We all knew COVID would have a lasting impact on digital marketing, but over the past year, we have begun to realize its significance. The pandemic accelerated the move to digital for not only searching and transacting, but for learning, entertainment and socializing. Consumers looked for more things they could DIY, including products and services they used to purchase. There is a trend toward consumers wanting to learn to do more simple things on their own, and only pay for what would be too challenging for them to take on. This impact has been felt by services businesses across almost every industry. If you’re the company who provides consumers with the tools to DIY, this can make you more likely to be the logical choice for the more complex tasks.
It’s Not Just About Going Digital
But it isn’t enough to make your services available online. Getting noticed requires so much more. For a sobering exercise, go to Google and enter a search term where you’d like to be found and keep in mind that only a tiny percentage of clicks happen past page 1 and the vast majority of clicks go to the first and second search results. Check the number of search results Google displays. That’s how much competition you have. Now let’s check social media. Go to Instagram, as an example, and enter that same search term. Scroll down until you see a hashtag result. Notice the number of posts using that hashtag. That’s your competition. Any business who thinks that they can simply put up a blog on their website or post content to their social media account and get leads, without doing any extra work, is simply kidding themselves.
The Rise Of Smart Devices
Consumers also want to do more with their smartphones and smart home devices. They tend to treat them like personal assistants, asking naturally phrased questions and expecting a helpful response. When they type a question into Google, they also tend to use conversational terms. Whereas Google will return about 10 results on the first page, 2 to 4 of which are ads, Alexa or your Google home device will only return one. The implications for brands is to create an enormous amount of content answering frequently searched questions in the most helpful way possible in order to win the prize of being selected for the Google snippet response where you get to show up almost at the top of search results without paying for it. Of course, brands with budgets big enough, or enough time to create daily blogs, are going after that same Google snippet so when a small business wins, it’s a pretty big deal and can drive a significant amount of traffic to your website.
Search Goes Visual
We’re also seeing the rise of visual search. There are several smartphone applications that allow users to take a picture on their phone and compare it to images on the web to identify it. This implies the need to add descriptions to your images so that yours will be the lucky match chosen. Computer vision technology is evolving quickly and is already being used on social media platforms.
The Great Resignation
We all started to question the value of our time during the pandemic. The Great Resignation is partially in response to that drive. If just about everyone can work from home and do whatever they want, many front line workers in the service industry, and in other challenging professions began to question why they were working for someone else. Corporate workers also quit their jobs in droves and many decided to launch their own businesses. This of course means that if you’re in an industry with low barriers to entry, you just got a lot more competition!
More Online Competition
With more business being transacted online, larger companies began to shift their marketing budgets to reach those consumers. Not only did they throw a lot of money into paid ads, saturating many traditional digital channels, but they began to pump out a ton of content including blogs, videos, and social media posts.
The Creator Economy
You may have also heard about the rise in the Creator Economy. But what does this mean? As a result of the exponential growth of digital, it has become increasingly possible to make a career out of creating content. This means that bloggers, podcasters, Youtubers and social media influencers can literally rise from nothing and build highly lucrative careers by creating content. There is a general trend toward cutting out the middleman in monetization. Artists are building a fan base without a label. Writers are building a fan base without a publisher. Filmmakers are building a fan base without a studio.
They are monetizing their content in many ways, from a portion of ad revenue from the platforms, to some of the new Web 3.0 opportunities that we’ll touch on in a moment. They are creating pre-edited as well as live content, and they are building followings. Regardless of how they are monetizing, being a creator has become a serious career path. What this means for you as a small business owner is that if professional content creators are in your space, they are probably better at content than you are, and are building bigger audiences. That doesn’t mean you can’t be successful creating content for your business, but you just won’t automatically pop to the top of search results.
In parallel with these social changes, there are several platform changes happening that are affecting your marketing. Consumers have demanded more privacy, and the traditional social media platforms are starting to listen. Facebook has dramatically changed how marketers can target audiences for ads, and they have become very picky about ad copy. All for the greater good, but they no longer allow marketers to create content that might make someone feel bad, which includes suggesting that they might need to lose weight or need financial help. You can’t ask someone to tag a friend, share or post something. You can’t use generic terms like “mortgages” to name your page.
If your call-to-action requests people to sign up for something, you can’t do anything else with that data. There are restrictions on promoting healthcare products and services. If there is a history in your industry of promoting misleading products then Facebook may refuse your ad because it is lumping you in with the same bad guys. In short, you can’t do today on Facebook and Instagram what you could do 6 months ago. You need to use multiple tracking methods and really get creative.
