Over the past decade, advertising has experienced a real renaissance. In the early days of the internet (otherwise known as the noughties), traditional advertising methods such as those used on screen, billboards, and in print were replicated online through banners, long-form sales pages, and flyers.
But as technology and culture evolved, those traditional strategies went from being simply recreated online to being completely overhauled. The potential for more creativity and flexibility rolled around at the same time as mini tribes (online communities) and personality cults (influencers) gained power, leading to much more power in online advertising’s ability to influence people.
So, what exactly are the advertising strategies that have accompanied the progression of web 2.0 into web 3.0 and which you can use in your own business? Let’s take a look.
One of the most effective online marketing strategies is content marketing, which can direct substantial social media and search engine traffic to your business website over time.
Newspapers always had advertorials, but these were obvious advertisements that no one had any illusions about. Who could have predicted that some of the most powerful adverts would one day comprise pages of text in which there was nothing obviously for sale? What’s “for sale” and being advertised through content marketing is knowledge, experience, integrity, and sometimes even frivolous shock value or pranks.
Content marketing is one of the best ways that we can get attention in crowded spaces. Users that are completely desensitized to more obvious ads (AKA ‘ad-blind’) can still be lured into reading an entertaining post or watching a compelling video.
There are two main difficulties that people come up against when trying to achieve an effective content campaign:
1) Most successful business-minded people are not lucky enough to also be blessed with great writing or graphic design skills. Creating original, professional content is hard even for specialists, let alone dab-hands.
2) Anyone you employ to create content on your behalf is unlikely to have genuine in-depth knowledge about your industry. Readers who do have such knowledge tend to grasp right away when the author of what they’re reading doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
A strategy very much related to content marketing is repurposing content, i.e. finding things you’ve made that have never been published online before and getting it into a publishable condition. Whenever you write, film, or record something – a report, PowerPoint, or some guidance notes, for example – think about how it could be transformed into valuable content to be published to your site.
If you’re still struggling to come up with material, an extremely effective method that you might not have considered is going over email exchanges, Microsoft Teams or Skype conversations, or anywhere else where you’ve been explaining things or solving problems over text.
You can then cut and paste these types of conversations into a draft folder, but be careful to omit any identifiable details or sensitive business information, trade secrets, and so on. What you’ll hopefully be left with is a plenty of good material that just needs a thorough edit to get into publishable condition.
Sitting down with a blank screen or a sheet of paper is a recipe for writer’s block, especially for a non-writer, so this repurposed content can work as a life-saving foundation for easily creating highly authentic material that’s completely relevant to your business space.
Using Influencers (or Becoming One!)
Influencers have had a huge effect on the marketing world and now play an enormous part in reaching audiences, particularly younger ones. You no longer need to fork out ridiculous sums for celebrity endorsements – you can get YouTubers, Instagrammers, and podcasters to tout your product for a fraction of the cost and in a much more authentic, relatable way.
Influencers typically attain their positions through skill/achievement (e.g., titans of industry), genetic luck (e.g. Instagram models), happenstance (unexpectedly going viral), or some combination of the three.
Making a realistic plan for becoming an internet influencer is easier said than done – after all, there are legions of teens and young adults hoping to be the next YouTube Star or Instagram celebrity, and they’re not all making it – but there are steps you can take to increase your chances.
For example, you need to follow the principles of good marketing. Adapt what you know about marketing products and services to marketing yourself. Find a niche, offer something unique and intriguing, and get on the radar of your chosen audience.
You can even try living in the twilight zone between being a zealot, insane, or just obsessed. Act like a televangelist or eccentric billionaire, and people will be polarized and interested if nothing else.
You’ll need to pick a space where you can not only sustain your own interest, but incite a cult-like commitment from your followers. The only downside is that you are what you do – so be careful lest you really turn into your eccentric online persona (a trap that some prominent influencers seem not to have avoided!).
The Importance of Creativity to Marketers
When writing your resume, including examples of game-changing insights and the results you’ve gotten throughout your career is a sure-fire way to impress employers. Practical, concrete case study highlights will excite those in charge of hiring because they’ll be hoping that you can repeat the feat and do the same for them.
The most valuable skill that a marketer can nurture is developing insight and sparking creativity within themselves to suit different situations. These skills aren’t really teachable, and you’ll never see a course for them on a college timetable.
