Who Scams The Scammers? Meet the Scambaiters

Police struggle to catch online fraudsters, often operating from overseas, but now a new breed of amateurs are taking matters into their own hands.

Three to four days a week, for one or two hours at a time, Rosie Okumura, 35, telephones thieves and messes with their minds. For the past two years, the LA-based voice actor has run a sort of reverse call centre, deliberately ringing the people most of us hang up on – scammers who pose as tax agencies or tech-support companies or inform you that you’ve recently been in a car accident you somehow don’t recall. When Okumura gets a scammer on the line, she will pretend to be an old lady, or a six-year-old girl, or do an uncanny impression of Apple’s virtual assistant Siri.

Once, she successfully fooled a fake customer service representative into believing that she was Britney Spears. “I waste their time,” she explains, “and now they’re not stealing from someone’s grandma.” Okumura is a “scambaiter” – a type of vigilante who disrupts, exposes or even scams the world’s scammers. While scambaiting has a troubled 20-year online history, with early forum users employing extreme, often racist, humiliation tactics, a new breed of scambaiters are taking over TikTok and YouTube. Okumura has more than 1.5 million followers across both video platforms, where she likes to keep things “funny and light”.

In April, the then junior health minister Lord Bethell tweeted about a “massive sudden increase” in spam calls, while a month earlier the consumer group Which? found that phone and text fraud was up 83% during the pandemic. In May, Ofcom warned that scammers are increasingly able to “spoof” legitimate telephone numbers, meaning they can make it look as though they really are calling from your bank. In this environment, scambaiters seem like superheroes – but is the story that simple? What motivates people like Okumura? How helpful is their vigilantism? And has a scambaiter ever made a scammer have a change of heart?

Batman became Batman to avenge the death of his parents; Okumura became a scambaiter after her mum was scammed out of $500. In her 60s and living alone, her mother saw a strange pop-up on her computer one day in 2019. It was emblazoned with the Windows logo and said she had a virus; there was also a number to call to get the virus removed. “And so she called and they told her, ‘You’ve got this virus, why don’t we connect to your computer and have a look.” Okumura’s mother granted the scammer remote access to her computer, meaning they could see all of her files. She paid them $500 to “remove the virus” and they also stole personal details, including her social security number.

Thankfully, the bank was able to stop the money leaving her mother’s account, but Okumura wanted more than just a refund. She asked her mum to give her the number she’d called and called it herself, spending an hour and 45 minutes wasting the scammer’s time. “My computer’s giving me the worst vibes,” she began in Kim Kardashian’s voice. “Are you in front of your computer right now?” asked the scammer. “Yeah, well it’s in front of me, is that… that’s like the same thing?” Okumura put the video on YouTube and since then has made over 200 more videos, through which she earns regular advertising revenue (she also takes sponsorships directly from companies).

“A lot of it is entertainment – it’s funny, it’s fun to do, it makes people happy,” she says when asked why she scambaits. “But I also get a few emails a day saying, ‘Oh, thank you so much, if it weren’t for that video, I would’ve lost $1,500.’” Okumura isn’t naive – she knows she can’t stop people scamming, but she hopes to stop people falling for scams. “I think just educating people and preventing it from happening in the first place is easier than trying to get all the scammers put in jail.”

She has a point – in October 2020, the UK’s national fraud hotline, run by City of London Police-affiliated Action Fraud, was labelled “not fit for purpose” after a report by Birmingham City University. An earlier undercover investigation by the Times found that as few as one in 50 fraud reports leads to a suspect being caught, with Action Fraud frequently abandoning cases. Throughout the pandemic, there has been a proliferation of text-based scams asking people to pay delivery fees for nonexistent parcels – one victim lost £80,000 after filling in their details to pay for the “delivery”. (To report a spam text, forward it to 7726.)

Asked whether vigilante scambaiters help or hinder the fight against fraud, an Action Fraud spokesperson skirted the issue. “It is important people who are approached by fraudsters use the correct reporting channels to assist police and other law enforcement agencies with gathering vital intelligence,” they said via email. “Word of mouth can be very helpful in terms of protecting people from fraud, so we would always encourage you to tell your friends and family about any scams you know to be circulating.”

Indeed, some scambaiters do report scammers to the police as part of their operation. Jim Browning is the alias of a Northern Irish YouTuber with nearly 3.5 million subscribers who has been posting scambaiting videos for the past seven years. Browning regularly gets access to scammers’ computers and has even managed to hack into the CCTV footage of call centres in order to identify individuals. He then passes this information to the “relevant authorities” including the police, money-processing firms and internet service providers.

“I wouldn’t call myself a vigilante, but I do enough to say, ‘This is who is running the scam,’ and I pass it on to the right authorities.” He adds that there have only been two instances where he’s seen a scammer get arrested. Earlier this year, he worked with BBC’s Panorama to investigate an Indian call centre – as a result, the centre was raided by local police and the owner was taken into custody.

Browning says becoming a YouTuber was “accidental”. He originally started uploading his footage so he could send links to the authorities as evidence, but then viewers came flooding in. “Unfortunately, YouTube tends to attract a younger audience and the people I’d really love to see looking at videos would be older folks,” he says. As only 10% of Browning’s audience are over 60, he collaborates with the American Association of Retired People to raise awareness of scams in its official magazine. “I deliberately work with them so I can get the message a little bit further afield.”

Still, that doesn’t mean Browning isn’t an entertainer. In his most popular upload, with 40m views, he calmly calls scammers by their real names. “You’ve gone very quiet for some strange reason,” Browning says in the middle of a call, “Are you going to report this to Archit?” The spooked scammer hangs up. One comment on the video – with more than 1,800 likes – describes getting “literal chills”.

But while YouTube’s biggest and most boisterous stars earn millions, Browning regularly finds his videos demonetised by the platform – YouTube’s guidelines are broad, with one clause reading “content that may upset, disgust or shock viewers may not be suitable for advertising”. As such, Browning still also has a full-time job.

