Don’t Ask For Faster Horses: Embrace Revolutionary Change In Digital Marketing
Are you capitalizing on new marketing trends, or ignoring them at your peril? Contributor David Rodnitzky offers some tips for keeping up.
Henry Ford once allegedly said, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
The point of the quotation is simple: Most people don’t want revolutionary change; they just want something better than what they already have.
I vividly remember the first time I discovered pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. It was 2001, and I was barely a year into my first internet marketing job. I had been burned a few times by bad display buys and was starting to wonder whether this whole internet marketing thing really worked.
My first buy on GoTo.com (later to become Overture, and then Yahoo Search Marketing) got me hundreds of quality clicks for less than five cents each. I was hooked and quickly threw as much of my budget as I could into PPC.
It might seem obvious in hindsight that I decided to double down on PPC, but consider this: most internet marketers during that time pretty much ignored GoTo. Indeed, even by 2004 or 2005 — when Google AdWords had displaced Overture as the leading PPC platform and Google’s stock was on a tear as a result — most companies still weren’t investing in PPC.
The reason: seasoned internet marketers wanted faster horses. Internet marketers that were around at the beginning of internet marketing understood one thing well: banner ads bought on a cost-per-thousand (CPM) basis. These pros got excited by advances in ad serving and new display ad units, but text ads on search engines just seemed like a distraction.
The world of internet marketing was changing right before their eyes, but all they could see was what they already knew.
Again, it’s easy to look back at these early marketers and smugly laugh at their inertia, but that is not the point of this article.
Rather, the point is this: ten years from now, what will people that look back at internet marketing today see as the obvious shifts in the ecosystem that most marketers missed or ignored, and how can you make sure you recognize these changes now? How do you make sure you ask for a car and not a horse?
Here are the five things I do at 3Q Digital to (hopefully) keep my agency from missing important trends and getting too stuck in our ways.
1. Listen To Your Customers
My rule of thumb is that I start to pay attention to new channels, strategies, or companies once I’ve had two or three customers independently mention the trend to me.
For example, for the last 10 years, some pundit somewhere has declared [insert any year here] as “the year of mobile marketing.” My customers, by contrast, haven’t really asked us for mobile marketing services until the last year or two.
There is an arc to Internet marketing channels; often your customers (and this can be internal customers, if you aren’t an agency) will tell you when it is time to jump on the bandwagon.
2. Establish A Test Budget
Set aside money to spend on the new, new thing. Set expectations with the powers that be that this budget will not be ROI-positive, but that the test is essential to make sure your marketing team stays fresh on marketing trends.
3. Read The Literature
Since you’re reading this article, you are already off to a good start! There are dozens of great resources online to keep abreast of changes in our ecosystem.
As I noted above, be critical of what you read online — but if enough people start to write about a trend, there’s probably something there.
4. Look At What Google & Facebook Are Acquiring
Google has done a fantastic job of diversifying its business away from just text ads on search; much of this diversification has come through high-profile acquisitions. Facebook has followed suit, with an aggressive acquisition strategy of its own.
When Silicon Valley’s biggest players make moves (and spend lots of money), it’s worth asking yourself: What’s the strategy behind these acquisitions, and how can I use this information to predict future trends?
5. Avoid Faster Horses
Most importantly, create an environment in your company where accepting the status quo is simply unacceptable.
There’s a great book called The Innovator’s Dilemma (which I highly recommend), the main theory of which is thus: “Successful companies can put too much emphasis on customers’ current needs, and fail to adopt new technology or business models that will meet their customers’ unstated or future needs.”
It is this concept of focusing on today’s successes at the expense of tomorrow’s opportunities that keeps me up at night, and I think this also explains why I was so quick to adopt PPC in the early 2000s when so many other marketers missed the opportunity. I was at the beginning of my career — a foray into a new marketing channel held no risk for me because I had nothing to lose.
In contrast, those marketers that had established a comfortable life running banner campaigns for a living most likely regarded PPC as an annoyance at best and a threat at worst. As such, instead of embracing change, they resisted it.
Internet marketing changes very quickly — as fast or faster than almost any industry out there. If you don’t develop a mindset that is open to this change, you’ll continue to build faster horses while savvy competitors instead invest in automobiles!