If you’re up-to-date on today’s marketing lingo, you’re probably reading a lot about “Always-On” marketing. But unlike other concepts that fell quickly into Gartner’s Trough of Disillusionment this decade, “always-on” is, well, always relevant. Let me explain.
As I’ve written before in articles like Moments That Matter…Moments That Don’t, what’s consistent about working in marketing is that everything is constantly changing. We therefore think we have to know everything about everything in order to justify ourselves to the bottom-line hawks and whims of the CEO. But spinning out to become expert on the next marketing fad simply diverts our attention from what’s really important for the business. The bread and butter marketing channels that consistently produce results.
This thought is reinforced by this CMO survey from Gartner.
Buried in the mass of content about the large dollars being spent on marketing technology and the idea that CMOs are increasingly investing in innovation, is the statement that marketers continue to invest in four key tactics “because they still work.” The operative word in that sentence is “still.”
The following tactics have always been star performers, and there is no forward-looking analysis that says that status will change anytime soon. So if these four workhorses are so reliable, are you certain you are reliably managing them for the greatest possible results?
It’s my experience that most marketers can’t honestly answer that question. Partly because they are busy chasing the next fad, are bored by the old reliables, or haven’t stayed up-to-date on how these tactics continue to evolve and change. Or they just don’t know what they don’t know.
We’re all familiar, by now, with Google Ads, formerly known as AdWords. And in their quest for world marketing domination, this new integration of Google products is showing a lot of promise. But users beware.
The artificially intelligent Google Ads Target CPA bidding strategy, for example, goes through a great deal of learning time to determine which ads are the most effective. For one client who I manage a $30K per month spend for, this means it can take months to determine if CPA is actually working. Why? Because without a large enough sample size of conversions, the Google brains can’t make good decisions. So in every test I’ve run using Target CPA against my own manual process of moving bids, changing up ads and pausing keywords, I have outperformed this automatic bidding strategy by no less than 10%.
What’s promising, though, is Google’s attention to Google Analytics and the insights you can generate there that can be implemented easily in Google Ads. For this same client, I was able to implement two Google Ad experiments (see example) using some very interesting findings.
First, I discovered that their chief service category was NOT their highest converting one. By the time we targeted ads to people who were in market to buy their service, the consumer was comparison shopping, which lowered conversion opportunities. However, Google Analytics showed us that consumers further upstream in the decision cycle were actually converting 30% better. And with In-Market Audiences, we were able to adjust bids upwards for those targets.
We also found that if a prospect had already been to the website and NOT converted, the likelihood that they would turn around after more exposure to the brand and convert actually dropped by 45%. This flew in the face of the remarketing strategies we had been spending on. So instead, we lowered bids for anyone who had been to the site. The combination of these two findings resulted in a windfall decrease in cost per acquisition of 30% overnight without a decrease in the number of leads.
I’m of two minds about organic search optimization. In the past I ran monthly SEO services, but that was when the search engines were largely a mystery we had to constantly work to figure out. Today, we know how they work, and as a result, know better what will get us good search engine rankings. So is there really enough work to justify ongoing SEO anymore? I think there is because of what search engines have become.
Google has changed from being a bot that simply scans your contents and rates it better or worse than the competition’s to know where to place you in their index. With all that Google knows about consumers as a result of touching every part of their lives — maps, online shopping, offline payment, ad consumption, content consumption, news, mobile usage, email, gaming, social networking, office programs, and file storage — they have knowledge of the entire online and offline environment consumers live in. And better yet, what motivates them to take any number of actions.
Despite what you may think of Google, I respect them for never wavering from their core mission to provide relevance to their user. All these connections with the consumer means Google can look not just at your content, but at the role that content plays in fulfilling a consumer’s need regardless of where they are online or off. And if your content does a great job of that, it gets highly ranked.
But I still get asked the question “what keywords should I put on my page?” Instead of focusing on keywords, I tell them to focus on fulfilling their customer’s needs. You need to know them and what drives them. Know where they go and what they do. What they want and where they fulfill that want. And think of a website and content as part of that entire picture. Divorce yourself from being protective of your content and never linking to other sites — become part of the entire customer journey even if it takes them away from you. If you’re any good, they’ll be back.
With all of that, how is organic search optimization part of the always-on argument?
We should be always learning more about our prospects and their journey to becoming a customer.
Understanding what provides value in that journey and producing supportive content that creates more value.
Finding other useful resources to share with our customers, and letting those resources (other sites) know that we are doing so in the hopes of soliciting reciprocal links back to us.
There’s another critical element to search engines these days, and that’s the concept of recency. Content that is frequently updated, or has been recently produced, is considered more valuable than content that isn’t. As you discover more about your prospects and customers, write more content. Link to that content. Produce landing pages for it. If your website content looks fresh, Google and other search engines give you a fresh look.
