3 Key Take-Aways About Digital Marketing From Top Brands

September 27, 2021
Contributor: Jackie Wiles

Top-performing marketers — those ranked “Genius” on the Gartner Digital IQ index — offer critical lessons to use in email, on social, in advertising and on other channels.

Email marketing is fundamental to most brands’ strategies, but digital marketing leaders rate it as one of the least effective channels in driving conversion. Why? Marketers have lost their grip on email personalization amid the customer churn and rapidly changing habits of the pandemic. 

Struggling brands pursue quantity over quality and send generic product email blasts, whereas “Genius” brands — those that rank highest in their industry on the Gartner Digital IQ Index (DIQ) — leverage customer data and segmentation to yield high engagement. 

The DIQ measures and compares the performance of brands across six industries (consumer goods, financial services, healthcare, manufacturing and natural resources, retail, and travel and hospitality). Genius brands are those for which digital competence is a point of competitive differentiation. They offer important lessons for all digital marketers trying to drive superior channel performance today, especially as spending shifts in response to tight budgets and new restrictions on device-level tracking reduce ad targeting and measurement opportunities. 

Download now: Digital IQ: Advertising Benchmarks for 2021


What Digital IQ benchmarks reveal about email marketing

Gartner “Digital IQ: Email Benchmarks for 2021” measures and compares the email marketing performance of nearly 1,200 brands.

Key take-away

Facing cross-industry challenges, digital marketing leaders can no longer afford to compare their email marketing efforts to just a small subset of competitors. Instead, you should look to leaders both inside and outside of your industry to glean insights into how they are engaging and converting audiences with highly targeted email campaigns.

What top performers do

Retail is the top-performing industry overall, while financial services leads the pack in open rates. Top performers commit to scaling targeted campaigns. Financial services, for example, sends emails to just 4.7% of subscribers on average — representing the most customized messaging of any analyzed industry — and has the highest weighted average open rate, at 27.1%. 

Leading brands also thread personalization into their email strategies, synchronizing longer subject lines with more narrow targeting. More detailed subject lines with at least 70 characters perform as competitively as those with 11 to 20 characters thanks to sophisticated audience segmentation.


  1. Build a stronger customer data pipeline (or better harness existing data) to steer campaigns toward specific customer segments.
  2. Support reach and engagement goals by deploying short, concise subject lines when blasting content to a wide audience and more detailed, specific subject lines reflective of a relevant insight when targeting narrower audience segments.

Learn more: What Are Marketing Benchmarks?


What Digital IQ benchmarks reveal about social marketing

Gartner “Digital IQ: Social Marketing Benchmarks for 2021” measures and compares the social marketing performance of over 1,200 brands.

The Gartner 2021 CMO Spend Survey and 2021 Digital Marketing Survey confirm the critical importance of social marketing, which now:

  • Accounts for the largest share of marketing channel investments (11.3%).
  • Is the channel companies most widely use to support their digital marketing strategy.
  • Is one of the two most effective channels across all stages of the buying journey. 

Key take-away

Retail is the top-performing industry on social media, comprising seven out of the 10 leading brands, with three in the consumer electronics subindustry. More consumers made purchases by beginning on social platforms during the pandemic, and this trend seems likely to continue. 

What top performers do

While traditional platforms such as Instagram and Facebook still dominate in terms of consumer followers, top-performing brands are experimenting on emerging social platforms such as TikTok by creating content that aligns with their foundational strategies and feels native to the platforms. Notably, 153% more TikTok users now follow brands on the platform than did in 2019.

Top performers also adapt to the increase in shopping that begins on social platforms by streamlining the path to purchase on their social media accounts. 


To grow your brand’s social presence, it’s imperative to understand the industry benchmarks for per-post engagement. Although practices vary by industry, examples of actions among top performers include:

  1. Retail. Build hype and publicity through multiplatform content strategies. First, think about how to effectively repurpose content across platforms to drive scalability. Experiment with emerging platforms such as TikTok and Twitch, either through branded or sponsored content, to further expand your audience.
  2. Travel and hospitality. Lean into consumer appetite for adventure, which is only heightened after a year of travel bans. For example, use targeted content at the property level to appeal to consumers looking for local stays or national resort destinations. 
  3. Consumer brands. Expand your social marketing efforts beyond well-lit product ads and celebrity endorsements. Find out your target audience’s common interests outside of your offerings and create or sponsor content related to them.


What Digital IQ benchmarks reveal about advertising

Gartner “Digital IQ: Advertising Benchmarks for 2021” measures and compares the social marketing performance of more than 1,100 B2B and B2C brands.

Key take-away

Retail is the top-performing industry overall and the leader in ad impressions on Facebook. Financial services houses seven of the top ten brands and outperforms other industries on video advertising. Across industries, high-performing brands are agile across the media mix. They quickly test and adapt their ad campaigns and publisher placements.

What top performers do

Digital advertising still captures the second-greatest share of marketing channel investments (11.2%), but top performers proactively compete for the finite attention of audiences. The pandemic and its economic impact has disrupted campaign planning and pushed consumers to consume more video; brands are reacting by increasing investments in video ads.

Within “walled gardens” — ecosystems not threatened by a cookieless world — brands are turning away from celebrity-driven content toward influencer-led content designed to be more authentic, fun and relatable. And instead of creating net-new ads for every use case and form factor, top brands repurpose parts of a single video ad to fit different platforms, devices and viewing habits. 


  1. Don’t commit to long-term media investments. Revise media plans often to remain agile in response to digital-ad disruptions from Apple and Google.
  2. Extend the use of your video ads by reusing shorter content elements for various platforms, devices and customer journey stages.

Digital IQ: Advertising Benchmarks for 2021

Capture your audience with compelling ad experiences.
You may also be interested in

“I use Gartner to bolster my confidence in decision making.”

Stay smarter.