YouTube isn’t alone in expressing reservations about scambaiting. Jack Whittaker is a PhD candidate in criminology at the University of Surrey who recently wrote a paper on scambaiting. He explains that many scambaiters are looking for community, others are disgruntled at police inaction, while some are simply bored. He is troubled by the “humiliation tactics” employed by some scambaiters, as well as the underlying “eye for an eye” mentality.

“I’m someone who quite firmly believes that we should live in a system where there’s a rule of law,” Whittaker says. For scambaiting to have credibility, he believes baiters must move past unethical and illegal actions, such as hacking into a scammer’s computer and deleting all their files (one YouTube video entitled “Scammer Rages When I Delete His Files!” has more than 14m views). Whittaker is also troubled by racism in the community, as an overcrowded job market has led to a rise in scam call centres in India. Browning says he has to remove racist comments under his videos.

“I think scambaiters have all the right skills to do some real good in the world. However, they’re directionless,” Whittaker says. “I think there has to be some soul- searching in terms of how we can better utilise volunteers within the policing system as a whole.”

At least one former scambaiter agrees with Whittaker. Edward is an American software engineer who engaged in an infamous bait on the world’s largest scambaiting forum in the early 2000s. Together with some online friends, Edward managed to convince a scammer named Omar that he had been offered a lucrative job. Omar paid for a 600-mile flight to Lagos only to end up stranded.

“He was calling us because he had no money. He had no idea how to get back home. He was crying,” Edward explains. “And I mean, I don’t know if I believe him or not, but that was the one where I was like, ‘Ah, maybe I’m taking things a little too far.’” Edward stopped scambaiting after that – he’d taken it up when stationed in a remote location while in the military. He describes spending four or five hours a day scambaiting: it was a “part-time job” that gave him “a sense of community and friendship”.

“I mean, there’s a reason I asked to remain anonymous, right?” Edward says when asked about his actions now. “I’m kind of embarrassed for myself. There’s a moment where it’s like, ‘Oh, was I being the bad guy?’” Now, Edward doesn’t approve of vigilantism and says the onus is on tech platforms to root out scams.

Yet while the public continue to feel powerless in the face of increasingly sophisticated scams (this summer, Browning himself fell for an email scam which resulted in his YouTube channel being temporarily deleted), But scambaiting likely isn’t going anywhere. Cassandra Raposo, 23, from Ontario began scambaiting during the first lockdown in 2020. Since then, one of her TikTok videos has been viewed 1.5m times. She has told scammers her name is Nancy Drew, given them the address of a police station when asked for her personal details, and repeatedly played dumb to frustrate them.

“I believe the police and tech companies need to do more to prevent and stop these scams, but I understand it’s difficult,” says Raposo, who argues that the authorities and scambaiters should work together. She hopes her videos will encourage young people to talk to their grandparents about the tactics scammers employ and, like Browning, has received grateful emails from potential victims who’ve avoided scams thanks to her content. “My videos are making a small but important difference out there,” she says. “As long as they call me, I’ll keep answering.”

For Okumura, education and prevention remain key, but she’s also had a hand in helping a scammer change heart. “I’ve become friends with a student in school. He stopped scamming and explained why he got into it. The country he lives in doesn’t have a lot of jobs, that’s the norm out there.” The scammer told Okumura he was under the impression that, “Americans are all rich and stupid and selfish,” and that stealing from them ultimately didn’t impact their lives. (Browning is more sceptical – while remotely accessing scammers’ computers, he’s seen many of them browsing for the latest iPhone online.)

“At the end of the day, some people are just desperate,” Okumura says. “Some of them really are jerks and don’t care… and that’s why I keep things funny and light. The worst thing I’ve done is waste their time.”

By:

Source: Who scams the scammers? Meet the scambaiters | Cybercrime | The Guardian

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Related Contents:

Cyberthreats: The Emerging Fault Lines of the Nation State. Oxford University Press.

ISBN9780190452568. Fisher, Bonnie S.; Lab, Steven (2010). Encyclopedia of Victimology and Crime Prevention. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. p. 493.

ISBN9781412960472. “FBI 2017 Internet Crime Report” (PDF). FBI.gov. Federal Bureau of Investigation. May 7, 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.

“The Economic Impact of Cybercrime— No Slowing Down” (PDF). McAfee. 2018. Retrieved October 24, 2018. Goel, Rajeev K. (2020).

“Uncharitable Acts in Charity: Socioeconomic Drivers of Charity-Related Fraud”. Social Science Quarterly. 101 (4): 1397–1412. doi:10.1111/ssqu.12794. ISSN1540-6237. Burke, Cathy.

“L.I. charity chief convicted of embezzling nearly $1 million meant for disabled”. nydailynews.com. Retrieved 2021-04-22.

“Charitable Contributions: For use in preparing 2016 Returns” (PDF). “Scam Watch – Nigerian Scams”. Scam Watch – Australian Government. 12 May 2016. Jamie Doward (2008-03-09).

“How boom in rogue ticket websites fleeces Britons”. The Observer. London. Retrieved 9 March 2008.

“USOC and IOC file lawsuit against fraudulent ticket seller”. Sports City. Retrieved 1 August 2008. Jacquelin Magnay (4 August 2008).

“Ticket swindle leaves trail of losers”. The Sydney Morning Herald. Kelly Burke (6 August 2008). “British fraud ran Beijing ticket scam”. The Sydney Morning Herald. Francis, Ryan (2017-05-11).

“What not to get Mom for Mother’s Day”. CSO from IDG. Retrieved 2017-11-28. Hew, Khe Foon (March 2011). “Students’ and teachers’ use of Facebook”. Computers in Human Behavior. 27 (2): 662–676. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.11.020. Kugler, Logan (27 October 2014). “Keeping online reviews honest”. Communications of the ACM. 57 (11): 20–23. doi:10.1145/2667111. S2CID11898299. Wilson, Brian (Mar 2017). “Using Social Media to Fight Fraud”. Risk Management. New York. 64 (2): 10–11.

ProQuest1881388527. “Woman loses £320,000 in ‘romance fraud’ scam”. BBC News. Retrieved 20 October 2020. Tom Zeller Jr (April 26, 2005).

