From SEO to social, the traditional digital channels haven’t changed much over the years. Sure the algorithms for these channels have evolved, but we still use the same plumbing: Email, Content/SEO, PPC, and Affiliates.
As with most things in life, the only constant is change.
And as the owner of a digital marketing agency that works with membership, subscription, and recurring revenue businesses, I’m seeing a clear change in the traditional digital channels we use to acquire, engage, and retain our customers.
What’s this change? It’s getting MUCH harder to reach your hard-earned customers through traditional digital channels.
BIG SOCIAL IS DYING
Does it make this less clickbaity if I say it’s dying and not dead yet?
Look, big social (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube) have been an incredibly important part of the digital marketing ecosystem over the last decade. Simply put, a lot of the growth that brands have seen online, is a result of the infrastructure that Big Social/Big Tech built.
I’m not here to bash social media, but as with everything, there comes a point of diminishing marginal utility (translation: the incremental value you’re getting from social is decreasing significantly).
Why is this the case?
First off, organic reach on social media has fallen to near-all-time lows. We saw this trend back in 2014–2015, but what does it look like today?
The average organic reach for a Facebook post is 5.2% of the Page’s total likes.
Remember the whole point of social was to allow brands to connect directly with their audience. Now, you’re at the mercy of a social media algorithm or pay-per-click campaign to reach your audience. Does it still make sense for you to focus on growing your social media audience?
Still, think social is alive and kicking?
The other challenge with social media is that your customers are increasingly distrustful of social. Many people go to social to consume news (a bad idea!). Even worse, over the last few years, social media has increasingly become a place for clickbait, misinformation, and disinformation. As a result, you have social media being perceived as one of the worst places to get accurate information.
With all of this in mind, do you still see social as a reliable channel to connect with your customers?
EMAIL ATTENTION IS ON THE DECLINE
Many of us responsible for growing our brands, lean heavily on email as a primary channel to communicate with both prospects and customers. It makes sense because it’s s still one of the highest-performing channels from an ROI perspective.
But if we dig deeper into some of the consumer behaviors around email, we’ll see that there are headwinds to this channel continuing to return a high ROI.
First off, the time people spend reading branded emails is on the decline. As the inbox gets flooded with promotional, transactional, and other types of email, this makes a lot of sense.
In fact, in working with many of our clients, we find that they have trouble reaching customers (i.e. people who’ve paid them) with important, non-sales emails, like on-boarding emails. This happened to both transactional AND marketing emails sent. This concerned many of our Clients who rely heavily on email to communicate with their members and subscribers.
Ask yourself, if you have something of value, that isn’t sales-y, to send to your existing customers, what channel would you use to reach them?
Many of our clients also realized that they could literally only communicate with their audience through email. And whenever they’d lean on email, they’d hit a bunch that soft bounced. Then they’d hit the email funnel of having X% open and Y% click through.
I bring up this anecdote with my clients because it perfectly depicts why channels like email are becoming increasingly unreliable for communication and engagement with your customers.
Email has been an amazing channel for us for the last 15 years, but in addition to it becoming an increasingly crowded channel, the email filters and algorithms are increasingly filtering out marketing, sales, and other promotional materials.
How are you performing with email with your customers? Do you use it as a primary communication channel? Do you see it as an effective channel for communication and engagement?
PRIVACY IS NOW A REALITY
If you haven’t, check out Twilio’s State of Customer Engagement 2022 report. One of the most interesting pillars of the report concerns privacy and the concept of heading into a cookie-less world.
With Apple and Google default opting users out of 3rd party browser tracking, it’s becoming increasingly clear that marketers who rely on 3rd party data for audience building and retargeting are going to have a really tough go in the future if they don’t change their strategy.
One of the most interesting takeaways from the Twilio report was that 81% of the audience surveyed in the report noted that they were entirely or partially reliant on 3rd party or a mix of 3rd party and 1st party data to execute their growth strategy.
The infrastructure built by the big technology companies has provided a foundation for digital marketers to use analytics-driven advertising, with data volunteered by the customers we target.
This has been immensely profitable for us as marketers over the last 10+ years. You see this most in paid online media, where we’ve relied on the pixel to help us target, track, and re-target customers on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, and Twitter.
Outside of paid online media, you also see this issue with email marketing as well. Increasingly data on open rates and click-through rates are becoming less reliable because email clients can now block tracking pixels embedded in emails.
As privacy becomes more of a reality and the impending battle between the big tech companies starts to take place, the current channels we use that rely on 3rd party data are going to get increasingly difficult to operate.
Of all the options in the Twilio graphic you see above, what group do you fit into? Does it concern you that we’re entering a cookie-less world?
WHAT DO THESE HEADWINDS MEAN FOR US TODAY?
There is a pretty standard playbook that digital marketers follow to generate awareness, convert awareness to intention, and convert intention to a sale.
We’ve leveraged amazing infrastructure built by big tech companies to reach our audiences. And much of this infrastructure hasn’t changed over the last 15 years. But as these channels become noisier and as customers change their channel preferences, we’ve got to start adding new tools and techniques to acquire, engage, and convert our customers.
This doesn’t mean we abandon the digital marketing infrastructure that got us here.
It means that we need to add new tools that allow us to evolve the way we build relationships with our customers online. Just like we did when we started to add email marketing to compliment direct mail marketing in the early 2000s And just like we did when we started to add social media to our marketing repertoire in the 2010s.
What new channels, tools, or tactics do you see brands turning to as a new catalyst for online growth?
Do you think the current digital marketing channels are just fine the way they are?
If you’re an entrepreneur or in marketing, sales, product, or content I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Want to learn more about some of the bigger-picture growth trends that I think entrepreneurs, marketing, product, and sales teams should pay attention to? Check out my monthly podcast Members Welcome (Spotify).