In March 2020, I issued a warning to my readers. (And, no, I sadly could not see the future plummeting toward us.) I warned that political advertising spending would drive up the cost of digital marketing. Experts projected $6.7 billion would be spent on political advertising during the 2019–2020 election cycle.
I warned business owners to consider other advertising avenues to draw customers to their business with low acquisition costs. The high budgets of presidential and congressional campaigns were sure to increase the value of advertising space social media companies and websites offered. While I didn’t urge anyone to give up digital advertising completely, I did predict that this year’s gross influx of digital political advertising would make online customer acquisition far more costly. Without supplementation from other sources, I knew many small-business owners would have trouble maintaining it for an extended period of time.
Turns Out, We All Underestimated Digital Marketing Increases
Just this month, Forbes found that $8.5 billion was spent on TV, radio, and digital advertising this year. About 80% of that total went into TV advertising, but that was actually a decrease from previous years. In fact, it was digital advertising that saw the biggest jump. (I love being right …)
Digital advertising increased from 2%–3% during the 2015–2016 election cycle to 18% in 2020. Much of that could be attributed to COVID-19 and the prevalence of digital media in our lives. But when you cut through the static, the message is clear: Digital advertising is a powerful tool — and it’s getting expensive.
Market In All Avenues
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Shaun, you’re a print guy. Why are you detailing the rise of digital marketing in one blog, and laying down the benefits of a newsletter in another?” It’s simple: Marketing isn’t an “either this or that ” situation. I rely on print marketing because it gets an open and read rate of about 10–15 minutes of attention per customer. That’s a lot of time for a customer to spend pursuing my expertise and learning about my business. Especially when you compare it to email marketing, which has less impressive attention rate of 11 seconds — tops.
Yet, I’m not going to give up on email marketing, especially when digital marketing is becoming such a powerful platform and tool for attracting customers. Pandemic or not, our lives are attached to our cell phones and social media accounts. It’s how we have stayed connected in a year when in-person connections were not always possible.
I need both marketing tools for my business to be successful — they feed off one another. But the rise in cost and money spent on political digital advertising should raise red flags for any business owner. Digital marketing spending will normalize in 2021, but it will never drop to a substantially lower amount. You need to address what you’re doing online, and you need to do it now.
My challenge to you is to consider this rise in cost as an opportunity to improve your digital marketing. Could you be using other platforms? Could you improve weak points in your marketing campaign? What’s your follow-up process look like, and is it working? Digital marketing and advertising cannot and should not be the only way you attract customers to your business. Instead, build a marketing strategy that can take on those rising costs and build beyond it.
Improve Your Digital Marketing — And Possibly Spend Less
Look, there’s no way around it. You need digital marketing to succeed as a 21st century business owner, but you don’t need to kill your marketing budget to do so.
Start by being active on your social media accounts. Actually utilize them and be consistent with your messaging. Maybe you’ll gain a small, local, and loyal following. Look at Kwik Trip, a gas station in the Midwest that’s amassed a Twitter following of more than 67,000 people and is regularly trending by calling out its competition and local favorites. Perhaps you’ll be like Ben & Jerry’s on Instagram and use the platform to create a fun experience that spells out its beliefs like a version of its branding guidebook. Either way, you must find the common thread of your brand, the thing that gets people talking, and exploit it on social media. (And, let’s face it, even if you disagree with Ben & Jerry’s stances, 1.4 million followers on a free app is about the cheapest and most effective advertising you can get.)
This is your chance to be authentic, to be what consumers actually want to see: brands that are real, honest, and easy to engage with. That will drive more customers to your door with minimal spending. Take the time to create engaging digital content upfront, and you’ll have users flocking to your platform. (Pro Tip: Look at the ways micro-influencers can also spread your brand’s message. These are people with about 300,000 followers. Studies show consumers find them more trustworthy and engage with them more than bigger influencers.)
Try Going Offline
OK, now let’s log off. How else are you marketing to your customers besides digital marketing? Are you doing so in ways that will keep them long term? Let’s go back to what I was talking about with print campaigns. Psychology suggests that the longer you get a person to stay in your store — or in this case, your marketing campaign — the more likely they are to buy from you. We already know that many customers have to funnel through your marketing, and you need to keep that relationship warm so they actually buy into what you’re selling.
But are you actually doing that? If you’re not nurturing those leads, maybe even the ones you got online, you’re wasting your time and money. Simple postcards, newsletters, specialty offers, and more are valuable tools to keep in touch with your potential clients and consumers and market yourself as the best choice.
Persistence is key. A slow drip with a direct mailing campaign, a gift box because you’re thinking of them, or some other incentive will help you acquire the right customers for your business. They are the ones who will actually spend money with you and keep coming back. Remember, a returning customer can be far more valuable than a new one.
As For This New Year …
Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. We’re lucky that most elections are over and an end to this pandemic is in sight. We’ve learned a lot, but we’ve grown a lot, too. Don’t let that growth stall out. By spending less, you’ll improve your digital marketing and improve your offline presence to reap the benefits of a targeted marketing campaign. Do it now, and you can thank me later.