Plan for Digital Advertising Growth with Awareness, Foresight & Testing

Stating the obvious here – 2020 was a wild ride.

Regardless of where you lived and worked, it was impossible to ignore the weight of a global pandemic, economic volatility, and general uncertainty.

Within the digital advertising industry, this took the shape of budget cuts, employment shake-ups, and changing priorities for businesses in nearly every vertical.

Fast forward to today… it’s 2021.

A new year. A fresh start.

And yet many of the events that made last year so unpredictable are still in play. The pandemic continues and vaccines are only just recently being deployed.

Many industries have seen some level of recovery or growth, but many more are still struggling.

How do we move forward?

How do we make the best of a tough situation?

Let’s start with a mindset.

When I work and plan confidently today, I can rebound and grow tomorrow.

This mindset leads to action that supports digital advertising growth in three ways: Awareness, Foresight, and Testing.


Too often we go “heads down” in our work and develop blinders to everything else (and everyone) going on. Sometimes we simply tune out the news of the day because we feel we’ve heard it all before.

The truth is that success in 2021 will depend on your ability to maintain awareness. More importantly, proactive awareness will be necessary (i.e., do your homework!).

Keep tabs on the pandemic.

  • Where have vaccines been deployed successfully?
  • What countries, states, or provinces are in lockdown?
  • How does this impact your location targeting or device targeting (more time at home = more time on PC)?
  • How has the customer decision journey changed?

Keep tabs on the economy (macro) and your industry (micro).

There’s a lot of discussion about a “k-shaped recovery,” the simple explanation being that in this type of economic recovery, some industries will do much better than others.

This results in the unequal distribution of income and recovery.

Where does your business fit in the recovery?

What about your existing or potential customers?

Keep tabs on each other. Yes, I’m going there.

The world needs empathy and compassion, now more than ever.

When in doubt, choose kindness.


While we can’t see the future, we can look at trends and predictions to make a plan.

Keep in mind that your plan may need revising throughout the year.

Predictions aren’t perfect, but they often give us a clue of where things are going.

As you consider your 2021 plans, predictions can serve as a starting point or conversation starter.

In the world of paid search, there is no shortage of strong predictions – here’s one, here’s one, and here’s another.

Emerging trends support predictions with a sense of direction and validity.

Whether you are a generalist who manages all things digital or a specialist focusing on just PPC, understanding trends that impact the entire digital marketing ecosystem is so important.

What is happening in the world of ecommerce?

What about design principles?

Are you up-to-date on consumer trends?

Predictions are educated guesses. Emerging trends give us direction.

And the truth is, neither is perfect or permanent.

If 2020 taught us anything, it was to expect the unexpected.

We should be prepared for uncertainty again in 2021.

Keep tabs on what thought leaders and experts are saying.

Follow and connect on LinkedIn or Twitter. Track hashtags like #ppcchat, #seochat, and #marketingtwitter.


As the world around us changes, so must our strategies.

We can’t expect that what worked yesterday will work tomorrow.

OK, so this isn’t always true… and I’m simply underscoring the importance of trying new things and testing for 2021.

How are you thinking big?

How are you going to step out of your comfort zone?

Test for the Cookieless World

Privacy regulations and platform changes mean that how digital advertisers have tracked performance and accumulated data is changing (and fast).

What can you test to get ahead of the curve?

Test new methods for building your first-party data.

Marry that first-party data with platform side logged-in data through audience targeting.

Test (or expand) the use of contextual and behavioral targeting features like In-market Audiences or LinkedIn Profile Targeting.

Test Ad Variety

Jump on the responsive search ad (RSA) bandwagon.

With the potential for gains in core KPIs and gained efficiency in ad testing, what’s not to like?

Get creative with ad extensions.

New flavors like Action Extensions (Microsoft Advertising) and Form Extensions (Google Ads) are a clear sign that development in the extension space isn’t slowing down.

Incorporate images into your search activity.

No joke. Both search platforms are investing in this space, most recently with Microsoft Advertising’s multi-image extension.

Test New Channels

Looking for a way to expand your native advertising reach? The Microsoft Audience Network is an emerging player and shouldn’t be ignored.

Still wary of Pinterest, Quora, or Reddit?

Have a local business and think billboards are out of reach?

There’s a Blip for that (digital billboards, managed like digital ad campaigns).

The diversity of digital advertising channels is at an all-time high and the opportunity for you to grow in one (or all!) of these channels, never better.

Test Your Brand Identity

Specifically, does your brand connect authentically and build trust with customers?

Are you considering diversity and inclusion in messages, creatives, targeting, and brand values?

Do a top-to-bottom audit of your business, marketing initiatives, and individual campaigns.

Nurture the Mindset for Digital Advertising Growth This Year & Beyond

There is work to be done at every level — as granularly as discovering purpose-themed keyword opportunities with DSA or as big as aligning your brand (and ad) messaging to the nine feelings of inclusion.

I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t see the future.

However, if I were a betting man, I would wager that 2021 will be an exciting year brimming with potential.

Remember to be aware, do your homework. and choose kindness.

Maintain a level of foresight and make (then continue to edit) a plan.

Don’t lose your eye for growth and continue testing new ideas and features.

And last but not least, buckle up ‘cause here we go!

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Image Credits

Featured image: Microsoft Advertising. Used with permission.