Before too long, chatbots, machine learning, and AI will begin to dominate the marketing industry and swallow up a lot of advertising tasks. We’ll be able to upload every clickable headline, call to action and close, and let machines split test with an efficiency and accuracy that no human could ever hope to achieve.
However, one of the most far-off developments for AI is true creativity and the ability to do artistic work. In the meanwhile, flashes of market-crushing inspiration come to human marketers that persistently exercise their creative muscles, and this has always been absolutely critical to the most successful marketing campaigns and viral hits. It was the most vital skill back in the days of Mad Men, and that’ll probably continue until we reach true spontaneous sentient AI (if ever!), so nurture that creative streak and never stop trying to think out of the box.
Broaden Your Focus
There’s a tendency for those in business to be industry-centric and focus only on events that are directly relevant to their customers and competitors. For example, an SEO firm will generally follow the top SEO blogs and go to SEO events and just leave it at that. This, of course, applies to all industries, not just marketing.
The problem is that such a narrow approach means that people only find out about hot ideas after they’ve already lost some or much of their novelty, having trickled down the grapevine and been held in store for that next scheduled event or blog post. By this time, they may already have lost a lot of their effectiveness.
Innovation tends to occur when new ideas and principles are introduced to an industrial ecosystem. Historically, these ideas often came from other countries, but nowadays, they’re more likely to be lifted from other industries because of the internet.
So, one of the best things you can do to get marketing advice is listen to podcasts covering multiple industries. Podcasts can be created and uploaded in a day, meaning you can get high-quality content while it’s still fresh. This is unlike reading marketing books from ‘gurus’, which can take six months to a year to be published. You can also listen to podcasts while travelling, exercising, or doing chores, and it’s less straining on the eyes.
A highly recommended podcast in which you can hear what the fastest growing companies are doing is This Week in Startups (TWIST) by Jason Calacanis. There, you’ll hear brand new information from entrepreneurs who work with some of the very best new companies. They share marketing ‘secrets’ because they are more focused on their products and are thus not so guarded about their marketing tactics.
Rub Shoulders with Bigger Fish
One more tip on how companies can better market themselves is through a better mindset. Most industries are crowded with players, but the leaders always command a disproportionately huge slice of the market. Getting noticed can be immensely difficult for companies that aren’t in the top three. Unless you have done something seriously innovative, then you may find it hard to be heard through the noise of other marketing messages.
Everyone in our field should ask themselves, “how can we mingle with the market leaders?” For example, if you want to blog about entrepreneurship, don’t just post on your own blog. Try to get your best articles submitted on a relevant site like entrepreneur.com. I was a co-founder of a recruitment company, and I’ve been mentioned on recruiter.com a couple of times. This is much better marketing than publishing on my own blog.
The same applies to industry forums, conferences, and events. Try to mingle with the biggest audiences in your industry and be front-and-center stage rather than just beating your own drum in a back alley.
One Channel at a Time
Marketers generally focus on doing content for their own websites and the websites of clients. All forms of marketing tend to be very time-consuming (at least when done well), and without focus, there can be a struggle to get overall traction.
The key is recognizing when it’s time to draw a line in the sand on a task or project and move on to the next thing. If you’ve got plenty of new top-10 search engine ranking positions under your belt thanks to your SEO efforts, it’s probably time to stop and start thinking about actual conversions. Sometimes it’s clear that Google and Bing have a preference for certain websites that you’ll have trouble beating, in which case your time could be better spent going after new keywords rather than straining to nudge the existing ones slightly higher.
You always need to keep in mind where your focus can best be directed for the highest ‘ROI’ on your time. This means getting page views, but most importantly: leads and sales.
Value Your Time
If marketing, or one of the skills relevant to it such as writing or website creation, happens to be your passion, that’s great! But it also means that you can end up putting too much time into certain favored tasks and neglecting others.
No matter your job title, there are going to be parts of a job that you like to do (or at least hate less than the rest!) and other things that you’d rather put off, but at the end of the day, it’s all got to be done.
Especially if you’re a business owner or working in a small company, you generally have to wear many hats and handle multiple workflows that go into making a business successful.
Since you presumably don’t want to be spending every waking hour working and not getting anywhere fast, you need to be on top of time management for yourself and any other workers you manage.
Know the value of your own time and consider outsourcing things where you can, or pay an upfront cost for tools (software or hardware) that’ll ultimately save you time and money in the long run.
