Digital marketing guru Dave Chaffey on trends for 2020, his top marketing tips and how he started his career

Digital marketing guru Dave Chaffey on trends for 2020, his top marketing tips and how he started his career

There are few people in digital marketing more influential than Dr Dave Chaffey.

The author of several books on the subject and creator of the RACE digital marketing planning system, The Chartered Institute of Marketing has recognized him as one 50 ‘marketing gurus’ worldwide who have shaped the future of marketing.

Not only that but the Department of Trade and Industry, NOP World and E-consultancy, have commended him as one of the ‘Top 100’ key influencers and drivers in the development of e-commerce in the UK over the last ten years.

In this exclusive interview with Just.Marketing editor Mark Johnson, the co-founder of digital marketing learning platform and publisher Smart Insights reveals some common pitfalls in digital marketing, where he believes companies should invest in 2020, some tools he recommends, and more.

Mark Johnson: How did you get your first break in marketing?

“Nice question since I don't believe many follow structured career paths and certainly think I got a lucky break to be involved in digital marketing.

In the late 1980s, before the worldwide web, I worked as an account manager and development team manager for software developers working with clients to build systems used by retailers to decide on the best places to open new stores or car showrooms. In the mid-1990s, I joined the School of Business at the University of Derby to teach students about using IT in business and marketing since I've always enjoyed helping people to learn.

Both my parents being teachers maybe had something to do with this. But I'd never had a plan to teach. The break was when a fellow marketing lecturer, Richard Mayer, asked me whether I'd be interested in joining the Chartered Institute of Marketing training faculty and I was soon delivering a course in Strategic Internet Marketing – the first course of its type in the UK, working out with delegates how to use this 'Interweb thing' based on early adopter use. So big thanks to Richard! It was fun, but scary for some.

One of my first company workshops was with the Yellow Pages. Where are they now?”

MJ: What was the first campaign you worked on and that made you proud?

“In the 'noughties', I worked as an independent consultant and trainer specializing in helping companies develop their digital strategies. As an educator on digital marketing I thought it was essential to be actively involved in companies of different sectors, helping them learn and then sharing experiences.

“My first campaigns were when we launched Smart Insights around ten years ago. One of the most memorable was #ActionableAnalytics developed with Dan Bosomworth, a co-founder who now works with agency Home. Dan drove the creative behind it and I developed the narrative with him. It featured Zombies, Hippos and Apes – our effort to engage people in what some may find to be a dry subject. I've just checked it on Slideshare. It's had 180,000 views, so it must have been fairly engaging and we really worked the repurposing content marketing mantra via our blog and social media.”

Dr Dave Chaffey

MJ: What are the five key areas for investment in 2020?

“Recently, I've been delivering training workshops for leadership teams rather than marketing teams, so it's best not to be down in the weeds of SEO and social media tactics. I identified five key areas requiring focus, which I explain in a post on Innovating Digital.

“Start with the customer experience. If you don't invest sufficiently and you’re updating your website every few years, then you're 'dead in the water'. This is particularly true if your competitors are more agile. Using regular, 90-day programmes of AB tests focused on key marketing outcomes integrating with offline channels is what we recommend in our Smart Insights RACE planning templates.

“Next, develop reach and awareness through using the right digital channels like search, social and co-marketing. A 'me-too' approach of one blog post a month won't work. You need to be creating truly awesome content much more frequently.

“Then looking at your Messaging, despite bulging inboxes, email, mobile and on-site messaging works to build an effective conversational marketing approach. Next, a content marketing strategy fuels all the other techniques, so that needs thinking through; some editorial calendars are better than others for achieving your goals.

“Finally, particularly in larger businesses, you need the management or governance in place to invest the right resources in the right areas. That means integrated plans, customized analytics for data-driven marketing and skills development.”

MJ: What are the most common mistakes that online marketers make?

“Our research shows that around half of businesses are doing marketing without a defined digital marketing strategy, or even worse, a marketing strategy. So not using a planned approach is the biggest.

“Related to this, many businesses still have a campaign mindset where they naturally put time into launching products, promotions and events. That's essential, but I recommend ring fencing time and resources to work on always-on activities that tap into audience intent as they constantly search for products and information and then nurturing interest through the customer lifecycle. It's easier said than done.”

MJ: How can marketers avoid sacrificing creativity when developing data-driven strategies?

“Interesting question. A focus on always-on and optimization of communications can appear to stifle creativity. Actually it shouldn't since most optimizations that work, don't involve small changes to button sizes and line thickness. Instead, testing bold changes to creative, branding and copywriting generally give the biggest uplifts.

“There's a trend of usability agencies and even AIs moving from a functional approach to a more persuasive approach based on people's emotions. When I benchmark sites, I'm interested in how visuals and copy elements combine to form common design patterns that can be tested for engagement and outcome.”

MJ: What marketing strategy tools would you recommend to marketers?

“There are lots of classical marketing models, many of which have been unfairly dissed or discredited as not suitable for the digital age. But if you're discussing strategy with a small business, the 4 and 7Ps of the marketing mix is still the best summary, although framing them against customer persona needs is a more modern approach.

“Plus the Business Model Canvas is an essential approach I use with online pureplays. Our members at Smart Insights find our process frameworks useful, for example, SOSTAC® developed by PR Smith or the RACE digital marketing planning system that I developed. Simple frameworks like these help you structure and implement your plan and persuade others to adopt it since they are easy for your audience you need to persuade to buy into.”

MJ: Do you think influencer marketing has peaked as a trend?

“No. At least I still see a lot of interest in it since earned media can be cost effective and gives you more amplification than other channels. I think, particularly for B2B marketing, it's a key tactic since media costs can range up to £50 cost per click for ads in Google or LinkedIn in some categories. Plus, associating with a range of influencers, from micro-influencers like bloggers, through to industry gurus, publishers and co-marketing with complementary brands gives you a 'halo-credibility effect'.

“In consumer marketing, the legislation that has rightly been created to limit undisclosed celeb promotions on social media has perhaps reduced the noise. But to me, influencer marketing will always be a key channel for brands that can work out how to exploit it cost-effectively. Onalytica has an awesome new free guide on this; I recommend checking it out.”

MJ: Tell us something about yourself that JM readers will find surprising.

“I'm not personally always-on and enjoy a digital detox, whether that's being in the litter picking crew and listening to indie music at Glastonbury or orienteering and fell running in the wilds every weekend. I enjoy not being plugged-in with time to think and be inspired by being out there.”

Dr Dave Chaffey is author of Digital Marketing Excellence, creator of the RACE digital marketing planning system and co-founder of Digital marketing learning platform and publisher Smart Insights. Keep up-to-date with his podcast What’s New in Marketing?