“A Common Currency for Online Fraud: Forgers of U.S. Postal Money Orders Grow”. New York Times.

“Counterfeit Money Orders: The Ultimate Guide”. Fraud Guides. 2017-09-07. Retrieved 2021-04-22.

“CyberCops.com – Counterfeit Postal Money Orders”. http://www.cybercops.com. Retrieved 23 May 2017.

“Online Shopping Scams / Scams and Fraud / Consumer Resources / Home – Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

How Founder Coaching Can Lift Humanity up in the VC World

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The global entrepreneurship landscape is buried under the avalanche of news stories about founders securing multi-million-dollar funding to live out their dream of taking the world by storm.

But the heavy snowfall of cash falling from the venture capital sky may be blinding us to the struggles of startup owners along the way, especially those who are undertaking this expedition for the first time.

This is a trap that even the best of investors can fall into. Elite coach Ariane de Bonvoisin has experienced first hand that many venture capitalists and business leaders treat founders as superheroes who can brave anything without having a clue about their personal journeys.

“They’re investing in the company and not investing in the founder,” says Bonvoisin, an executive coach to top CEOs, startup founders, and VCs, who aspires to help clear the vision of investors so that they can better see the importance of coaching.

In her view, it is easy to forget that people are humans. “You give people the label of entrepreneur or founder, but it’s still just a role that people are in. You peel back the role, and that’s where you find the truth,” she told 150sec.

As someone who has sat on both sides of the table—having been an investor and an entrepreneur—she knows well that separating the founder from the business leads to a “dangerous” path that could threaten the survival of the business while sapping the morale of its owner.

Bonvoisin is a swimmer, a ski instructor, a long-distance runner, and a climber who has reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and accompanied a group of students to Antarctica.

What perplexes her is that a professional athlete would never get a sponsor without having a coach because “it implies that they have talent” but a tech startup can attract millions of dollars in investment without any coaching attached to it.

“When you look at the acting world, you see that even multiple Academy Award winners still have acting coaches. They are still given a coach for every role they take without any question. It’s the same in the music industry,” she said.

Normalizing coaching.

Ariane has come across investment firms that refuse to invest in a company unless they have a coach but believes there is a long road ahead for coaching to become mainstream among investors.

However, as a wise man once said, even the longest journeys begin with a single step. And who knows it better than Bonvoisin who is featured in a documentary that follows a motorcycle excursion through the highest passes of the Indian Himalayas.

In the case of founder coaching, she argues the first step is to start shattering the taboo against seeking help.

“The perception is if you need a coach, you’re worried or scared or incompetent or are dealing with something you don’t really want to tell your investors,” Bonvoisin said, adding that she has worked with founders whose investors refused to pay for their coaching.

Asked what needs to be done to reduce this stigma, she said using facts and statistics to demonstrate the true impact of a coach can go a long way toward normalizing coaching “because we’re still in an industry that values results, money, growth, and success.”

For instance, she says, a founder can tell the investor they would have raised $1 million without a coach but managed to raise $5 million with the help of a coach or that they taught they were at the pre-seed stage without a coach but raised a Series A round with a coach.

Another example, according to her, is when the entrepreneur can explain they could not hire a VP of sales but a coach helped them bring someone on board that secured new clients and elevated the company’s position in the market.

Celebrating role models.

The other thing is to ask founders to talk about their personal and work-related struggles without shame or fear of judgment, added Bonvoisin, an author who has given a TED talk and keynoted Oprah Winfrey’s O You conference in 2013.

She thinks celebrating successful people who hire coaches—including famous Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors or executives at companies like Google or Facebook—is another link in the chain that can cause cracks in the taboo surrounding coaching.

Bonvoisin also feels the need for increased awareness about different types of coaching that exist.

“When people think of coaching in this industry, they think of it as life coaching or business coaching. To me, coaching is a lot broader than that. For example, investors can give founders a health coach. And there are people who have parenting coaches to help them build a startup with two kids at home that need home schooling.”

Return-on-coaching mindset.

Dedicating even 1 percent of the fund to facilitate founders’ access to coaching is a “brilliant” use of money, added Bonvoisin, who has been invited to Google, Amazon, the World Bank, and Red Bull to teach about navigating change and founder and startup wellness.

“It is a very small contribution that has the ability to massively affect the quality of your investment,” she said, emphasizing that there needs to be a return-on-coaching mindset—not just a return-on-investment mindset.

In her opinion, founders should be given the freedom and trust to choose their own coach without having to report the details of how they are using the coaching money because it would be an intrusion on their privacy.

However, investors can make some coaches available or put them on retainer for when founders are having a panic attack before an important meeting or need immediate help with a decision.

She maintains that coaching is crucial because it is a role entrepreneurs do not get from their family, friends, spouse, co-founders, or investors “from which they are usually hiding things.”

“When humanity gets lifted in both the investor side and the startup side, a very different conversation is possible, which is not just about ROI, KPIs, or fundraising goals. And what I’ve seen with the founders is that when the VC shows they care about the founder, the founder will run 10 more marathons for them.”

There needs to be a return-on-coaching mindset—not just a return-on-investment mindset.

~ Ariane de Bonvoisin

Common misconceptions.

As a Tony Robbins certified trainer who assists in a leadership capacity at his events around the world, Ariane can talk for hours and hours about common misconceptions about coaches and the process of coaching.

Many are under the assumption that coaching is expensive, she said, adding that it is also a false perception that a coach is all about the psychology of people and not the real guts of the business.

“A coach can have a bit more of a 360-degree view of the situation, ask questions that no one else is asking you about your business, and add tremendous value even without having direct experience in the industry in question.”

There are a large number of coaches who have worn many hats as founders and investors and can share their knowledge about different aspects of a business, she added.

Another thing she says some people get wrong is that a coach is “very soft and is like a friend that cheers you on or you cry with when you fall apart.”

But the reality is that coaching can be “direct, brutal, and honest” while offering “a very loving, kind, warm, trusting, and safe place to land” at the same time, added Ariane, who landed on the list of Silicon Alley’s top 100 people to watch a few years ago.

