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3 Myths Most Small Business Owners Believe About Digital Marketing

Or, If I had a nickel for every time a client of mine expected their website advertising to generate sales immediately after going live…

Photo by Mark König on Unsplash

To provide a little context, here is a compilation I found of memorable dot-com-bubble ads from the 1990s for your enjoyment:

Back in the early, heady days of e-commerce around 1999, I remember a certain ad. I cannot remember the actual company running the ad, mind you, but I do remember the ad. In this classic of American marketing art, an anxious web development team launched their online store. Within a few seconds, they registered a sale.

The team high-fived all around. This was working!

Then they had another sale.

And, another, and another. Within about 30 seconds, they were logging 100,000 sales. That they then had to fulfill. Probably manually, since modern ERM software wasn’t really a thing.

No more smiles. Just a lot of deer-in-the-headlights looks of panic.

And thus, another chapter was added to the Blessed Canon of Internet Business Myth.

The belief that because something is on the Internet, it must be immediate, frictionless and practically free is understandable given the stories like these in the video above that became firmly established in the American business imagination.

We reason that in a world where we can buy our almond-soy-lattes with our Starbuck’s app on our smartphones, and because the transaction seems immediate and frictionless, then everything Internet must be that way. And somehow free or nearly-free.

So, we pay the InternetGods (lookin at you, Googs) a few hundred bucks’ tribute to shill our oh-so-awesome websites for our ProductToEndAllProducts™ and expect that the results will be immediate and nearly frictionless too.

Um. No.

Time to Bust a Few Digital Marketing Myths

If I run the ads/build the website/get found on Google search, the buyers will come.

No. You won’t get immediate results. You won’t even get fast results. You will not get your website ranking on page one within a month. Your site will not “covert” right away.

Marketing does not work that way. You have to be in it for the long-haul. There are no shortcuts. You must spend the time to put a solid marketing plan together, run with it for a period of time, gather data, analyze the data, and continually optimize your efforts until you have meaningful signals that it is working.

Marketing requires consistent actions over time, nothing more or less. You cannot simply run an ad in any online platform and expect your phone to ring off the hook that week, or even that month. Will. Not. Happen.

And it won’t be cheap. There’s just too much noise out there. Money is the only thing that cuts through the noise because of how our algorithmically-powered media channels work. They are designed to be money-making machines — but not for you. For them. Never forget that.

You may counter my argument saying that the awesomeness of your website or creative ads will cut through the noise and make your site convert so you won’t need to spend as much.

Sorry, Sparky.

The sad truth is that it does not matter how creative the ad or website is; there is just too much noise in the marketplace for even the most creative marketing to cut through on the power of its own brilliance. To overcome that, you gotta spend. Sorry.

Digital Marketing is more cost-effective than other forms of marketing.

No, it’s actually quite the opposite. “Traditional” marketing (like radio or newspaper) often brings a better bang for the small-business buck in local markets, if you have an available channel for it.

That’s the catch though — there aren’t as many available channels anymore. There are simply fewer available options due to the monopolistic activities of certain large technology/media players out there (looking at you again, Googs), and the options are shrinking by the day.

Therefore all your marketing needs to be of the “digital” variety no matter what. Adding the word “digital” to differentiate it from “traditional” sets up a false dichotomy. Today, it’s all digital — might as well just call it “marketing.” It’s a lot less pretentious that way.

Additionally, you must spend more than your competition, bearing in mind that there will always be someone who will outspend you — it’s the advertising version of the “greater fool” theory of finance. No matter what, there is always a greater fool willing to outbid you in the auction-for-eyeballs game of digital marketing and advertising.

And Wait. There’s more!

You will spend a lot of money buying ads. You will spend a lot of money building your website and optimizing it for the search engines. You will be forced to spend a lot of time sorting through the data in order to know how you can best optimize your campaigns, or you will waste even more money.

You will spend a lot of time on all of it whether or not you hire a marketing professional to help. You will need that marketing professional anyway. And you will spend money and a lot of time on all of it.

And you will have to do that consistently.

I can spend a lot at the beginning and when business is good, I can take my “foot off the gas.”

If you micromanage and/or relax your efforts when your business is booming and things are going well, or switch things up when they aren’t going well, you are setting yourself up for failure. If you relax your efforts when things get hard or too expensive, you are setting yourself up for failure. If you relax at all, you are setting yourself up for failure.

The algorithms are hungry beasts that must be fed money and content every day. No exceptions. If you slow down you stop the flow, you will be shunted off into the graveyard of “page two of Google” and will need to spend three times as much again to dig yourself out.

The key takeaway here is not that you have to spend a lot every day; but you do have to spend a consistent amount over time. What makes marketing work, of any kind, is consistency.Consistency in your brand messages, in your use of marketing channels, in your approach to spending your budget. Consistency is what makes it possible find any amount of success with what you spend, no matter how much you spend.

If you are not consistent, you are burning your money for no good reason.

The key to marketing success

Big picture, digital marketing is really no different than any other kind of marketing — it’s all about getting your offer in front of eyeballs. What has changed are where those eyeballs are (the channel), the amount of data you can receive about all those eyeballs, and the amount money required to take advantage of those channels.

With digital platforms, you receive much more granular data and can make adjustments with far less guesswork. Data is a gift from today about yesterday that will make tomorrow so much better (A tip o’ the hat to Jonathan Acuff, from his book Finish). It’s what can make the marketing budget more effective, and work more easily.

But that does not mean that it is easy — it’s not — it usually requires the help of someone who understands the data and can guide you as to how to take advantage of it. But that is still better than what we were working with before without as much granular data to work with.

But as important as the data is, it’s not really the key to effective marketing success.

Did you catch what that one common element to successful marketing was? It is the golden thread running through the whole thing — consistency.

  1. Consistent and realistic expectations.
  2. Consistent collection of market data.
  3. Consistent messages and branding, informed by the data.
  4. Consistent use of your marketing budget.

If you do a half-baked job at your marketing, consistency will save you. If you do a great job, consistency will make you even stronger. Coupled with a good understanding of the data you collect, consistency will guide and focus your next steps.

So, stop looking for a quick-fix marketing solution. It doesn’t exist.

Stop looking for some new-fangled channel or some program that offers you “page one of Google” for $99 a month.

Stop looking for cheap solutions. The most expensive programs are the ones which are often the cheapest, because the cheap ones do not work at all.

Just be patient. Be realistic. And above all, be consistent!