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Money alone can’t buy digital marketing success

I’ve been talking to some small business owners recently who are all complaining that they are getting squeezed out of social media, search marketing, and other forms of Internet marketing by the big guys–big companies with big budgets. At the same time, I’ve been hearing from frustrated large company marketers that they cannot break through the clutter and that their budgets don’t seem to help. This would seem, on the surface, to be a simple question. Either the small companies or the big companies have a point, and the other ones are smoking something. So. who’s right?

It might seem impossible, I actually think they both have a point.

Small businesses naturally feel at a disadvantage to big brands, and they are right. Part of the advantage of big brands is money, but they have other advantages, too. When Google says it is changing the search ranking algorithm to reduce the prominence of “low-quality” sites, many small businesses heard this as “Google starting to favor big brands.” When a link or a search result or a social media site contains content with a big brand name in it, it gets more clickthroughs. These advantages are all real.

But the big brands have reason for frustration. They are used to walking into any marketing situation, dropping their bankroll on the table, and getting the attention they want. While you can do that with display advertising, most areas of Internet marketing aren’t as easily dominated with cash. Yes, money always helps, but mere funding does not get you to the top of search results (not even always to the top of paid search results), nor does it get your social media campaign to go viral.

Those big brands have a financial advantage, but digital marketing is a far more level playing field than advertising, for example. Money always brings an advantage, but it brings much less of an advantage in low-cost areas such as PR, SEO, and social media. The big brands are actually afraid that their money is not enough of an advantage.

So, small companies think the big companies have an edge, which they do. But big companies are worried because they don’t have their customary edge—the edge that they are used to.

What does this tell us? To me, it is a sign that digital marketing is beginning to saturate. It’s no longer good enough to see the new thing and jump on it first. It’s not enough to know about paid search—now you need to know exactly how to extract every last penny out of your budget. And that’s true across all of digital marketing. You need to be able to calculate the ROI of every dime you spend and you need to be ready to improve that ROI each day.

If you don’t know how to do that, stop by my free Webinar at 11 am ET on March 22, “Digital Marketing Is Direct Marketing.” I’ll walk you through the whole thing. Suddenly, it won’t seem so overwhelming. If you already know how to do that, please help others in the comments.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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