By Keith Hoelzeman
We’re all familiar with the saying, “The only constant in life is change.” Those of us who work in digital marketing know that the adage certainly holds true.
Social media ads, specifically Facebook and Instagram ads, have been great for many businesses over the last few years. I’ve seen many a business using ads on these platforms as an “easy button” to acquire new customers. I’m not here to knock them. I’ve used these same platforms very successfully for my own businesses and clients, and I continue to use them.
However, I’ve also learned the hard way that relying on any one channel to provide new customers for a business is incredibly risky and usually ends poorly for the advertiser.
If you’ve been paying attention to technology and marketing news over the last few months, you’ve probably seen the ads, articles and posts from Facebook saying that Apple’s iOS 14 update is going to hurt small businesses. As I type, rumor has it that Facebook is working on an antitrust lawsuit against Apple.
The update essentially would force Apple mobile device users to explicitly allow companies to track user actions across their devices. If Facebook is to be believed, this update will hurt everyone from corner coffee shops to large consumer brands.
Facebook currently tracks user actions across a multitude of applications on mobile devices. Chances are that most of us have unknowingly allowed them to track more than we intended. With the recent awareness of privacy issues online, it’s hard to believe that most consumers will willingly opt-in to allow developers to track their actions in applications unrelated to their social networks.
With Apple having almost half of the smartphone market in the United States, it’s reasonable to conclude that changes to Facebook’s — or any other online advertising platform’s — ability to gather information about consumers’ interests, shopping habits, etc., will result in poorer performance for certain ad placements on platforms.
The updates to iOS are going to bring a lot of changes, but changes should be expected when advertising online. It’s important to remember that you’re playing in someone else’s yard when you build an audience on their platform and that you are renting an audience when you buy ads online. At any moment, your ability to reach your target audience is subject to the benevolence of the channel owner, and chances are their interests are not 100 percent aligned with yours.
Those of us who spend our days working with online advertising platforms have seen changes that take hyper-successful ad campaigns and render them utterly useless. It’s frustrating, but it doesn’t have to wreck a business.
The biggest defense against changes is to build an audience that a business owns. What I mean by an owned audience is an audience that is portable, that has granted the business permission to contact them. Perhaps the most common, and probably the most valuable owned audience for many businesses, is an opt-in email list that has been regularly contacted and properly pruned. Other examples of owned audiences can include customer mailing lists and regular blog readers.
Having an owned audience allows a business to not stress about the day-to-day fluctuations in the effectiveness of online advertising. If things are going well with your digital ads, it’s time to double down; if things are going poorly, you can back off of your advertising spend and re-evaluate your strategy and the accompanying tactics.
With email addresses, if your email service provider starts providing subpar service or lacks features that you need, you can take your list to a new provider. Try taking your social media audience to another platform if/when your reach drops.
Online advertising channels can be an integral part of building your owned audience, but many businesses make the mistake of relying on ads for every step of the customer journey. Those who rely on ads for every step of the process are the most susceptible to changes in algorithms or platforms.
Since very few customers purchase from a business the first time they visit its website, it will likely take multiple interactions with your online presence before a customer is ready to make a purchase or schedule an appointment. Businesses who rely less on paid channels for each step of the marketing funnel free up cash flow to spend more on top-of-the-funnel activities that can generate more brand awareness.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are worried about every algorithm update or platform rule change, it’s probably a good time to reevaluate your digital marketing strategy.
Keith Hoelzeman is a partner in Measure + Grow, a digital marketing and advertising agency based in Little Rock.