Apple also responded to the consumer demand for increased privacy. The iOS 14 update allowed users to completely opt out of tracking. In fact, Apple made opting out, the default setting. For marketers, this means that you can no longer use retargeting or lookalike audiences in Facebook ads and expect any performance tracking for Apple users. Not being able to test the effectiveness of social media campaigns is a pretty big deal.
Video Is Still Where It’s At
Meanwhile, we have seen social media platforms increasingly favor video. Instagram is leading with stories, and of course TikTok, which has really taken off for both business and personal use, is all about video.
Social Media Community Shifts
We have seen more conversations happening online. Clubhouse really took off this year, and more people are turning to forums like Reddit, Discord and Quora to answer questions and seek opinions.
As if all that wasn’t enough, we are now on the cusp of Web 3.o technology, which is set to revolutionize the way we interact online. Most people today are living in a bubble thinking that it is far into the future, but we’re only a couple or so years away from some pretty substantial changes. Blockchain technology is essentially a big, distributed, secure database that everyone can see. It was originally developed to support Bitcoin as a secure currency, but is starting to be used for so much more.
Apps are already being developed using blockchain that will allow content creators to monetize what they create. An artist can release a piece of artwork or music as an NFT, short for non-fungible token, which creates a unique digital signature for their creation. Since it is unique, and trackable, it can be sold or traded and ideally appreciate in value. If you’re a gamer, the concept really isn’t that crazy since you’re probably already buying digital upgrades to your avatar. The difference is that in the future, your avatar will be able to travel with you between apps and collect stuff for you to show off along the way. Consumers save NFTs in wallets, which can be displayed for others to see via apps or devices, or potentially on our virtual office walls.
Yes that sounds like a lot, but communities are starting to spring up in the world of Web 3.0. These communities support removing the middleman. If you’re an attorney, and contracts between two businesses can be not only tracked and visible, but are impossible to break, then what does this mean for the future of litigation? If you have an eCommerce store, will you accept Bitcoin? As any other business, at what point will you accept being paid in Bitcoin? The decisions will likely be made for you since in the not too distant future, you’ll begin using apps built on the blockchain, and may not even realize it.
AI and Text-To-Speech Hit Mainstream
In case your mind was just blown by all of that, let’s consider some of the technology trends that are absolutely happening today. Text to speech has hit mainstream. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are available to help with work efficiency, seeing patterns that we humans may miss, and generally augmenting the capabilities of skilled workers. Chatbots are becoming smarter and far less annoying. And, since consumers expect highly personalized experiences, even when interacting with your business online, data analytics has become table stakes.
We know you’re focused on the world of your business, but as marketers, this is our world, and yes, it’s become pretty crazy. The implications of all of these changes are several. Most importantly, despite the fact that many companies began pumping more money and content into their digital marketing efforts over the past year, we recognize that your marketing budget probably didn’t rise exponentially. So we have to be even more creative to get you in front of your target audience. That doesn’t mean pay-per-click ads are off the table, they simply must be supplemented with other things.
Clearly, it is no longer enough to simply create a few social media posts, do a little engagement, write a blog and hope to get found. All of these things still need to be done, but it will take a lot more. We need “more” blogs, “more” engagement and “more” content promotion. We also really need to put ourselves in the shoes of your target audience. Their attention is shifting, which means we’ll need to test many new approaches to find them, all the while continuing to push out content and do some traditional advertising. We’ll need to keep our digital ear to the ground to find new trends and conversations where your brand can have a voice. We’ll also need to make it easy for your target audience to find you 24 7. This means a well-trained chatbot or around the clock human. It means connecting your social media to ways people can buy from you.
We’ll need to test what types of lead magnets your target clients would value enough to give up their email addresses. We’ll map out their buying journey and suggest ways to nurture them with content until they’re ready to say yes. It will be more important than ever to connect directly with your audience, so we want to help you to build your email list, as well as engage with them on entirely new channels.
The Founder/CEO Is The Tip Of The Spear
As a leader, you’ll also need to be prepared to get yourself out there if you want to generate traffic. That means speaking, podcast interviews, Youtube content and other videos, LinkedIn articles and more. There is some new technology to keep you a bit more behind the scenes if you’re camera shy, but we really must create a lot of content.
Yes, there is a lot of work to do, but we’re excited about the opportunities these changes will bring. You’ll need to adjust your thinking though. Just because your second cousin tells you what you should be doing on social media, doesn’t mean that those things still work today. And just because your competitor is doing something, doesn’t necessarily mean that will work for you, or that it’s even working for them. In order to maintain your budget and do all of these extra things, you may need to be more flexible in putting some of our content creation on autopilot for you. Remember that content is branding but engagement is lead generation. We can’t wait to speak with you about some of our ideas to help you to grow and look forward to a successful 2022!