Coaching is not ‘surgery.’

Another prevailing myth, according to Bonvoisin, is that a coach is a temporary resource and is for when things are going badly.

“Some think that coaching is like a surgery and is just for a specific period of time when they are dealing with difficult decisions,” she said.

But coaching is a relationship where “you build something together with someone who is your raving fan”, added Ariane who has had her own coach for 17 years and says almost 80 percent of her clients have been with her for more than a year.

Another misbelief she knows from experience is that a coach should be older than the coachee or “is someone like you”.

Elaborating further, Bonvoisin said, “Some people think only coaches who have the same gender, race, or background can understand, coach, and relate to them and that someone totally different to them probably won’t be able to enter their world.”

This is a total myth as “someone who is different often stretches your identity, offers a new perspective and worldview, helps you see blind spots, and expands your beliefs,” Bonvoisin added.

In her world, coaching is like traveling.

“The more you travel to different places, the more you learn, grow, and expand your awareness and consciousness. If you take a plane to a faraway destination where you don’t speak the language and people look different to you and eat different things, what you learn will be exponential.”

People often look for what they are familiar and comfortable with so they gravitate to individuals who are like them, she said.

“It’s easier for people to fly from New York City to Miami for a ‘change of scenery’ than to Delhi. And yet Delhi will change them far more. The same metaphor applies to going on the adventure of coaching,” commented Ariane, who has lived and worked in different countries.

Coaching can be “direct, brutal, and honest” while offering “a very loving, kind, warm, trusting, and safe place to land” at the same time.

~ Ariane de Bonvoisin

As for gender-related misconceptions, she says some are under the impression that female coaches are too soft and emotional.

“But a female coach can sometimes read a situation much better, whether it’s intuitively or emotionally. I think, depending on different times in your life, you might need one or the other.”

Over the years, Bonvoisin has met people who want “really complicated things” and “strange techniques” to improve their performance.

“As human beings, we have resistance to the simple things. And sometimes the most simple tools in your toolbox are the ones that you’re not using—like drinking enough water or sleeping properly,” she noted, bringing to mind a quote from American author Jim Rohn that says “what’s simple to do is also simple not to do.”

How to choose a coach.

On how to choose the right coach, the CEO of Ariane Media said the best way to find a good one is by word of mouth.

While acknowledging that some coaches have gotten a bad rap, she maintains “it doesn’t mean all the apples in the coaching basket are rotten.”

“Definitely interview more than one. Most coaches offer a free introductory session. Do some due diligence on the coach. Ask them who they have coached, ask for testimonials, or ask to speak to other clients they’ve coached,” she told founders.

Bonvoisin says it is important to understand why they are a coach, what they love about coaching, what training they have had, what aspects of coaching they appreciate, why they think they have been an effective coach, what their gift is, and how they choose their coaching clients.

Entrepreneurs can also ask a coach whether they have any specific industry experience “if that’s important to you”, and how much they want to be involved in “your life aspect versus your business aspect,” she added.

Bonvoisin insists people should choose “a person that you’re going to trust more than anyone in your life without feeling judged by them.” She says it is not a good sign if “you don’t look forward to speaking to your coach or getting an email from them or if the coach is trying to impose a change on you and has too many strong opinions.”

“And then the ultimate thing I always go to at the end with everything is: What does your gut tell you? It really is an intuition thing. You can hear that someone’s been trained at Harvard and coached the founder of Google and has done a TED talk, but if it doesn’t feel right to you, it’s a no.”

‘You can’t fix what you can’t see.’

Reiterating the significance of coaching, Bonvoisin said some people “keep doing what they’ve always done and keep getting poor results because they can’t fix what they can’t see.”

“For example, you may not be able to see the way you’re asking for money. It may appear like you’re getting a lot of money until you work with a coach who’s going to show you not what your verbal communication is, but what your energetic communication is.”

She says a professional coach can help people realize their inner life is determining their outer life and that the way they are viewing the world is what is impacting the world they see.

The elite coach sees entrepreneurs as “master storytellers” who are telling a story to the outside world, to the press, to their clients, to their investors, to their colleagues, and to people they want to hire.

“And yet the most important story is the one you’re telling yourself,” Bonvoisin said, adding that a coach can help founders break free from the shackles of limiting beliefs and tell themselves a more “empowering” story.

Disclosure: This article mentions a client of an Espacio portfolio company.

Source: How Founder Coaching Can Lift Humanity up in the VC World

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References

Grant, Anthony M. (2005). “What is evidence-based executive, workplace, and life coaching?”. In Cavanagh, Michael J.; Grant, Anthony M.; Kemp, Travis (eds.). Evidence-based Coaching, Vol. 1: Theory, Research and Practice from the Behavioural Sciences. Bowen Hills, Queensland: Australian Academic Press. pp. 1–12. ISBN 9781875378579. OCLC 67766842.

The Top 50 Digital Marketing Trends for 2021

Advertising market trends

1.Programmatic Advertising

What is programmatic advertising? It means advertisers automate ad buying to target more specific audiences. This type of automation results in faster and efficient bidding. Advertisers then, have to spend less time and effort planning the ad bidding and buying.

How does programmatic advertising work?

Step 1 – a user clicks on the webpage

Step 2 – the publisher puts the ad impression for auction

Step 3 – the ad marketplace holds an auction where advertisers bid for the impression

Step 4 – the advertiser with the highest bid wins the right to display their ads

2.Marketing Personalization

If something we learned from 2020 is that to succeed at marketing in 2021 you need to personalize your marketing activities, including content, emails and ads. Great examples of personalization are Netflix and Amazon, with their tailored content and products suggestions.

The more personalized the content, the higher the customer engagement and loyalty.

3.Google Ads Smart Bidding

This system allows Google to manage advertisers’ PPC campaigns through Google’s AI system. The system then optimizes the advertiser’s budget to maximize their ROI. Advertisers can choose many criteria for their bid optimization, including device, physical location, remarketing list, ad characteristics, interface language or browser. Anti Ad-Blockers

Many websites have ad-blockers, preventing ads to be served to users. This causes serious revenue damage, which can range up to 40% loss from adblocking. Therefore, one of the trends we are seeing for 2021, is the popularization of anti-ad-blockers.

