April 4, 2023

Time to Listen: The evolution of digital marketing

Every new internet era brings new ways to reach your customers - and increases the risks of getting it wrong. That’s more true now than ever. TV’s Mad Men made advertising look so glamorous. Modern marketers could well feel nostalgic, not just for the aesthetic, but for the relative simplicity of what 1960s advertisers had to work with.

TV’s Mad Men made advertising look so glamorous. Modern marketers could well feel nostalgic, not just for the aesthetic, but for the relative simplicity of what 1960s advertisers had to work with. Print, TV and billboard ads haven’t gone away, but the internet has brought an ever-growing host of new channels that demand attention, and what’s more, it keeps changing the rules of engagement. Most crucially, in the new era, brands have had to learn to engage with their customers far more directly.

Early internet ads could easily be seen as the same old thing in a new format. While the web gave businesses global reach at much lower cost, and pretty soon it became possible to target market segments with far more specificity than ever before, it didn’t fundamentally change the nature of advertising. It was about broadcasting a message, geared to the audience of whatever channel you were placing the ad on, but basically just a one-way signal in the same way that TV or magazine ads had been.

The first really new opportunity that the Internet delivered was the content marketing boom. Content marketing already had a rich history (ranging from sponsored radio programs to magazine advertorials) but now it was an opportunity to not only tell your brand story, but drive traffic to your website. In other words, it could provide a direct track to sales. And around 2010, when Google changed its search algorithm to discourage keyword stuffing, high-quality content became significantly more important to marketers. The new rules made it imperative to provide real value: not only the algorithms, but also consumer response, rewarded meaningful, useful or entertaining content.

And then came Web 2.0.

The other big shift from the late 2000s was the rise of social media. This wasn’t just a chance to serve up ads on new platforms; it was the birth of influencer marketing and #sponcon. And the more internet native your brand and audience, the more important these channels were. Huge businesses have been built on Instagram and TikTok; just think of Glossier or Shein. What those two companies have in common is a marketing strategy that puts consumer input right at the forefront.

Twitter, Facebook and the like made it possible, firstly, for brands to talk directly to their customers in what, done well, can convey a very distinctive, authentic, even personal voice. It enabled businesses to capitalize on trends and respond in real time to current events. But it also enabled customers to talk back (for better or worse!), and created opportunities for companies to turn fans into ambassadors. Influencers have become more important than ads, thanks to the power of social proof and the trust followers place in their recommendations.

Social media created the potential for outsize rewards. However, it also turned out to have major pitfalls. Companies can attract outrage instead of buzz if, for instance, peppy scheduled tweets pop up amid a stream of bad news in a disaster. Twitter can become an embarrassingly public customer service channel. Brand hashtags can be hijacked by activists, disgruntled customers or jokers… or they can simply land horribly wrong.

Now it gets even trickier.

In Web3, community is everything. While influencers are still important, blockchain businesses thrive on far more dynamic interaction. You need to build, engage and motivate your followers to be your cheerleaders, while monitoring channels carefully for anything that could disrupt your message. Somehow, you have to build emotional investment, manage open lines of communication, keep messaging aligned with your other marketing channels, be on the alert for spam and negative feedback – and do all this 24/7, because crypto communities are global, and feedback loops build fast. Especially when you least want them to.

The common thread for brands getting to grips with social media, whether on the decentralized or traditional web: learn to listen. These platforms belong to consumers, in a way that regular advertising channels just don’t, so you need to be sensitive to how they use the medium and what they want from you.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be guesswork. Data mining and growth hacking techniques have evolved to ensure that digital marketing isn’t just an art, but also a science. Working with an expert partner such as THE RELEVANCE HOUSE, you can build a brand, disseminate it through multiple online channels, check how it lands, and keep refining the message for maximum impact. At least that’s one way we have it far easier than Mad Men.

Photo credits:

Photo 1 by Eleni Afiontzi on Unsplash
Photo 2 by Freepik

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