Reflections On The State Of Online Marketing

For the past year or so I have been commenting about online marketing mainly through channels like social media and all the various forms of content management.

My main view has been that while all this activity may seem like it’s worthwhile, for a lot of businesses, who have had a few years to experiment with it, this effort has turned out to be pretty much useless. For some, it has led to a re-examination of all the hype generated by the main social media platforms, where they find that all this activity is being recommended by people whose vested interest is in making their own businesses grow by getting their clients involved in these types of online programs.

I have talked to a lot of different people who are engaged in diverse forms of online marketing, and the general consensus boils down to a few important points.

Please bear in mind this is a reflection of a group of opinions. Your experience may be quite different depending on the kind of business you have, your budget and your media choices.

  1. Online marketing in the form of content management and social media programs, only work for a relatively small percentage of businesses. And the majority of those businesses are marketers who teach and manage content management and social media program development techniques. The remainder is primarily composed of businesses in the retail sector, who use social media platforms to create buzz for their products and offer the kinds of products and services that people like to recommend. (ie restaurants, technology repair, home repair etc or people with a genuinely unique service)
  2. The website remains the most important marketing tool in your online marketing arsenal, especially if you are in the service business in any way, shape or form. Your website, especially if it’s well put together and designed, gives people the ability to check you out in much greater depth than they can by reading your LinkedIn profile, or even following your blog or newsletter.
  3. Many people have been sold on the idea that if they post something really interesting on a social or business media site, that a great many of the people they are directly connected with will forward their really interesting stuff to all the people they know. This is simply a myth, governed by something called the 1% rule, which is pretty self-explanatory.
  4. A lot of the so-called “social media success stories” you hear about, generally are the result of considerable support spending in conventional media. Marketers will try and convince you that if, say Coca-Cola can do it, then you can too. They forget to add that Coca-Cola is one of the most recognized brands in the world and spends billions to keep that position.. Anything they do online, while creative and intriguing, is actually activity they could easily do without.

Having Said All That

Now don’t get me wrong…it’s good to have an online marketing presence in addition to your website.

But how good, how much time you should be spending on it, and how much dependence you place on it, depends quite simply on the return you are getting. If it’s not enough, you need to treat is either as a loss leader or get before it costs you too much time and expense.

The Truth Is That Nobody’s Really Sure

Back in the days before the Internet, communication was a lot simpler. There was media advertising, trade advertising, outdoor and transit advertising, public relations, direct mail and promotion.

These media had been around for a long time and their reach and frequency formulae were all tried and true. You knew what you were getting and you had at least a rough expectation of the kinds of results you could achieve, with the actual creative and the strength of the offering being the variables.

In today’s world of online marketing media, it’s nowhere near that simple, because virtually everything is a moving target.

In order to be seen, you almost need to be ubiquitous and this no longer entails just creating one campaign and letting the media do the heavy lifting.

It means generating ‘meaningful and engaging’ content in large volumes and stimulating response from an audience with index fingers that never leave the scrollbar. And that’s just the relationship building part.

Having come from the ad agency world, I know exactly how difficult it is to come up with a single ad, commercial or campaign concept that resonates with any given target audience and stimulates interest enough to trigger a purchase. In today’s world, I would suggest that achieving these same results through content management and social media programs is, at the very least 10 times more difficult.

The More Things Change The More You Start Wondering If Change Is Overrated.

A number of companies that I know of have come full circle with digital media, and where they find themselves today is exhausted from the effort to make their content management and social media programs go, and frustrated at how unbalanced the effort vs result scale has become for them.

Suddenly, all the stuff they used to do…i.e. stuff they cut back on in order to fund their exploration into the world of content management and social media, now appears to have a whole new appeal for them.

Horses for Courses

Having said all this, it’s important to understand that internet-based media is a fact of life. Whether it’s a fact of your life or not is a matter that only you can decide. And it’s a tough decision.

As businesses of all kinds enter into this particular area of marketing, there has been and will probably continue to be more failure than success. And frankly, the only way to really find out for sure is to try it for a period of time. Or wait. Because, sooner or later, viable trends will start to develop, and you will be able to get a clearer picture of the viability of these media for your business.

Right now, anybody who is using these media as part of their branding and marketing programs is, quite frankly, an Internet Marketing guinea pig. Some will win. Some will not.

It’s just the nature of the beast.

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