By Liane Dietrich, MD, LinkShare UK

As the marketing industry takes its first steps into 2011 it is finally starting to shake off the long, dark hangover of the last couple of years. Public spending cuts, a turbulent economy and an uncertain future have divided opinion on the question of consumer spend and, of course, the future of marketing budgets. But with the first month of the new year behind us, I believe that the marketing industry has laid the groundwork for a strong and prosperous year ahead.

Budgets on the rise

At the end of 2010 we conducted a piece of industry-focused research to find out how marketers are feeling about the state of the economy and their business over the year ahead. The good news is that over two thirds of respondents (68 per cent) said they expect digital marketing budgets to rise next year. Only 18 per cent thought budgets would be cut as a result of limited resources and just 7 per cent predicted that a lack of funds would cause their company’s creativity to be stunted.

The research also shed light on the preferred marketing strategies for the year, with
30 per cent of marketers intending to increase their focus on targeted campaigns rather than mass marketing techniques. A fifth reported that they are planning to streamline processes to drive efficiency savings, while 18 per cent per cent anticipate 2011 will bring a greater emphasis on measurement and ROI.

Growth of rich content online

Almost a third (30 per cent) of marketers claim that video advertising will be their single biggest investment for the year. We’ve seen a remarkable shift in the way video online is being taken up by consumers and it is only natural that this interest and engagement will fuel advertising spend. Although the use of video in marketing and advertising is nothing new, the results from our survey mirror what we have been hearing from our customers this year and suggest that video is set to become firmly integrated into the digital marketer’s tool kit.

In the same survey we found that ads on personal social networks will continue to form a fundamental part of digital marketing strategies in 2011, with 28 per cent of respondents planning to invest more heavily in the channel. Vouchers, promotions and special offers received 17 per cent of the vote, followed by interactive ad banners at 7 per cent and sponsored search engine links at just 6 per cent.

Targeted campaigns for engaged digital consumers
Over the course of the year we expect to see online campaigns become more involved with other marketing channels than they have been in the past. This holistic outreach will increasingly focus on well-targeted, tailored campaigns. Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy and with it more open to being marketed to — as long as it’s the right product and the right channel. Some have even expressed the desire to become more involved in the process, creating a two-way conversation that was impossible for most advertisers only a few short years ago.

For all its audiences, whether it’s the planners, the buyers, or even the consumers on the receiving end of its campaigns, digital marketing will become more transparent and easier to use than it has been in the past. Despite the challenges of 2010’s economic environment, it has provided the perfect platform for online and affiliate marketing to prove their value and flexibility, giving marketers the opportunity to reach consumers in a more targeted and measurable fashion. Those companies who align their marketing campaigns and continue to implement creative, innovative approaches in reaching their consumers stand to prosper both from brand awareness and an increase in online sales as we continue into 2011.