Digital marketing is broken. Here's how we fix it

Anil Malhotra, CMO of Bango, presents his manifesto for ethical and effective digital marketing
Anil Malhotra
Darts missing a dart board

Digital marketing was once an exciting prospect. The move to online was filled with the promise of delivering more effective and informed ad campaigns, in new and interesting ways. So why is it then, that unwanted ads suddenly appear to be everywhere, defining most consumers experience of online marketing?

Sadly, it’s true that consumers are frequently bombarded with uninspired and poorly targeted ads that rarely stand a chance of resonating, irrespective of whether they’re viewed on social, search, or mobile. In fact, research has found that $132bn of social ad spend alone is wasted due to poor targeting. This overall lack of strategy amongst marketers, coupled with their growing and frankly invasive thirst for data, has given marketers a bad name among increasingly privacy-conscious consumers.

What’s more, the once simple dream of digital marketing has devolved into a nightmarish world obsessed with hoarding customers’ data, obscured by meaningless metrics and detrimental to user experiences – and this needs to change. With that said, here are three top tips to help steer digital marketers towards more ethical and effective strategies to overhaul the industry and begin to build back consumer trust.

1. Only take the data you actually need

In our digital economy, data is currency. And while it does play a vital role in empowering marketers to gain clarity on target audiences, it appears that as an industry we’ve become too fixated on the data, almost to the detriment of ‘strategy’ altogether.

This growing preoccupation with data has made marketers greedy, driven to hoarding every scrap of data from their customers. And yet, the majority of it isn’t even used or useful, which just goes to show how counter-productive this approach is. Instead of mass harvesting, marketers must take a step back and remember to prioritise their strategy first. By doing so, they can figure out what limited data sets they actually need — if it doesn’t relate to what or how customers are trying to buy, then don’t use it.

2. Segment, don’t stereotype

Male. Female. Black. White. Boomers. Gen Z. As society has evolved, it’s unbelievable that so many marketers are still making use of demographic segmentations that don’t accurately reflect people’s interests or lives. This outdated thinking relies on worn-out stereotypes based upon gender, race and age. For example, suppose a baby clothing store chose to target their advertising solely at women aged 25-30. By opting to use a demographic segmentation that incorporates the stereotype that “all women want to have children”, anticipating the age at which they do so, and expecting them to be the ones purchasing baby clothing, they would be doing both themselves and their potential customers a disservice.

For marketing to be well-informed and targeted, digital marketers must deprioritise demographic stereotypes and instead focus on the data that will accurately reflect consumers’ interests – that is, data that speaks to what people choose to spend their money on.

3. Stop being invasive

Have you ever been speaking aloud about a certain topic and then had a related ad presented to you just moments later? You tell your friend of this freakish coincidence only to be met with the facetious response, “maybe they’re listening…”. This phenomenon of being spied upon has become commonplace among the general public, and digital marketers have contributed to this positioning of unease as the new normal. But it’s not normal, and it needs to stop.

Time and time again, big tech companies are making the headlines with stories that demonstrate that customer privacy is continually being ignored, and while it’s already led to a decline in consumer trust, if it carries on it could result in negative brand images and serious disruption to bottom lines.

To help build back consumer confidence, marketers must vow to drop all invasive technologies, and only use tech that strictly relies upon fully anonymized data, and explicit first-party consent.

Fixing the broken industry

Ultimately, it’s not too late to make digital marketing work for advertisers and customers, but in order for real positive change to take place, we need to all commit to fixing marketing for our companies, customers and society as a whole. By taking a more thoughtful, customer-centric approach to marketing, and by avoiding invasive technologies and outdated stereotypes, marketers can create campaigns that resonate with their audience and drive real results for their business.

Written by
Anil Malhotra
CMO of Bango
April 5, 2023