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What’s New in Digital?

It’s that time of year when people look for the shiny new thing in digital that they can stuff into their marketing plan for the year. So, what exactly will 2019 unleash on digital marketers, asks John Ring.

When a very experienced and knowledgeable marketing manager recently asked me “what’s new in digital?”, it didn’t take me very long to tell him. Basically, there isn’t really anything new in digital and hasn’t been for a long time apart from some very minor bells and whistles.

There’s the twins of Facebook and Google, display, other social platforms, email, and what else? Not a lot. Has there been any new platform with scale launched in the last 2-5 years? Both WhatsApp and Instagram are the slightly ‘younger’ kids on the block and they’ve been around a decade. Digital is now a very mature ecosystem and the only unknowns are working out how to best use different targeting techniques to maximise brand reach in a highly targeted way nationally or internationally. How one does this is now more than ever dependent on the nature of the business trying to market themselves. Have they got their processes in place internally? Have they tested lots of different tactics to see which works best for them specifically as opposed to being inspired by all the case studies one can find? Once they’ve done all the digital basics, what’s left? Easy – thought leadership.

Over the years, we’ve seen over and over how much companies, big and small, struggle with producing superb content that achieves cut-through among the daily outpouring of tonnes of fluffy content produced by juniors. ‘Thought leadership’ content that looks great aesthetically is difficult to conceive, produce, and promote online or offline yet it plays massively to the strengths of digital’s self-publishing capabilities and promotional channels.

Seeing as the weather was mild recently in early January, I thought I’d cycle across town to work to burn off a few dozen too many mince pies. While wheezing past a bus stop ad carrying Nicorette’s annual (I presume) January campaign, it occurred to me to see if anyone had invented a ‘sugar patch’ available to kill my sweet tooth cravings.

Extensive research over 20 minutes led me to a website called SweetDefeat.com. They sell boxes of lozenges containing an ancient and natural Indian plant extract I can’t pronounce known as ‘the killer of sugar’ which when sucked for 60 seconds, deadens the taste buds on your tongue for a few hours so that anything you eat or drink with sugar tastes horrible – which kills your cravings and you lose weight. The company from New York launched a year ago with an ex-Google employee as founder. Check out the site, try and buy something (you’ll fail as they only sell in USA), and revisit site after 24 hours.

What you’ll find is an extraordinarily simply and attractive ecommerce site with a lot of superb digital tactics being used to maximise sales. It’s actually quite rare to come across such a well-executed site. So they have the basics of digital covered. What they also have is clinical trial data to give credibility and expert “celebrity nutritionist” thought leadership blog content which is helping them get on Goop, ABC, CNN, etc. My point here is that they’ve uncommonly done all the digital basics right so the only things they can now do are scale their advertising in as targeted a way as possible and do PR based on thought leadership all day every day. ‘Digital’ hasn’t really come up with anything new in over a decade that could ‘hockey-stick’ their growth. At this juncture, it’s just the old digital reliables that work.

Just when I thought I couldn’t be surprised anymore, we recently did a small job for a client that involved creating a specific and quite unique type of video. When I talked to her about it, she said “Oh, this is called ‘XYZ’ in our industry. I would have thought you’d have known that!”. Well, I didn’t and I had never heard of ‘XYZ’ before. What surprised me was that a well-known term in one of the biggest and lucrative global industries had only 31 pages showing in Google when I searched for it. This industry attracts agencies like bees to nectar but yet there’s only one small company who has developed thought leadership content around the subject of ‘XYZ’. I suspect they’re quite busy.

Looking at that small company and what they offer got me thinking about business models and agency business models. We have a B2C client in the UK who spends £90K/month on PPC (which is costlier than TV). He sells a simple one-off service, converts 1 in 3 leads and makes €2,000 /sale. He’s been doing this for years. Another client is in B2B and sells a simple one-off service to SMEs worth €3,000+/deal.

Both companies spend as much as possible on PPC because it works. Most agencies, by contrast, try to get recurring revenue from their clients and we pitch or tender and win or lose depending on our quality. Due to the people factor and the vagaries of what clients want or expect, clients sometimes fire awkward agencies and agencies sometimes fire unreasonable clients. But there’s no ‘production line’ as exists with the two examples mentioned above which attracts and converts one-off clients on a ‘conveyor-belt’ system. If Adwords stopped working tomorrow morning, both those companies would go bust.

Given the “me too” nature of very many agencies, I’d love to discover an agency anywhere who has cracked the ‘conveyor-belt’ of standardised client enquiries that can be turned on or off as easily as PPC can be. Most established agencies, of course, get lots of enquiries but for enquiries to be very standard in nature – meaning easy to fulfil – with the agency able to scale up/down as required is not something I’ve ever seen or heard about. Let me know if you’ve come across one!

John Ring is managing director of Tinderpoint. 

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ December/January 2019)© to order back issues please call 016611660

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