You may not want to hear this, but if your website is under 500 pages, update it every year. If it is over 500 pages, update it every two. Why? Let me illustrate. I found a brochure for the 2017 Ford Explorer, and compared it to the 2019 brochure. They look like this:
Despite being nearly identical vehicles in both shots, a designer’s eye will see some very important differences. Differences that were studied, planned, researched, and tested to maintain Ford’s position as the #1 vehicle brand in the United States. These differences reflect how consumers have changed in the past two years.
The vehicle is no longer considered a family vacation vehicle, but is more an around-town utility. That’s a big deal in terms of consumer appeal.
Bright, sunny, reflections are replaced by sleek, sophisticated darker tones positioning the vehicle to a more luxury market.
The photo of the older Explorer is infringed upon by lettering and brands and logos the way brochures have always been designed. But the newer vehicle sits in its own space below a header that resembles a computer interface. This lets the user see past the lettering, separating it from the environment of the vehicle so the user can put themselves in that environment much like they do in many forms of digital media today.
Well-designed brochures are meant to feel familiar to the present lives of its readers. And an engaging website needs to be the same. Therefore, as tastes change, websites must change to remain relevant.
Interfaces must be updated to reflect changing navigation habits.
Photos must reflect the style and feeling of the comparative brand set.
Colors need to adapt to new color psychology stemming from new trends.
Fonts. Email capture utilities. Contact forms. Video and animation. News. All need to be revisited and re-justified.
Email marketing is simultaneously the most understood and least leveraged marketing channel. I am stunned, every day, by how many marketers will tell me how important their email programs are, and yet they remain stuck in the 1990’s in terms of their sophistication. I suppose it’s because these same marketers take a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach, but are unaware of the huge potential locked away in a few regular routines.
First, if you aren’t studying the delivery of every single email and resending it to those who never opened it, you’re probably missing out on half your response. Let’s start there. Delivery and opens will tell you:
If your email server is performing correctly.
If your best prospects are maybe on vacation.
If your email frequency is too high.
Or if you just aren’t relevant enough to be paid attention to.
What we learn from delivery, therefore, is the value of our technology, the best times to reach targets, the right number of emails to send, and the perceived relevance of our brand and communications. Low perceived value results in less relevance which puts you at a competitive disadvantage.
Tell me another outbound marketing channel that is as predictable and measurable. Tell me one that is more of a heavy lift to get your prospects and customers to pay attention to. This should keep marketers awake at night. Email is the great value exchange. Consumers are now used to being spammed from every corner of the internet, so the likelihood they will pay attention to your communication is iffy from the second it arrives in their inbox. So it has to be of great personal value to them.
Like the other tactics mentioned, this requires intimate knowledge of their changing needs and tastes. Every communication must provide unique, timely value. Because the traditional self-congratulations in the form of “news,” or content that leads to an outdated or unexpected web experience, will also lead to an unsubscribe. And an unsubscribe says you are no longer valuable.
That’s especially not good if you believe this headline from Stanford Business:
The best email marketers mix it up.
They redesign their templates to reflect recent changes to their website.
They constantly provide content they find influences decision-making found in page contribution metrics from Google Analytics.
They know the pace with which to encourage subscriptions through the right use of exit intent popups, and recognize current subscribers so they aren’t bothered by them.
They find ways to lure readers back into a related communication channel if the reader stops finding value in the one they subscribed to.
In the age of automation you’d think the marketer’s job is getting easier. But it’s not. Where we used to focus on coming up with cool campaigns, we’re now expected to be technology experts too. And in order to effectively use that technology, we have to be consumer behavior specialists, data scientists and business analysts.
The temptation for forward-thinking marketers is to constantly play with new tools and techniques and leave the tried-and-true tactics — paid search, organic search, website and email — on autopilot. But that is a recipe for disastrous results. Instead, you need to dedicate sufficient time (or hire a professional) for “always-on” management of these channels.
A side note about agencies: with the level of sophistication needed to provide the right ROI for your four workhorses, make sure your agency has deep expertise in those areas I mentioned above.
They should have technology partnerships in place and be certified in the right tools.
They should have a consumer intelligence practice.
They should be data management and analysis experts.
And they should be focused on the whole business strategy — not just on only the tasks they’re given.
Regardless of who is doing it, always-on marketing today requires these ten things:
Don’t entirely trust automated tools to manage your spend. Manual intervention, in the right hands, will often produce better results.
Constantly experiment and run tests. You’d be amazed at what a small fractional improvement will do for your ROI over time.
Study your analytics for in-market insights, and don’t assume you know the decision-making process of your consumers.
Don’t put paid search or email on autopilot unless you like wasting money.
Focus on fulfilling customer’s needs in all channels. Even your organic search engine results will benefit.
Think of your content and website as simply one stop in the larger web. Your visitors do.
Update your website every 1 to 2 years to adapt to changing consumer tastes and improve recency flags for your content.
Maintain a familiar feeling user experience in all things with your ideal customer. Familiarity breeds trust.
The health of your email program indicates the health of your entire brand and business.
Above all, maintain relevance by constantly working to better understand what your customers respond to and how their needs are changing.