Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson talks digital marketing trends with Nick Altrup, president of 417 Marketing; Larry Paulette, partner at Campaignium LLC; and Drew Owen, general manager of BigPxl.
Eric Olson: When researching marketing trends for 2021, all I could see was about digital. Does digital marketing dominate what you guys do?
Larry Paulette: Everything that we do comes from a digital marketing perspective. We do not place any type of traditional advertising, you know, TV, radio, print. We’ve also seen, over the last five years, the allocation of digital has increased from a business perspective. People were either tiptoeing or maybe putting 20% of their ad spend into digital, and now we’re getting sometimes 75%, 80% or even more of someone’s advertising budget.
Drew Owen: We have been a full digital marketing agency for quite a few years, but recently over the last year, we had a couple of larger clients ask us to help assist with their media placement. We found that they can correlate information with it. For example, someone sees a TV commercial or a billboard, they may go to their phone or online, you can see a spike in activity from your traditional media. We help educate clients on how that can work together.
Nick Altrup: We will sometimes recommend a more traditional marketing approach to a client as a part of a larger, comprehensive strategy. But we only implement our piece of the strategy on digital channels.
Olson: Is traditional advertising a thing of the past or is it just being redefined?
Paulette: I would caution saying that traditional advertising is dead. I think that all advertising works, yet some forms work better than others. It depends on where you’re at within a purchase funnel as to the media you want to use. And I think it does go hand in hand. If you’re going to use television advertising along with digital, you’re going to see maybe brand lift or more awareness. And then maybe you’re further down the funnel where you’re seeing more engagement from your digital. I don’t think that you can just say that you’ve got to put everything into one basket. There’s still a place for traditional.
Owen: I would say it’s being redefined. You’re going to have more trackable results with digital marketing. It’s going to be more cost effective, most likely. So it really boils down to the budget. But if you have someone who is bought into branding your name out there, knowing that the results aren’t necessarily as trackable, we’ll use the power in that. We’ve had some clients that they love their TV, they love their billboards, and we tried to learn how to work with them. … You know, we’ve done some billboards and we’ve had a lot of success from the billboards – just brand recognition. We rebranded [to BigPxl]. We had an ownership shift where two owners are no longer with the company. So, we decided it made sense to change the name, rebrand, and just get the name out there as much as possible to get ourselves further away from the name JumpSix Marketing. We’ve done some traditional, and we’ve gotten some results from it. It was actually interesting for us to see for our own.
Altrup: As long as you can track it, you might as well try it. All things really can be trackable, as long as you’re creative about how you track it. The only thing that I would caution against is if we’re looking at a traditional form of marketing, are you able to track the result and the return on investment? Those are questions that you need to ask.
Owen: We met with a financial firm last week. Their target market is 59 and a half and up; they do retirement planning. We had asked them questions about how they’re tracking the results. He had 10 leads come in, and six of them had come through radio. So, we went and did a little research that was interesting on Facebook: Over 100,000 daily active users within a 30-mile radius are 55 and older. So, there’s still a target there for Facebook. But the way they track it, they’re having results on radio, so it would be silly of us to recommend them to stop doing that.
Target market and outcomes
Olson: When you’re taking the client through that process, how do you align the target market and marketing medium?
Paulette: Classically, what we tend to do is to build buyer personas. Each business is going to have a different buyer persona or multiple buyer personas that they’re wanting to market to. So you always want to sit down, have a discovery meeting with the potential client to find out what those buyer personas would look like (to) help you to match platforms and the best avenues.
Altrup: What we’re trying to do is develop an avatar of our buyer. We want to know: How old are they? What are they interested in? What is their background? What are their habits? What are their hobbies? Where do they go? Where do they buy? This is information that we need to understand about every client.
Olson: Let’s talk outcomes. What are some of the best digital platforms you have seen work?
Paulette: Every platform has a specific purpose (and) services a specific audience. So, just defining again who that audience is will help you to define that platform. If you’re looking for e-commerce, Google Shopping might be the best spot to place someone or maybe search advertising might be the best spot. If you’re looking for brand awareness, it could be social media, it could be YouTube, it could be looking at a demand-side platform. There’s so many platforms out there. We run advertising on seven social media platforms alone. And there are a couple of emerging platforms. I think one is called … Parler. It’s more of a definitely conservative-based social media network. And there’s another one called Triller. Think of TikTok. There are some very influential TikTok advocates who are abandoning it right now, moving over to this Triller. It’s basically a video platform. Right now, there’s not an ad management platform for either of these kind of emerging social media platforms. There’s probably 20 different platforms that I could place advertising on in any given day.
Altrup: I would advise people to look more closely at YouTube. I know that everyone’s used YouTube in the past, and it’s been an incredibly successful platform. I still think it’s heavily underutilized as a marketing tool. I say that because cost per view is still, in my opinion, insanely cheap. And as part of the overall Google ecosystem, I would argue it’s the most effective way to get a message across in many different cases.
Owen: Nick, I got a question for you on that. Would you say it’s trackable, and do you feel like you can deliver ROI through YouTube?
Altrup: In terms of trackability, no, it’s definitely not the optimal platform. And if you’re sitting down and looking at the bottom of the funnel approach in terms of generating form submissions or calls, obviously, it’s not the platform for you. But for anyone interested in building brand awareness, I think it’s a really inexpensive way to do it. And, you know, it’s a ubiquitous platform – everyone’s using it.