Writing and content creation for corporate blogs, for example, is a commodity service that often works out to be worth much less than it costs to create when considering the time spent having a business owner write it.
Perhaps if you tend to write for your own blog, outsource content a few times this year. When I started to do this more, clients didn’t complain or even notice because I made sure that the quality was still there. Delegation is the single best thing that an owner, executive, or manager can do to take control of their business – not to mention their life.
Accept that the Masses Prefer ‘Digital Junk Food’
Clickbait headlines, titillating images, embarrassing gossip, and copywriting that reads like a snake oil pitch… These are forms of marketing and advertising that are to your brain what junk food is to your belly.
Unfortunately, the same lack of taste applies online, where the most popular content tends to be highly consumable and have no substance – nutritional or otherwise!
If you’re a digital marketer who cares about the craft of writing, it can be a bitter pill to swallow when you realize that thoughtful, quality content is typically not going to be the road to success.
You can do your best to create quality content that helps people and provides value, but most of the time you’re forced to do it within the confines of simple, streamlined, SEO-optimized content that you can get out quickly and will appeal to the damaged attention spans of the modern masses.
We’re not saying that quality content and good writing done at a slower pace doesn’t work, but it really depends on what exactly you’re marketing and who your audience is. You’ll be able to assess that for yourself, but at the end of the day, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Swallow your pride, stuff those keywords into your article, and get liberal with the emoji use (Facebook posts that use emojis receive 57% more likes and 33% more comments and shares than those without them, don’tcha know?)
Be Wary of Scarcity Marketing
Scarcity marketing is almost always dishonest and has a connection with reality that can be tenuous at best, non-existent at worst. It preys on the powerful negative human emotions of fear (of missing out) and greed (consumption and acquiring things that others can’t have).
These emotions stem from primal instincts that evolved to warn us we might be looking at our last meal or missing out on a chance to pass on our genes with a suitable mate. In our modern plentiful society, such instincts are no longer so critical to our success, but unfortunately they continue knocking around in our lizard brains and can be use for manipulation in marketing.
Scarcity marketing works when the consumer is not being mindful of reality, pushing them into an emotional state which short-circuits their rational thinking skills and gets them to make impulsive spending decisions.
Unfortunately, the cure for this is primarily down to the individual nurturing a sense of mindfulness and skepticism within themselves. After all, we can’t rely on marketers to stop themselves from going after bigger profits and using borderline unethical tactics to do so.
Make Your Brand Stand Out
It’s a cliché at this point, but if you don’t stand out from the crowd in some way, your business is set to fail.
Modern customers are bombarded by an onslaught of marketing coming from every direction and for every kind of product or service these days – quite possibly including offers from your competition. Whether it’s getting in through their email inbox, their e-reader homescreen, banner ads on their apps, websites they view, videos they watch, the radio… the point is that there’s an awful lot of competition for attention. Everyone is trying to get everyone else to click, read, watch, and buy.
So, whichever position you take in the market, there’ll be plenty of competition. There will be those that are bigger, smaller, more bespoke, more mass-market: services that are overseas, national, local – all will be appearing on the radars of your potential clients daily.
So, you need to make sure that your message holds particular appeal to the particular people you’re targeting. Just how do you stand out?
Sometimes this can be done through a charismatic and physically attractive leader who posts help videos online. Another way of standing out is to niche down to an industry or sector and become one of the few that understand the space.
Diversify Your Tactics and Accept Reality
Arguably the biggest, most expensive, and most common mistake fledgling business owners make is the “build it, and they will come” fallacy. Regardless of how amazing you think your company, product, or team is, most people simply could not care less.
Even if you pour time into promoting yourself and your company by creating content, recording webinars, and setting up events, gaining traction is far from guaranteed.
So, it’s best to diversify your tactics by developing symbiotic or even parasitic relationships rather than relying entirely on your own steam.
This means things like spending more time at the events of other industry leaders rather than hosting your own. If you create physical products, you’ll generally always be better off listing them on Amazon, eBay, or Etsy than only on your own e-commerce store.
Somewhat on the contrary to the previous point, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel – you need to stand out in some ways, but following the crowd in others is simply good business sense that’ll save you time and money, especially in the beginning when you’re relatively unknown.
Learn About Keywords
Ask yourself: do you really understand how keywords, keyphrases, and those with a short or long tail work? To the right kind of mind, SEO and keyword research can be an immensely satisfying and interesting field to get on top of (and keep up with). Learning about keywords isn’t exactly just for fun though – getting a proper grasp of them can seriously supercharge your efforts in content marketing.
