Global trends in digital marketing
Dr Shikhar Bhaskar is a Lecturer in Marketing at the Plymouth Business School . He has worked as a digital marketer in industries such as wealth management, online gaming and apparels. He teaches various undergraduate and postgraduate modules including Marketing for a Digital World, Marketing and Strategy, and Public Relations in the Digital World and frequently leads data analysis workshops. His research interests explore media multi-tasking, advertising, sponsorship and product placement.
To find out more about Dr Bhaskar’s work and research on digital marketing, please contact him via email.
 

Global trends in digital marketing

Businesses and brands have invested heavily in digitalising marketing activity in order to communicate with past, present and future customers. Digital marketing has entered the mainstream and is widely used in both the B2C and B2B space. Even companies which are not currently engaging in much digital marketing activity are still planning and investing in their online presence and growing their digital real estate for the consumers of tomorrow. They know the younger generation will be even more rooted in the metaverse, buying online and not window shopping in bricks and mortar businesses. 
Meanwhile, the number of digital platforms is growing. There are the old favourites: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Facebook is considered to be the millennials’ platform, Instagram is for Generation Z and TikTok for those younger than that. During the pandemic, TikTok usage mushroomed with many brands now actively using and creating content for TikTok. The pandemic with its various lockdowns has accelerated the roll out of technology to facilitate payments for goods and services. Contactless payments became more widely adopted over the past few years and multiple digital platforms now have the functionality to enable financial transactions using systems like Apple Pay, making it easier for customers to make their purchases.  
The explosion of internet usage across the globe has blurred geographical boundaries. Whilst there are cases of governments blocking some platforms and content, young people today are generally accessing the same platforms and apps across the planet and, with smartphones widely accessible, interacting with each other. The digital revolution has spawned commonality and homogeneity. Activities are driven more by demography than geography. The children of wealthy parents are likely to have access to games consoles in addition to computers and smartphones whereas in poorer families children are accessing games and videos through smartphones.  
Marketing content is also changing. Companies use marketing channels and messages not just to communicate the benefits of their products and services, but also to demonstrate how their business can be a force for social good.  Digital marketing content now includes a business’s values and purpose: sustainability, social programmes, and efforts to reduce the carbon footprint.  

Digital marketing in tourism and hospitality

Digital marketing presents exciting possibilities to the tourism and hospitality industry. Frequent travellers, business people and tourists spend hours online researching where to go, stay and eat. Companies are boosting their presence on digital and social media as they have become effective and impactful ways to raise brand awareness, engage with potential customers and to cultivate their loyalty over the long term. 
This has resulted in an explosion of content creation. Hospitality businesses are creating content, not just for websites, but for all their social media platforms. This content showcases their facilities and services as well as the surrounding natural and cultural environments and their respective offerings. Would-be customers are more inclined to view 20 seconds of film footage rather than read a long, descriptive text. Businesses are therefore creating hours of footage to use on multiple platforms.  Virtual guest experiences are popular. Sumptuous executive and penthouse suites can now be explored using virtual and augmented reality so people can virtually ‘try’ before they buy.  Personalised content can be created in response to what customers say they want. Western tourists travelling to South Asia are looking for an exotic, luxury experience whereas local tourists are more interested in the surrounding area’s cultural offering. Bespoke content can be created for both markets to reflect these different purchasing decision drivers.  
Potential customers place a high value on user-generated content as it is considered to be more credible. User- generated content offers opportunities for influencer marketing and many hotel groups across the world have begun to rely more heavily on influencers and digital marketing. The younger generation uses both platforms more readily. Influencers are contributing to the democratisation of marketing content, flooding the market with information and images so that consumers can research holiday and travel destinations more comprehensively than ever before and make an informed purchase decision. 

A date with data

The explosion in content creation has resulted in a complementary growth in data. Analysing data and identifying trends is important. It is especially useful for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) which have fewer resources. SMEs can use data analytics to pinpoint what people like, dislike, watch, aspire and respond to (as well as what potential customers find most appealing about their products and services). Data analytics can also foster greater understanding about the target audience’s purchasing mindset.
The sheer breadth of an organisation’s digital presence across multiple channels has driven the need to create similar content across multiple platforms. Content has to be credible, consistent and complementary. Marketeers can interrogate data from multiple sources and invest in the platforms that are most effective for their business; if tomorrow’s consumers are on Tik Tok, but the people on Facebook are the ones buying today, this sends a clear signal where any immediate financial and content investment should be.  
All businesses (especially SMEs) can access different platforms’ data analytics and adjust their marketing efforts accordingly, remaining fleet of foot and responsive to evolving market dynamics. Data also provides insights into target customers’ minds, values, preferences and desires making it possible to target bespoke content more appropriately.  Businesses and digital marketeers need to know who their audience is, where to find them and how to reach them. Social media allows organisations to access untapped markets anywhere in the world. This is especially important in tourism and hospitality, and it underlines how the pattern of power is inching towards the consumer. They have much more control over a business’ image than before as social media users can create lots of content about their experiences. 
In addition to data, monitoring activity or ‘social listening’ is very important. E-reputation management is an emerging area in digital marketing. The online reputation of a business requires active management, particularly on social media and review sites. Currently, customers often look up online opinions, ratings, and reviews of a business before making a purchase. There are opportunities here; prompt and appropriate responses to negative feedback and activity are available for all to see across the globe. Resolving complaints in a public way is an opportunity to demonstrate attentive, and potentially enviable, customer service. This can often be more influential than an expensive advertising campaign. In fact, social media channels can often be the most direct way for small businesses to recover customers.
Social media has become the go-to platform for most internet users. Businesses know they need to engage with it. Many realise they should consider carefully how to take advantage of social media platforms and use them to support their strategy.  Social media channels facilitate the speedy sharing of information and messages across a global audience, but the content needs to pique a potential customer’s interest and encourage them to delve deeper. Social media offers compelling opportunities for advertising and promotion, especially for businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector. It offers a place to discuss and share fun memories of holidays, places, food and other experiences. 
Young people’s ready acceptance of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, is a window onto future communications. It demonstrates the importance of businesses being open to a broader and deeper adoption of new technology. The global pandemic has encouraged digital innovation and interaction. Whilst no one knows for certain what business communications will look like in five years’ time, young people’s behaviours and communication preferences could provide an indication. Digital and social media are unlikely to replace face to face interaction completely so a hybrid approach is likely; videos on YouTube as well as virtual reality and immersive graphics will become more important. They should seek to complement, and not replace, the real experience.