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What is dark marketing?

Staying competitive with the marketing efforts of other companies is a constant struggle. But there’s a new approach that promises to make it far more challenging.

It’s called “dark marketing,” and it’s rapidly changing the digital marketing world. Understanding what it is and how you can work with it—not against it—is crucial to helping your brand thrive.

Let’s be clear on the name, coined by Microsoft partner BrandTotal: This digital marketing is “dark” because it’s hidden from competitors’ sight.

Previously, you’d have to use mass media to reach large numbers of people. It was all out in the open, and competitors were aware of each other’s campaigns.

At first, the internet didn’t change that much. But soon, marketers realized targeted ads were a powerful way to entice customers. By scanning and analyzing social networking and other online data, targeting could happen rapidly. The result was “programmatic marketing:” a way to deliver ads based on viewer identity and interests.

Dark marketing takes things even further. Today, ad targeting happens over a wide range of channels—including social networks, email campaigns, and text messages. Targeting is fragmented, so often it’s impossible to trace the message origin. Messaging is also carefully segmented by demographic groups, which are now easier to reach with social-networking data.

The “a-ha” of dark marketing

Alon Leibovich, co-founder and CEO at BrandTotal, has seen the impact this can have on revenue. In a recent discussion, he shared some eye-opening examples and a statistic that illustrates the prevalence of this approach.

“Right now, if you go to Apple’s Facebook page, you’ll see there are no posts, no ads,” Leibovich observed. “That doesn’t mean that Apple’s not spending any money on Facebook; on the contrary, they’re actually one of the biggest spenders. But again, if you’re not getting targeted for it you don’t get to see it. It doesn’t surface.”

Gone are the days of ads directed at everyone. With detailed data and advanced analytics, companies can pinpoint their ideal customers based on demographics and behaviors, then speak directly to them via targeted ads. In fact, Leibovich points out that 65 percent of sponsored ads on YouTube today are “dark.”

For example, if you aren’t the mother of a newborn, you probably won’t see Huggies diaper ads online. Those mothers, however, have specialized ads follow them around like a shadow to all corners of the internet. One YouTube banner ad may have only been a small piece of the full dark marketing campaign, with other messaging likely on the various channels described above.

Responding to a dark new reality

Dark marketing is too powerful to ignore, and savvy business leaders are looking to integrate it into their marketing operations quickly and effectively.

A critical aspect of doing it well is being quick to launch new campaigns. The days of investing months into planning have given way to ad blitzes conceived over morning coffee and deployed before lunch.

You need marketing intelligence to do that well.That’s where companies like BrandTotal come in. They’re currently working with Fortune 500 companies to quickly reverse-engineer competitors’ marketing strategies. This includes identifying brand goals, messaging, targeting efforts, effectiveness, and even how consumers feel about each brand.

BrandTotal funnels these competitive insights to an interface that helps companies adjust their marketing strategy on the fly according to threats and opportunities.

As dark marketing grows, it must address concerns over internet privacy. In an era of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and highly publicized data breaches, data gathering must assure privacy.

Brands that wait to adopt dark marketing are at a serious disadvantage to those that jump in now. By doing so, companies will shine light into the darkness and make more effective decisions to propel digital marketing campaigns to success.

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Share your experience with Dark Marketingand tips for fellow partners on the Community page here.