Anti-ad blockers are useful software solutions that bypass ad blockers. Not all the solutions work for all the ad blockers. You can also opt to work with an ad network that serves ads that bypass ad-blockers. However, not all ad networks work with all the ad blockers.

4.IoT Advertising

To be connected nowadays goes beyond, smartphones, laptops and tablets. There is a world of connected devices, from smart cars to smart houses. These type of connected devices are called the Internet of Things.

Companies have tried to use the Internet of Things for advertising. For example, including ads in smart cars systems, or include sensors in spirits bottles. As more connected devices are developed, more opportunities for IoT advertisement will appear.

Social media market trends

5.Influencer Marketing

What’s an influencer? An influencer is a person that, as a referent, can carry a brand message to their market. Influencers are not only celebrities, but Instagram or YouTube personas, that have their niche of followers. Their audience can go from a few thousand to millions. Influencer marketing has become more popular recently because of the following reasons:

  • It’s organic
  • It’s authentic
  • Connects with the customer

Many companies are leaving traditional advertising in favor of pairing with influencers that carry the word about their products or services. For example, GoodFoods, partnered with 60 influencers to produce content and recipes using GoodFoods products online.

How do you find the right influencer for your company is another story. Luckily, there are AI solutions that allow companies to rank and score influencers by niche, followers and ROI potential.

6.Social Messaging Apps

Messaging apps are not only for communicating with your friends. With more than one billion monthly users active on Facebook Messenger, companies are taking the opportunity to connect with their audience through messaging apps.

Social messages give businesses the chance to send messages to customers directly, answer queries, and conduct direct sales. It works as a live chat for customers to reach you, then you can provide assistance, remind them of abandoned carts, send event invitations, and more.

7.Stories on Social Media

Instagram and Facebook allow users to share stories, and since their appearance, they became really popular with users. Here are some statistics:

  • 500 million people use Instagram Stories every day
  • More than half of Instagram users become interested in a brand after seeing it in an Instagram Story.
  • Half of the users say that they are interested in purchasing a product because they saw it in an IS.

8.From Social Media to Social Marketplace

Social media platforms have added eCommerce features in 2020. The goal is to provide users with a seamless journey from discovery to purchase. We can expect the trend to grow in 2021, with brands using social media platforms as a marketplace. The next section explains what tools they will likely be using.

9.Social Commerce & Shoppable Posts

As mentioned above, social media platforms are investing in adding ecommerce features to social posts. For instance, Instagram shoppable posts:

How do you do it? You can add tags to the products on your stories or posts, the tags will take your customer to a page where they can purchase the product.

10.Facebook May Have Reached its Peak

According to the recent 2020 Facebook performance update, there is reason to think that the network is entering plateau.

The network is showing less monthly and daily new users. Why there are less users is not clear, but the network is completing its second decade, and there are other competitors appearing.

11.Focusing on the social media channels that work

With so many social media channels available, companies can feel overwhelmed to try to keep relevant on all of them. Therefore, reducing their social media channels to focus on what it really works for their audience is likely to be a necessity for 2021.

12.The rise of UGC (user-generated content)

User-generated content will become a central part of marketer’s strategy in 2021. Advertisers are using AI to create ads that work with user-generated content. Brands like Lush cosmetics use Instagram hashtags to drive UGC to work for them.

Another example that uses user generated content is Aerie. They usually #regram — taking a post from another user account and reposting on your own — as a social media strategy.

SEO market trends

13.Content Marketing Is Still King

Content is king, we are used to hearing. The reality is that search engines like Google, prioritize well-written content and useful links when ranking sites and presenting search results to users.

In recent years, the changes in Google algorithm prioritized, even more, the relevance of content for SEO. The effects on marketers were fast to follow:

88% of marketers are realizing that creating content that is useful to their audience presents their organization as a credible source.

Moreover, investing in content marketing can be a cost-effective way to attract customers to your site and engage them.  

“Content marketing has lower up-front costs & deeper long-term benefits than paid search, says @JuliaEMcCoy.

With search engines prioritizing well-written and useful content, it is safe to say that content marketing is a trend that will continue well into 2021.

14.Branding focus

Consumers are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options they have every time they research something online. With this marketing landscape, having a distinct, unique, and recognizable brand is key for success.

As most companies moved online last year, the problem of too many options is even worse. In 2021, you’ll see more companies focusing on branding strategies than on hard selling. One of the reasons branding is so critical now for survival is that search engines prioritize ranking brands over sites. More in the following section.

15.EAT

E.A.T is one of the most important criteria Google uses to rank brands and sites. It stands for:

  • Expertise: your pages need to have quality content written by an expert in the subject.
  • Authority: you need to build your brand’s authority on the subject.
  • Trustworthiness: your site needs to connect with other authorities on the subject.

These criteria measure the quality of a web page. It works because all websites need to have it if they want to get ranked in a search engine. The higher they measure in these three criteria, the higher the rank. E.A.T measures how a page fulfills the purpose of helping users. As Google says in their terms:

“Websites and pages should be created to help users”

16.A/B Testing for SEO

A/B testing is used across industries, not only in marketing. But it is safe to say that currently, much of modern marketing is about testing and analytics. Long gone are the days of measuring a campaign’s success by trial and error.

By applying A/B testing to SEO, you actually test the content beforehand. Then, you can identify which version of the site is generating more results.

What can you use A/B testing for? 

You can use A/B testing to experiment with:

  • Meta titles and descriptions
  • URL structures
  • Headlines
  • Calls to action
  • Sales pages
  • Product descriptions

17.Interactive Content

Interactive content is one of the trends that grew faster last year. With our lives moving online, consumers wanted to replace as much as possible personal interaction with the brands. Examples of interactive content include:

  • Quizzes and polls
  • Augmented reality solutions
  • VR ads

The key is engaging the user and offer an immersive experience. Online retailers, for example, let you know what is your exact size with online calculators. Beauty brands use AR to let you try hair color with a virtual assistant to check how a specific hair color will look on you. The possibilities are endless to make the experience more memorable for the user.

