(Via Retail Wire) The good news for digital marketing this holiday season? Digital ad spend has surpassed TV ad spend, topping $72 billion in 2016. The bad news? For the most part, digital advertising produces abysmal results. Industry-wide click-through rates are below one percent, and response rates for display ads are just 0.09 percent. Worse, digital ads have become so annoying and intrusive that more than 25 percent of consumers are actively blocking them.

So does ramping up digital ad spend even further this holiday season for traditional email and display advertising campaigns make sense, or are retailers simply throwing good money after bad? Like so many marketing questions, the answer is: That depends.

If your plan is to simply book additional space for traditional display ads, then there’s nothing in the data to suggest you’re not spending frivolously.

But despite its shortcomings, digital media gives marketers access to a lot of very useful data. If you plan to use your “big data” trove to inform an integrated, cross-channel approach that connects with your customers in a meaningful way, then there’s reason to believe your brand can be competitive. This approach can run the gamut from Programmatic Direct Mail® to “pay it forward” social media campaigns like J. C. Penney’s “Jingle More Bells.”

One recent example of successful holiday digital marketing was outdoor retailer REI’s #OptOutside campaign. In each of the last two years, REI competed with Black Friday’s retail madness by not completing. Instead, REI closed its doors that day and encouraged its customers (and its employees) to enjoy the outdoors rather than stress out at a strip mall. As Ad Age noted, “REI’s much-lauded decision is an example of what happens when a brand has a truly empathetic understanding of its customers and uses that understanding to create experiences that customers value.”

Obviously, not every retailer can succeed by closing on Black Friday. But the point is not to copy REI’s campaign — it’s to adopt their thought process.

Now, to repeat the question posed in our headline: Can retailers hope to compete this holiday season with standard digital marketing?

No. But the operative word there is standard. Successful digital marketing, like every other kind of successful marketing, requires innovative ideas and a cross-pollination of approaches, anchored in a bedrock of respect for customers.

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