Caitlin Bennett is marketing and client solutions manager at Alpha Digital.
It’s been a headline-packed start to the year in marketing. After varying reactions and moves from tech platforms to the news media bargaining code, Google confirmed the end to cookies without alternative identifiers for marketers last week.
While the Facebook news ban was felt acutely by some publishers, Junkee Media revealing it acquires 75% of its traffic from search and social, it’s provided justification for many marketers to immediately implement some long term planning goals. The conversations we’ve had with clients have been to start diversifying their channel mix, so they are less susceptible to risk and are better equipped to build their brand in the future.
Advertising dollars follow eyeballs, and Google and Facebook have proven to become highly favourable marketing environments for brands because the audience is simply there and the targeting capabilities are difficult to compete with. However, the threat of losing both channels should have made many marketers realise how reliant they are on these platforms.
Being discoverable is great, but when that option is taken away from you, the value of actually being known is extremely apparent. It’s not hard to type a website into your browser, but during the ban, Facebook users didn’t actively seek out the news from other platforms. There was a minimal increase in Google searches for the news and publishers suffered a significant loss in traffic. In fact, Nielsen’s Digital Content Ratings showed that total sessions for the current events and global news category fell by 16% after the ban.
Moving forward, the volatility poses a new question: how can (and should) marketers use the entire digital landscape in a more sustainable way?
Diversity creates resilience
Diversity is a cornerstone of any self-sustaining ecosystem. Picture the ocean, or the Amazon (which has existed for over 55 million years). How many thousands of species are interacting in those environments? If one or two species become endangered or extinct, the ecosystem can keep surviving and will adapt. As we’re now observing in the environment, it’s only when diversity gets too low that the system begins to collapse.
Now translate that into the brand ecosystem, where advertisers who have primarily invested in Facebook or Google don’t have a leg to stand on when a platform change or regulatory decision cuts off their traffic.
On the other hand, brands that have an integrated channel mix can easily lean on other avenues, such as alternative social platforms, display advertising, and email to maintain their brand presence in the market. They are not running the risk of dropping off the face of the earth and some may even welcome a shakeup in order to gain market share.
No man is an island
Everyone benefits from a mutual scratch on the back and collaborative brand partnerships are on the rise. Partnerships are forged in sustainable ecosystems all the time, and the way that a fish needs coral is no different to how brands can lean on each other in the marketing world. When COVID-19 threatened every physical retailer’s ability to sell products in-store, innovative brands forged partnerships to survive and thrive. One of our clients, Petbarn, had to ensure that customers in lockdown could still source supplies for their pets, so they teamed up with Uber to offer a same-day delivery service and built brand equity.
The iOS14 privacy update allows Apple users to choose not to be tracked by apps and is another threat to Facebook, which has reduced its targeting capacity. As a result, marketers are also looking at direct content partnerships with publishers and finding premium opportunities to connect with their audience. They are looking strategically at how they can work with the wider media community to reach their audience in a mutually beneficial way.
Rivers do run dry
Rivers need rain, plants need sunshine, and sales don’t exist without demand. Far too often, marketers get lured into the appeal of performance advertising and forget to nurture brand growth to drive sustainable demand.
Over-reliance on Google search is a prime example. It’s an excellent environment to place ads because there is a strong indication that people are in the market for your products or services if they are searching for them. But what happens when new competitors enter the market and start snapping up that demand? There might only be so many searches and so many ad placements available. So if your brand is only discoverable through search and isn’t known outside of that environment, it’s at a greater risk of losing market share.
It’s a simple concept, but if you’re tracking success based on last-click attribution or return on ad spend only, it’s easy to bias your preferences towards a performance-based channel and forget about the other elements that can fuel a strong yield there. COVID-19 and the associated shifts in demand have already inspired marketers to start shifting their investment back into brand building, and in light of recent developments this is obviously a trend that needs to continue.
Is this a return to vibrancy?
The news media bargaining code and Google’s cookieless future are some of many disruptions facing marketers in the near future. But on the plus side, Australian advertising spend and consumer confidence are creeping up, while economic experts and business leaders around the world are predicting economic uplifts to come after the pandemic, expedited by the rollout of vaccines. A sustainable marketing approach will be one that continues to evolve with the times, and I expect that the forced, incremental adaptations for brands could spark a return to vibrancy in the media landscape.