18.The Rise of the Featured Snippet

What is “position zero”? The term refers to the topmost position in SERP results. This position is usually occupied by the featured snippet. 

What is a featured snippet?

This is the useful summary of information Google presents first on the page to answer your query. Why is it important? Well, this coveted space answers a user query without the need to click a link. If you get to rank in this space, you found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Moreover, featured snippets are used to answer voice searches. Since a third of Internet searches are done using voice search, you can get your content to answer the question.

19.SEO Is Not Dead – It Uses Structured Data

The term structured data refers to any data organized so search engines can crawl and categorize it. Structured data can give your site’s SEO a boost, since your content will be more useful and easily to categorize. Structured data can get you in the coveted position zero, as a featured snippet or a Knowledge Graph Box.

Structured data generates “rich snippet results”, the snippets with images, pricing and statistics:

Rich snippets are great for driving traffic and clicks, especially with mobile users.

20.Cumulative Layout Shift

This metric measures how visually stable your page is. To put it simple, the CLS score helps you understand how likely your page is giving an unpleasant visual experience to users.

According to Google, a good score for mobile and desktop pages is less than 0.1. A score greater than 0.25 is considered not good.

What can cause CLS?

  • Many different fonts in the page
  • Ads that shift the content

Why is it important? Unsurprisingly, a high CLS causes conversion rates to drop and bounce rates to rise. After all, few users will stay and purchase on a site that gives a rugged experience. That’s why we are likely to see more sites analyzing their CLS in 2021.

21.Pillar Content

Unlike what you may think, in 2021, the usual under 1000 posts won’t get you anywhere. According to experts like Neil Patel, posts that are around 3000 words long attract the most traffic and engage more readers. The length offers readers the opportunity to explore subjects in-depth. A content creator that produces long-form content regularly can establish itself as an authority on a subject.

A study found that long-form content helps more with SEO, as gets three times more backlinks than short articles. Want more proof? When you search a query on Google, chances are that the top 10 results are longer articles. Some benefits of pillar content include:

  • Longer time-on-site
  • Reduced bounce rate
  • More backlinks and social media shares
  • Higher Google ranking

22.Image and video SEO for visual searches

This was a game-changer. Instead of trying to describe what you want to search, you can upload an image and get more specific results.

You just upload the image of what you want to look and Google offers similar images:

Visual search is so convenient and useful that many companies jumped into the trend. One example is Pinterest Lens, a visual search tool that lets you take a picture of an item to search for similar products, view pin boards about it or find out where to buy it online.

The success of this tool shows how much visual search is engaging users. Since the beta version, Lens recognizes 2.5 billion home and fashion items and it drove Pinterest searches to skyrocket.

But not only Pinterest is taking advantage of this, Google and Bing also launched similar visual search engines.

23.Semantic Keyword Research

All content writers have heard it: Write for people, not for Google. A blurb of 4000 words won’t get the results you want if it is not matched to user intent. When Google analyzes your content to check if it matches a specific query, it doesn’t take only into account lone keywords.

The engine makes a semantic analysis to discover what exactly wanted the user to achieve with this question. When you write with the user intent in mind, these semantic keywords give Google a better idea of what your content is about and how it can help users.

24.More Investment in Analytics

As we explained before, today’s marketing is all about metrics. Therefore, more companies are investing in better analytic tools that go beyond the basics of Google Analytics. Better analytics result in better business intelligence and support decision-making.

25.Increased Security

As more people conduct activities online, the need for more security to protect the websites is greater. A secure website makes a user feel safe to hang around.

Data breaches happen to everyone, small and large websites and platforms. Therefore, most consumers think that how you manage their sensitive data can be a deal breaker when consuming your content, products or services. In 2021, increasing web security is not an option.

26.Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

You have responsive sites that work on mobile as well as on desktop and you have mobile apps. Now, this new trend, Progressive Web Apps, is basically websites that work like mobile apps. For web developers, this can be a one-in-all solution to have a website and an app all in one.

As the number of mobile users increase, more companies will leverage this type of web app.

other engines have appeared with the intention to provide users with more privacy. One such example is Privado.com. This engine focused on private searching, gives the users the possibility of searching without being tracked. The engine doesn’t store personal information, nor uses cookies or any means of tracking. The goal is to provide the user with an absolutely private search experience.

28.Artificial Intelligence

Back in 2017, Gartner predicted that AI would be in almost every software product by 2020. And they were right. The artificial intelligence market is expected to reach $190 billion by 2025.

AI can collect and analyze data from social media and customer interactions to evaluate customer’s behavior. AI searches patterns, allowing you to understand your audience preference.

29.Chatbots and Conversational Technology

Last year, conversational technology exploded as a contactless way for consumers to connect with companies. According to Gartner peer insights, the conversational platforms that are driving trends include:

  • strong Natural Language Processing capabilities,
  • supports voice and text input
  • Use personalization for natural conversation
  • Allow media and document sharing
  • Provide dialogue management
  • Multiple chatbot orchestration
  • Data maintenance

Why chatbots?

  • 24 hrs service
  • Provide an instant response to customer queries
  • Allows to triage and solve simple issues.

For example, Olive, the assistant of Woolworths, Australia’s supermarket chain, lets you order and upgrade your mobile SIM card.

Brands, like Sephora, are leveraging on chatbots to provide help and product recommendations to potential customers.

30. Big Data and Deep Learning

Big Data and deep learning will continue to grow in 2021, according to a report. More importantly, more companies will use big data analysis to improve their business efficiency and drive innovation.

One downside is that while more companies are using big data, the requirements of protecting the management of consumer data increase. More regulations like the CCPA and GDPR entering effect.

31.Augmented Reality (AR) & Immersive Technologies

Companies like Facebook are diving deep into the use of augmented reality to enhance the customer experience. Facebook Oculus gives users the opportunity to play without pushing buttons, transforming the gaming experience into an immersive virtual reality one.