Careful choice of keywords will make a monumental difference to your marketing and advertising campaigns, so one of the best things that any business owner can do is to learn about keyword research for online exposure. By finding out which terms customers are using to search for your product or service, you can fine-tune all online efforts to help them find you.
A ninja tip would be to research what your competitors are doing and look for ways to catch up or even overtake them. For example, SEMRush can show you who your close match competitors are and which organic and paid keywords are successful for them.
Fine-tuning your website and social media bios with more effective keywords can create instant, long-term results and little cost.
Take Advantage of a Narrow Focus
While you tend to see the same big names cropping up in the top results over and over, for most search queries, you’ll see at least one first-page result leading to a niche website. Google knows that websites with a narrower focus tend to provide more in-depth, high-quality information.
As a smaller business owner or freelancer, you can make use of this knowledge by also focusing on putting out high-quality content based around a small range of topics, or even just one. Larger players, by definition, cannot do this and thus inevitably end up with a level of dilution in the quality and depth of their content.
Target Messages According to Relevancy
Advertising and promotion used to work as a one-size-fits-all model where the focus was mostly on potential reach. Slogans, jingles, and amusing adverts would be successful if they were memorable enough to make it into the cultural conscience and be shared by word of mouth.
In the digital age, we see ever-increasing levels not only of tribalism and polarization, but of customization and targeting. People access much more specific content than ever before and build their own (mostly online) information environments perfectly adjusted to their tastes.
People now have all kinds of niche interests and personality labels which never even existed until the past few decades. This, in combination with the aforementioned fact that there’s a whole lot of competition who are specifically angling their ads towards certain groups, means that by comparison, a blanket banner advert is no longer likely to appeal to anyone.
Also, note that anything too salesy or promotional is generally ignored in the B2B space. A ‘time-sensitive special offer’ that increases B2C sales can be seen as cheap manipulation to those sitting at an executive meeting table.
Another final factor to consider is that different messages belong on different platforms: what works for a Facebook advert won’t suit email marketing, and LinkedIn content usually can’t be replicated effectively on Instagram.
The basic marketing process generally follows these steps:
- Identify distinct groups that you want to engage.
- Figure out their needs.
- Consider where they spend time online.
- Create separate content that offers value to each group.
At Out of the Box Innovations, we create in-depth content for business owners, homeowners, eco-conscious people, and industry workers in training, which works really well in search engines (and for our clients!).
As for the content we create for ourselves, we find that when doing consultations, new clients will often mention the various content of ours they’ve seen, which is usually non-commercial in relation to our core business. In helping business owners, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and so on, we aim to win the hearts and minds of those in our industry, and particularly those just getting started.
In short, focus on targeting distinct tribes in the places they already hang out at online with tailored content. Do it right, skip the cheap tactics, and the business should come to you naturally.
Test and Scale
We’ve seen businesses that have effectively wasted their marketing budgets, not to mention months of time and effort, by working on things that are a bad fit for them.
Many marketers recommend focusing on one channel at a time and perfecting your strategy there before moving on to the next. This could be Adwords or Facebook ads, for example. The conventional wisdom is that you should develop your skills, maximize ROI, and only then begin to delegate.
But what if the first few chosen marketing tools are a bad fit for your business? It can be a bitter pill to swallow when you realize that there was a fatal flaw to your strategy from the beginning and now you’re running out of money.
Looking at all the big wins that we’ve had at Out of the Box Innovations over the years, we realized that the most effective strategies were never particularly complicated ones; they just happened to be the right strategies for the right products or services at the right times.
Rather than becoming an expert of something that’s never going to work, you should try a test-and-scale strategy. This means running a brief test, then scaling it up for a rough idea of how things might work in the long run. For example, you could run digital ad campaigns at a low daily spend or knock on doors for two weeks, then multiply your stats by 26 to see where you might be in a year.
Sit down, brainstorm, and write a list of all the possible marketing tactics that you could use. Then, order them according to which you think are most likely to work. Following that, all that will remain is the task of testing each one for a minimum amount of time and identifying a pattern. You should easily be able to see what works and what goes down like a lead balloon, allowing you to really hone in on what’s effective for your business and focus your attentions, saving months or years of time, struggle, and your precious budget.