Thriving in the digital arena – North Bay Business Journal

Shana Bull is a marketing educator and digital storyteller, working with wine, food, hospitality businesses, teaching classes on marketing, and freelance writing. Reach her with your questions about digital marketing at, @sharayray on Instagram or at
Read Shana’s past columns.
I’m gonna be honest with everyone: 2022 was a chaotic year in digital marketing: Layoffs in the tech industry, absolute chaos at Twitter, the rise of TikTok being a search engine (along the government considering banning the Chinese-based app again) and artificial intelligence’s grabbing headlines for being able to write essays, make art and program code.
Um, and that was just December.
Over the summer, Instagram first made a lot of people mad with their declaration that they were essentially a video-centric app now, and then by heavily relying on the algorithm to push content from pages that users weren’t already following (but the AI thought they would like).
As a business owner or digital marketer in the North Bay, you may have noticed fewer people engaging on social media. Your end-of-the-month reports might not look as great as you expected, and it’s hard to explain to the boss that content is simply oversaturated right now.
But even with all of this uncertainty, I still believe in social media. In digital marketing tools.
I believe that in 2023, digital marketing trends are going to look different. At the end of the day, social media provides businesses with two key things: Connections and data.
You can’t fake connections, and you can’t ignore the invaluable data that social media provides. Businesses that don’t utilize Google Analytics and the like are doing themselves a disservice. Without those metrics, you cannot meaningfully craft a game plan with actionable insights and next steps.
I talked with a few North Bay marketers about what digital marketing trends they see marketers utilizing more in 2023. And collectively they all agree that next year, it will be even more important for marketers to be creative, agile and strategic.
Social media channels will continue to evolve and present new opportunities for brands to engage their audiences. Marketers will need to stay ahead of the curve by exploring new ways to leverage platforms, such as AI, video content, and interactive elements – all while focusing on what matters — relationships.
Here are the top digital marketing trends for 2023:
Digital media plans are often optimized for mass engagement, but real performance comes from quality targeting. Leveraging more sophisticated targeting allows businesses to focus their efforts on probable buyers.
Adjust your strategy to focus on fewer people, but the right people. Focus on geography for brick-and-mortar businesses.
Why have your ads run in Ukiah if your bakery is in Petaluma?
Why advertise to young families if you’re in a business-to-business professional services company?
The list goes on. Chris Denny, founder and president at The Engine Is Red says organizations that focus on the quality over the quantity of their digital research see 3-9x improvements in their results.
Adds Michelle Ewart, photographer and social media consultant at ME Creative, “Keeping up with relationships. We work with clients to implement WhatsApp as an extension of their customer service. For wineries, WhatsApp can act as both a support channel and a marketing channel.
“It is a great way for wineries to interact with their customers, take orders, resolve issues, or boost any marketing promos or sales in a more personalized way. It also works internally — all winery reps can communicate with each other for referrals. It’s a great place for any day-of or last-minute tasting requests.”
Currently, artificial intelligence is being used to write ads and blogs and even to create and fix code, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
By definition, it will continue to evolve and be able to take on more complex tasks and further reach into what we as humans typically do.
Michael Trang, managing partner at SKU Agency, says:
“At our agency, we’re looking at how AI can help wineries automate the creation of more hyper-targeted customer segments that can be leveraged in email marketing. It can crunch the data in seconds for what would take us hours, which affords us more time to focus on strategy.
“The possibilities are endless with AI, but it’s important that businesses take a measured approach when implementing it into their marketing strategy. One challenge with AI is understanding its limitations. Just like humans have strengths and weaknesses, so does AI. This is where an experienced marketer comes in handy. In order to succeed with these new tools, you need someone who knows how they work and how they don’t work, someone who knows when you need a human touch and when you don’t.
“When used correctly, it’s a potent tool and one that every business will be leveraging in the future, if not already.”
We are seeing the rise of educational content creators who share information that people are excited to learn about. This includes literally any niche. Composting, financial advisers, chiropractors, menopause doctors, natural wine, plant-based food, sustainability travel. My article about how content across all digital platforms needs to be both educational and entertaining is going to become even more important in 2023.
Many organizations now realize how big digital really is: email, marketing automation, SEO, blogs, social media, digital display, paid search and so much more. It’s a lot for any marketer to handle, and it consumes a huge amount of time and resources.
Says Denny, “Our recommendation is for companies to pick two to three channels and focus on getting really good at them. If you’re a local dentist, maybe Instagram just isn’t worth your time.
“Instead, focus on paid search and online review sites. Cutting channels and bringing focus to your efforts will both increase your results, and calm the chaos.”
Yes, short-form video is fun. (And we said “less is more” above). But with the rise of educational content from real content creators, people are learning more about the interests they care about. And they don’t want just a quick 7-second video.
At the end of the day, businesses are uncertain about what the next year will look like. Still, one thing is sure: evolution in the digital marketing space is constant, but you can find your marketing port in the storm if you focus your attention on creating and keeping your connections, and analyzing the data you have to strengthen your efforts in the future.

Shana Bull is a marketing educator and digital storyteller, working with wine, food, hospitality businesses, teaching classes on marketing, and freelance writing. Reach her with your questions about digital marketing at, @sharayray on Instagram or at
Read Shana’s past columns.


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