Marketers can take advantage of this technology to provide immersive experiences for their customers. Some brands, like IKEA, Tom’s shoes, Patron Spirits, and even Marriott International, are already giving customers a VR experience.

Other ways you can use VR to provide meaningful experiences to your audience:

  • Augmented Reality ads – for gaming and consumer products
  • 360-degree videos – for real estate, tourism.

32.`Predictive & Augmented Analytics

Predictive analytics consists of the combination of data mining, predictive modeling, and machine learning to identify patterns and come with forecasts. More digital marketing companies are using predictive analytic tools to predict consumer behavior and identify trends. 

Gartner defined augmented analytics in 2017, claiming it to be the future of data analytics.

Augmented analytics is the use of enabling technologies such as machine learning and AI to assist with data preparation, insight generation, and insight explanation to augment how people explore and analyze data in analytics and BI platforms. It also augments the expert and citizen data scientists by automating many aspects of data science, machine learning, and AI model development, management, and deployment.”(Gartner)

Putting it simply, augmented analytics use machine learning to deepen the understanding of the data and take even larger datasets.

33.Live streams (TikTok anyone?)

Streaming is every day more popular, and the explosive growth of TikTok confirms it. With Instagram adding Reels with in-video shopping capabilities and Tik Tok on the way to do the same, it won’t be longer before live streaming in social media turns into a real-time marketplace.

34.Companies pivots may stay that way

2020 changed the digital landscape for good. It is unlikely we will come back to pre-2020 conditions. Consumers are enjoying the convenience of online commerce. Hence, companies that pivoted to adapt last year, may find now their customers expect them to continue on the same line.

35.Purpose-driven campaigns

Last year marketing campaigns were tinted with a purpose: helping customers overcoming the pandemic as much as possible. Purpose-given campaigns will be still relevant in 2021. These campaigns promote social activist themes, for example, the campaigns about Black Lives Matter. The issues resonate with customers and increase engagement with relevant audiences. These campaigns are effective because customers identify with the same social issues the brand cares about.

36.Voice search

Smart speakers and voice assistants are no longer a trendy item to purchase. Statistics predict over half of American homes will own a smart speaker (Google Home, Alexa, and others) by 2022. People use the voice assistants not only for routine activities but for voice shopping. The voice shopping market is expected to reach $40 billion in 2022.

37.Virtual events are here to stay

In 2020, companies and individuals shifted to virtual events out of necessity due to the pandemic. Chances are that in 2021 many events will continue to be virtual because of the benefits it brings to companies. Virtual events can reach a wider audience and allow for higher attendance. So in 2021 we will continue seeing more virtual events.

38.Monetization marketing

If 2020 saw a growth in online activity, it also gave a lot of opportunities for companies to make money from their digital properties. Display ads, search monetization, and in-app advertising are some of the monetization trends we may see growing in 2021.

39.Growth of Geo-Fencing

Geofencing is a marketing approach where you put a geographic limit around a point of interest. If a user’s mobile enters the area, the geofence triggers an alert and delivers relevant ads. Here are some of the benefits of geofencing:

  • Mobile ads with geofencing have double the click-through-rate
  • It is compatible with most of the smartphones.
  • 53% of consumers visited a retailer after receiving a message that is location-based

40.Conversational Marketing

Conversational marketing is the use of conversational technology for marketing purposes. For example using chatbots as “sales assistants”, or SMS marketing to communicate with customers. Several big names are using this technology: Domino’s, Sephora, 1-800-Flowers.

41.Video Marketing

This is one of the most important marketing trends today. Here are some statistics that show why you should incorporate video marketing to your strategy:

  • 86% of companies are using video as part of their marketing strategy.
  • 93% of these marketers say that video is an important part of their marketing strategy, from a 91% in 2019.
  • The videos with most success are explainer videos (73%), followed by social media videos (67%)..

42.Personalized Email

Email personalization uses personal information from subscribers to produce tailored emails. It allows you to send highly targeted email marketing campaigns. Why should you use email marketing personalization?

  • 82% of marketers report an increase in email open rates because of email personalization.
  • Personalized promotional mailings have 29% more open rates than non-personalized.

43.Browser Push Notifications

With the boom in online commerce, push notifications rose, with most online stores using some type of push notification. They tend to be more effective than a newsletter. You can send abandoned cart reminders, product suggestions, and more. Because of that, we’ll probably see more companies using personalized push notifications in 2021.

44.Omnichannel Marketing

You probably heard about omnichannel marketing in 2020. Is an approach of marketing that uses multiple platforms (for instance, social media, blog, email marketing) to connect with leads. It gives the benefits of providing a cohesive brand message across channels. Omnichannel marketing tends to show higher engagement rates and conversions than using a single channel. Simply put, you broaden the number of touchpoints.

4 5.Neuromarketing

Neuromarketing is not new. Back in 1999, Harvard scientists conducted the first MRI research as a marketing tool, starting the neuromarketing field. This is a research field that analyzes people’s brain activity through head scans to find out the type of content they like. The first studies were conducted for retail marketing. One of the results of neuromarketing is the eye-maps, which measure the interest of a viewer on a website according to where they look on the page. Companies use this information to optimize their content and strategies.

46.Blockchain Technology

A blockchain is a connected series of data records. The records are stored in immutable blocks, secured and connected to each other via cryptography in a neutral computer.

According to Investopedia, “the blockchain is copied and spread across a network of computers, not storing any of its information in a central location”. 

Although usually associated with finances and supply chain transactions, it is starting to get implemented in digital marketing. Since Blockchain eliminates the intermediary, we may see digital marketing companies using blockchain to track media buys, verify online identities or protect personal data.

47.5G Technology

This trend, the fifth generation of mobile technology, will bring many changes to digital communications. Telecom companies aim to achieve a fully mobile connected society, bringing high-speed data transmission to far-reaching areas. Yet, it is more than that, it will give way to more integrated technology.