Paulette: YouTube did launch, I would say maybe eight months ago, kind of a lead ad form. You can see it when you watch a video; it’s kind of down below. If you’re wanting to make a purchase now, you can click on a button, it’ll go through the whole purchase funnel, or if you’re trying to get someone to apply. But we are seeing probably about a 1 to 20 comparison to say, search advertising. If you were to get 20 leads on search, you might get one lead from YouTube right now. They’re evolving the platform. That’s what Google wants, to continue to evolve YouTube. But it’s got a little ways to go before it would be considered something that we would strongly recommend from a lead-gen standpoint.
Olson: Are there any other trends that you’d mark as a good buy for clients?
Paulette: A lot of people don’t have e-commerce functionality built into their site, but there are many platforms that are developing that technology. They’ve developed what’s called Facebook Shops, which is really kind of something separate from Facebook Marketplace. But it’s going to allow a client to unify like an e-commerce experience within the Facebook ecosystem. Google has also created local inventory ads. This is really to kind of help establish local businesses to develop what’s called a proximity-based online shopping experience without a website. It’s actually really useful for local businesses to be able to show ads within, say, a 25- or 30-mile radius of your store, because you’re really selling to those people who are in your backyard where you have a better name recognition.
Altrup: There was an announcement – I believe it was done in May 2020 – Google outlined a new algorithm update called Google Page Experience. And they started educating digital marketing agencies and web designers there’s a major sea change coming: We need web designers and agencies to focus on better user experience. So, that’ll be less layout shifting, faster loading pages and better user experience in general. That is something I’m bringing to my clients since the week that that announcement was made – just trying to prepare them for that. It was originally announced that Google Page Experience update would come out Jan. 1 of 2021. That has since been pushed back to May 1 of 2021, but it is going to be important. … Things like page load speed and layout shifting, that’s going to be something that if you’re not on top of it, it can push you down the rankings.
Olson: Where do websites come into play these days? It seems there was a time small businesses were bypassing the building of their own website URL and just leaning on the Facebook page and calling it good with a social media presence.
Paulette: This year, we have seen phenomenal growth from a web development standpoint. It’s been hard for us to keep up. More people are shifting to e-commerce. I’m not sure that I’m seeing a trend away from actually building websites and only using Facebook as like a storefront for individual businesses.
Owen: We’re selling more websites now than we probably ever have. The pandemic has forced people to understand what my digital online presence is. It’s like your retail store. It’s where people go. When somebody sees any type of ad or hears anything about a company, the first thing they do is look you up online. You’d be surprised, but there are a lot of really high-revenue companies that do not have a great website. And the fact of the matter is millennial, the next generation of wealth coming up, there’s a credibility factor with your website. We’ve all probably been there to where we’d go to a website that doesn’t function well. And we immediately don’t take the company as seriously. It could be a $500 million company, but that’s the reality of it. It turns people off.
Altrup: For web design, we’ve definitely had to make a few additional hires and staff up. The purpose of a website has always been to inform, and that hasn’t changed, but now it’s also where you collect information. It’s where you make analytical judgments on what type of traditional marketing campaigns are working and what aren’t working.
Olson: Let’s hear your top tips for building a website.
Altrup: No. 1, it’s still the purpose of a website to inform. No. 2, you’ve got to be able to build that website for the Google Page Experience algorithm update that’s coming. It’s got to be able to load quickly (and) avoid things like cumulative layout shift. If I’m using your website on mobile and there’s a button to click to schedule an appointment, from the time my brain makes a decision to click the button to the time that my finger has to go down to the device that layout of the button has changed. That’s really frustrating.
Owen: Building your website with marketing in mind is key. … I would say top two from that standpoint is just understanding the platform you’re building upon and then a site map. There’s something called a quality score that Google looks for, making sure that the content makes sense. We’ve had people come in and they’ve got 13 different URLs, 13 different websites, and they all say the same thing. And then they want to market for vacations and real estate, but they’ve got 13 different URLs and they want to show up on Google. It’s like, well, we’re probably going to have to get rid of all those; we’re going to have to focus on one or two things here. You’re losing your link equity. It’s like a filing cabinet and you’re in too many places.
Olson: What’s next?
Paulette: We’ve been working with Google on a test for what’s called offline conversion tracking. Most businesses are tracking online lead submissions right now. They’re really missing important information about the quality and the value of leads. What this offline conversion tracking will allow is that you can measure ad clicks, really the results in offline sales, or other valuable customer actions. Basically, it’s importing your offline data into Google Ads to really understand better, from an ROI investment standpoint, how your marketing is moving forward. It’s really going to allow you to optimize outcomes further down the funnel. We are just now maybe two months working with Google on this. I think there’s maybe 40 or 50 companies out there that are testing this with Google. They choose companies every once in a while to be a part of this kind of experimental group. We’re part of a test right now for one of our larger clients.
Olson: Can you say what client that is?
Paulette: I can’t. Google makes you sign a nondisclosure agreement. They made the client sign a nondisclosure agreement. We’re not even allowed to fully go into everything that we’re actually testing at this point.
Owen: We’ve started to get involved with web accessibility. That’s something (for those with) disabilities that has started to trend in California, where lawsuits (are filed against) companies that are not compliant with the web accessibility (laws). That’s a hot button right now that I would encourage businesses to look into just to make sure they’re adhering.
Paulette: There are a couple of companies that are right now developing artificial intelligence so that you implement it on a site and it actually does all of the accessibility for you. And so there’s a dashboard that you implement, there’s code that you implement. And then this artificial intelligence runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And depending on the individual that hits your site, whether they have an e-reader, some kind of a screen reader, or there’s a dashboard that they would navigate. It would look like a side navigation bar and it says you need a larger font or you need a contrast within your colors on the screen to help people to clearly see.
Excerpts by Editor Eric Olson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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