with organic social media. This will lead to a big push into videos, mobile marketing, and technology to improve SEO and increase the ROI through content marketing efforts. Marketers will have to take a multi-pronged approach.

Key challenges for digital marketing in 2019

We are going to see the continued rise of mobile, video, and influencer marketing as we move forward. In the e-commerce space, the challenge for marketers is to create seamless, personalized, and cross-channel journeys for customers so they can engage better with the brands. I believe evolving a cross-channel marketing strategy will work well for them.

What should be the top priorities for digital marketers this year?

Digital marketers should take a fresh look at their budget and align it with how people are searching for and consuming information today. I think B2B companies are beginning to allocate a lot of budget for digital marketing, but consumer brands – especially retailers and e-commerce companies – are still trying to catch up to the media consumption habits that we have today. So, look at what is providing value and align your budget with it. It sounds simple, but if you are in marketing, you have a yearly budget attached to a certain activity. The problem is, in the bid, you miss out on a lot of new opportunities such as social marketing, different types of content marketing or video, and influencer marketing. So, recognize the new areas of digital where the growth is and ensure that your budgets are aligned with it.

Spotlight Marketer - Neal Schaffer | MoEngage

Many companies start with a 1% budget or 5% budget. Align your budget with the ROI that it would generate. For instance, if you are spending only 1% on influencers, you are not going to see the effect they may have on social media or video content.

Similarly, as a retailer, you may not see much growth if you spend less on marketing automation. So, it all boils down to experimentation. If you are not pushing more money into the new areas where the growth is, you may miss out on the potential opportunities.

What are some of the roadblocks that you foresee for digital marketers this year?

I think content creation is always a challenge for companies. Companies are good at creating self-promotional content. It’s about being on the driver’s side, being on the audience’s side, and understanding what makes the content authentic to them. E-Commerce and retail marketers should leverage influencers to spread awareness about the company or campaign and to generate great content that can be reused in their marketing campaigns. It’s another way of overcoming the roadblock. There is always going to be a roadblock of convincing your superiors about the ROI. It’s going to take some extra effort. Especially when it involves new content medium, new marketing automation tools, or new social networks that we want to get more engaged in.

Educate people internally and create internal case studies, and success stories to show them the value. I think organic social and working with more influencers will continue to be a roadblock. So, it’s important to increase the budget to be seen. However, you can overcome it with employee advocacy and customer advocacy especially in the limited B2B space, where people do way better than the algorithms and brands.

Could you suggest some strategies to grow user engagement?

Focus on social networks where you get more engagement. For example, you might notice that your Facebook Business Page and LinkedIn Company page get very little engagement, while your Twitter and Instagram page gets more engagement. Why wouldn’t you focus where you get the engagement and engage with people that engage with you? Always act as a person would act.

I find companies are good at publishing content and responding to people who respond to them but are not good at engaging with others. I want to see more companies doing that. I want to see more companies leveraging employees and influencers and reaching out to their fans and celebrating them as a part of brand advocacy efforts. These are some easy ways to grow user engagement. Publish more frequently in social platforms such as Instagram. Studies show that the more frequently you publish, the more engagement you get. The same applies to Twitter. These are not platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn where algorithms might penalize you for publishing too often.

Some easy ways to grow user engagement - Neal Schaffer

If you are a retail marketer, invest in cross-channel marketing strategies and personalization to increase the user engagement rate. Keep all communication channels open so you can engage with them across platforms and devices.

For tips on success in digital marketing, take a look at this video.

What is your digital marketing prediction for this year?

This year, companies will wake up to the fact that influence is all around us and that influencer marketing is not just about tapping into Instagrammers who have the most number of followers. It’s about tapping into influencers all around them such as the employees, customers, fans, micro-influencers, nano influencers, and collaborating with them to make their brand more human and authentic. There are tons of advantages to doing this. But it requires a mindset that says social media is not just for broadcasting or promotion 24/7. It is for creating real relationships with other people out there. If we can create a mutually beneficial relationship, it will help our brand to do a lot better than what we can do ourselves.

Spotlight Marketer - Neal Schaffer | MoEngage

Studies have shown that several companies including retailers realize the importance of customer-centricity and personalized marketing. So, I believe companies will allow some amount of their budget on marketing technology and automation tools.

Thank you, Neal! We are excited to listen to your thoughts and advice. These insights are beneficial to our readers as they explore new social channels, and influencer marketing while implementing a strong cross-channel marketing approach for their brands. You can connect with Neal and gain more insights on social media and influencer marketing from his blog.