48.Privacy Marketing

Privacy protection is not only a way of protecting data. These days, with data breaches happening every now and then, consumers need to know they can trust companies will keep their data safe. Thus, marketing teams need to focus on gaining the trust of their audience. One of the ways is protecting the privacy of users by not saving personal data in records. This ensures that in case of a breach, an attacker won’t have sensitive data to steal.

49.Gamification

Keeping your customers engaged can be a challenge. Companies like Starbucks use gamification techniques to connect with their customers. The app uses purchase history and location data to personalize the customer experience and encourage the use of their loyalty program. The app increased their revenue to over $2 billion.

Digital Marketing Landscape

Here are the key statistics you need to know to understand where the digital marketing landscape is heading for 2021.

  • Spending on digital marketing decreased in 2020.

2.Spending Is Recovering

Digital spending is recovering, and it is expected to reach $389 billion in 2024, from $332 billion in 2020. The increase is driven by the market bouncing back and trying to tap into the customer’s increasing online activity. The trend doesn’t stop there, with an expected growth of  $525.17 billion by 2024.

  • LinkedIn ads spending grew 40% during 2019-2020

LinkedIn ad spending reached $1 billion in the US, establishing the network as a solid advertising channel for B2B marketers (eMarketer).

  • Personalization is going strong

Most marketers would focus their personalization efforts on improving the customer experience through service and product recommendations.

From the consumer’s side: 80% of consumers are more likely to do business with a company that offers personalized experiences. (Instapage)

Digital Marketing Basics

If you want to succeed in digital marketing, there are a few basic pillars that you need to master: digital presence, branding, and relationships. These three core concepts can help simplify what may be a multifaceted field.

Digital Presence

This is the key to any digital marketing you may start. These days, a digital presence is equal to having a presence at all. It is not enough to have a website or a social media page. You need a clear strategy that drives how and where you should build your presence.

Unsurprisingly, it all starts with your audience. Here are a couple of questions that can give you direction when building your digital presence:

Where does your audience spend their online time? 

The golden rule of marketing is to know your customer. So, if you want to reach your audience, first find out where they spend their online time. What type of content do they consume? What social networks do they spend time on? What search terms do they use? This will help you define which channels are the most effective to build your presence.

What’s the purpose you want to achieve with your marketing strategy?

Ask yourself what you want to achieve with your online presence. Do you want to raise brand awareness? Here, your strategy shouldn’t focus on the hard-sell. If your goal is to increase conversions, then landing pages can help you close the deal with clear direction and calls-to-action.

Branding

Your brand encapsulates what your company stands for. It includes everything, from your company name, color scheme, mission statement, slogan, logo, and more.

To stand out on a sea of brands, your brand needs to showcase what it makes it unique. Keeping strong brand awareness is one of the most critical ways to differentiate yourself from the competition. Yet, it is not enough to stand out in the marketplace, but you need to stand out online too. So, refine your online branding strategy in a way that search engines recognize your brand instead of your site. In fact, the Google algorithm considers a strong brand one characteristic of a “good quality site”

Relationships

Your digital marketing strategy should not be limited to trying to appear on Google’s first page. Social networks, blogs, forums, social apps, and other similar platforms can help you build a relationship with customers online.

When we talk about marketing, relationships will always be the foundation of good business. Building an online presence will get you noticed, but creating a relationship with your audience will get you conversions.

To form effective relationships with customers, you need to be personable and personal. Using social media and good content, you can connect with your audience and let them know your brand message.

 5 Challenges for Digital Marketing in 2021

  • Less spending in marketing 

Marketing budgets took a hit in spending in 2020. While marketing companies are recovering, the spending is not yet at the levels we expected before 2020. Although the e-commerce ratio increased dramatically, companies have yet to catch up with the new needs in digital marketing.

  • Driving engagement across multiple channels

In 2021 it will become even more relevant to connect with customers where they are. Creating engagement will become more challenging, via adopting mobile messaging channels, and leverage personalized and dynamic content to improve the customer experience and customer loyalty.

  • Mobile-first strategy

More people are browsing and shopping from their smartphones than ever. A mobile-first approach allows your customers to consume your products/services on the go, anytime and from anywhere. So, when creating your marketing strategy for 2021, think about a mobile-first approach.

  • Establishing Omnichannel Marketing

Customers are active on multiple devices and platforms. Marketers need to combine online and social media strategies. This aims to make it easier for your audience to reach you wherever they are. Omnichannel marketing allows you to focus on the platform where your audience is most active. The key is to provide your customers a smooth customer experience when they change from a channel to another.

  • Complying with Privacy and Data Sharing Regulations

Marketers will need to adapt quickly to evolving privacy and data sharing regulations. Since many of the regulations target across frontiers, marketers need to take that into account. The phasing of third-party cookies compounds the challenge for marketers to understand a customer’s purchase intent.

The future of Digital Marketing – top 3 predictions

After analyzing the major trends for 2021, we explored the top predictions for 2021:

  • From digital marketing activities to experiential events

When the pandemic hit, customers pivoted to use new technologies and performing activities online. But in 2021, many people are already exhausted from living their lives online most of the time. Keeping customers engaged will depend on how rich is the customer experience they provide. Marketers should evaluate their digital experience and refine engage customers without producing “digital fatigue”.

  • Customer experience integrates with other functions

In the report, Gartner predicts that by 2023, a quarter of organizations will see marketing integrated with sales and CX into a single function. The goal is for customer-focused functions to work together with synergy.

  • Content curation and moderation become more important

By 2024, Gartner predicts a third of organizations will consider moderating user-generated content a priority. Using software and tools that allow companies to monitor, moderate and manage user-generated content to prevent impact on their brands.

The bottom line

Hopefully, these trends we have aggregated and shared at CodeFuel will help guide your marketing strategy for 2021. Partnering with an expert in monetization can maximize your marketing efforts, and increasing the ROI of your strategy. Start monetizing today with CodeFuel.

Source: The Top 50 Digital Marketing Trends for 2021 – CodeFuel

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References

Kim, Angella J.; Johnson, Kim K.P. (2016). “Power of consumers using social media: Examining the influences of brand-related user-generated content on Facebook”. Computers in Human Behavior. 58: 98–108. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.12.047.