What can we learn from the first decade of digital domination in marketing?
Have you ever searched for something on Google and been informed by a condescending snake oil salesman that you need to do something so, so obvious and yet so useless, that you want to swear?
Here are some examples which are right there, right now if you search for ‘marketing challenges businesses face’.
“A single person will not be interested in becoming a customer of a lawyer dedicated to Family Law (divorces).”
“If a seller goes to a nursing home to sell articles for mountaineering, he will not be able to find potential customers.”
“Distributing pamphlets in a high school with Rolls Royce’s latest model is not a good strategy as it will not generate any sales.”
We’re guessing you knew that, right?
Or, perhaps even more likely, have you ever searched and found that an online piece gave you the theory (such as buy low, sell high), and then expected you to sign up for a newsletter, or pay to go through a gate to actually discover how to actually solve your problem? How does that leave you feeling? Satisfied or deceived?
Everyone thinks they’re an expert!
In the internet age of digital domination it seems that everyone likes to think they are an expert; or, probably more to the point, to attempt to pretend that they are one. Everyone thinks that we all want to know about them. Everyone thinks they can create a brand and the world will want to know about it. However, in our experience, whilst there was a brief period when there was an element of truth about these statements, that time is long gone.
In the years prior to internet prevalence, throughout the past half a century, newspaper barons, magazine publishers and television producers had a lot in common with Google’s role today. In order to find out about things that interested us, we would buy a daily newspaper, a couple of magazines each month, watch the News and dramas unfold on TV. We understood the deal.
We knew that publishers and broadcasters paid highly educated, well informed journalists to travel to conflict areas or to painstakingly investigate wrongdoing; and that directors and writers were commissioned to make compelling dramas and documentaries. The journalist’s job was to filter out the truth from the fiction and write articles that we would read and trust; while the dramatist left us hanging at the end of every episode. The owners of these channels would leverage this by surrounding their content with print and TV advertisements for which they sold the space, and which made them very wealthy. All in all, it was a consensual relationship and a win win situation for all parties: publisher, broadcaster, advertiser and us.
Of course the internet is amazing and there is so much more that we can access now than then; but that does not mean that we consumers/society have lost the ability to assimilate the difference between valuable and trustworthy information, and vacuous and trashy attempts to entice us to buy some kind of product, as did the snake oil salesman of yesteryear.
Content that builds trust
We know, do we not, that it takes at least half a dozen interactions with prospective buyers of any goods and services before they begin to trust us. But how many business leaders and owners out there can generate six or more 1200 plus-word pieces that are so riveting that they are even read in the first place, let alone acting to begin to build that all important trust?
There is no secret to producing engaging, useful and valued content. There is also no hiding from the fact that it is difficult and time consuming, and that once it is published, there is no guarantee that it will reach the targeted audience or achieve your desired effect.
Your decision to publish content, perhaps including advice or insights, does not mean that anyone is going to read it or trust it or believe it. Worse, if the reader is an expert who feels that your content is either condescending or incorrect, you can expect to be vilified…
An essential business cost
We have written in the past about how Search Engine Optimisation has become an essential business cost which businesses in competitive sectors, from accountancy to novelty cufflinks, need to invest to remain competitive. But as with many things in life, throwing money at the problem does not solve it. Without content, investment in SEO is wasted. Without time, expertise, imagination, fluent writing and an understanding of key words, creating content simply throws good money after bad.
So, is this all doom and gloom? No! For example, if you are a small business wanting to engage people in your market town to try your wares, then you should be able to make good progress without needing to focus on excellent content – because, assuming you are one of only six Vietnamese restaurants in your town, or one of three Prom Dress seamstresses, you can narrow and niche your search to be effective. But if you are targeting a national audience, or even a region of city, remember that your brand needs to compete with Netflix, Brexit, the Premier League and GTA, as well as the old newspaper barons and the new newspaper barons, to get seen, let alone read. It is not entirely true to say that you cannot launch a national business proposition without investing heavily in online marketing, but in most markets, not doing so will be a huge disadvantage.
How to compete online
So, if you want to compete nationally, what can you do to break through this barrier? Here are the only three solutions we can imagine:
Upskill your digital ability
We can most certainly recommend the CIM’s range of courses across all aspects of Digital Marketing – and plenty of other alternatives are available, although, as with most types of training, not all are credible. The CIM provide practical advice on what to do and how to do it. What these won’t do is to do it for you! Once the course is completed, you will still need to dedicate time and money, pretty much every day, to keeping your profile on the first page of Google. And you also need to be aware that the parameters and rules of digital marketing constantly and rapidly change. What you learn one day is out of date the next; so you need to commit to ongoing learning just to stand still.
Reposition your product or service for the internet age
Differentiate your product or service offering in the first place (or reposition it), so that it is disruptive at best, or distinctive at worst. Reimagine your proposition so that it is succinctly attractive to digital audiences. Of course, this is easier said than done; but in many markets, from take away food deliveries to handmade satchels, innovators have disrupted markets and taken a chunk out of conventional, complacent market leaders’ share. Doing this without a pretty deep understanding of how digital marketing works is going to be tough, so you may want to consider combining this is with option one of three.
Outsource to an expert agency
As an agency specialising in providing outsourced digital services to SMEs and corporates, you may assume that, as suggested at the start of this piece, the whole point of this article is to suggest that you might like to turn to us for help! Of course, you’d be welcome, but, actually, that’s NOT our point. Our suggestion is that, if you are in a nationally competitive sector, your SEO ranking should be one of the core competencies that your business has at its heart; or at least within the sphere of its leadership team. Why? Because if you are not truly getting to grips with it, and remaining close to the detail, then you will find yourself further and further behind as the parameters and influence of online marketing continually expand and, more importantly, mutate.
It may only be a whole decade since 2010, when it is generally accepted that the developed world tipped over the edge from being offline centric to online centric; but we are still barely scratching the surface of what will happen in the future. For example, having advocated firmly in this article for businesses to recognise the importance of investment in SEO, we stand on the cusp of another tipping point, from keyboard-based search to voice search. The likes of Alexa and Siri are already responsible for 20 per cent of search, with experts predicting this will increase to 50 per cent in the next year or so. If you live and work in Suffolk, you may have noticed how many roads have been closed recently as Open Reach and other companies lay ‘superfast broadband’ connectivity into the ground – paving the way for driverless cars, internet enabled fridges and all the other science fiction visions that are fast becoming non-fiction realities.
In the same way that the internal combustion engine was invented as a replacement for the horse and cart, but instead completely changed the way we live our lives, so too will the internet; and we are just at the start of this journey. Quite where the marketing aspect of the digital revolution goes next remains to be seen, but the chances are that those who have embraced it along the way will be best placed to continue to evolve and to benefit.