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Marketers have long sung email’s praises as the most effective digital marketing tactic. But a new survey from Ascend2 [download page] sings a different tune: asked what will be their most effective tactic in a digital marketing plan next year, marketers pointed first to social media marketing.

Indeed, almost one-fifth (18%) cited social media marketing as the most effective digital marketing tactic for 2018, narrowly edging content marketing (17%).

Although marketers continue to struggle with measuring the ROI of both social media and content marketing, the use of attribution seems to lead to more rather than less spending on social media. Marketers’ perceptions of social’s effectiveness also makes sense given social’s influence on youths’ purchases and power as an awareness vehicle – not to mention that social media conversations drive an estimated 9% of consumer sales.

Beyond social and content marketing, respondents to Ascend2’s survey were also more likely to peg marketing technology and SEO as being most effective in their digital marketing plans than email marketing. While marketing technology isn’t a tactic per se, it’s becoming an increasingly critical element of marketers’ plans.

Last year, by contrast, email was rated higher than social media and search in the effectiveness rankings.

One reason for the change this year may be shifting goalposts. In last year’s report increasing sales revenue was considered by far to be the most important goal for a digital marketing plan. But in this year’s study, respondents tabbed increased lead generation as being just as important as a sales revenue boost.

That may help explain the added importance of social media marketing and content marketing this year, which typically are used more for lead generation than for driving actual sales.

Data Quality the Biggest Challenge to Success

Encouragingly, marketers seem very confident about the success of their digital marketing plans in reaching their key objectives. Virtually all saw their plans as above-average in this regard.

That doesn’t mean that they won’t be faced with challenges, though. The most critical challenge to the success of a digital marketing plans is the quality of marketing data, per the report. That brings to mind new research from Monetate, in which data quality was cited as the top challenge to effective personalization.

Other challenges high on the list for marketers responding to Ascend2’s survey are lead generation and user experience.

Separately, respondents reported that data management and marketing technology are the most difficult tactics to execute in a digital marketing plan.

The full report is available for download here.

About the Data: The Ascend2 results are based on a survey of 271 marketing influencers from around the world, 65% of whom come from companies with at least 50 employees. Respondents were fairly evenly divided between B2B (43%) and B2C (35%) companies, with the remaining 22% targeting B2B and B2C (22%) equally.

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