The top 10 digital marketing myths that are holding you back and how to move on from them.
I've been speaking at a lot of conferences lately, and the most interesting part of the whole experience is the Q&A. I like it because I get challenged and get to hear from a broad range of marketers and communications people about what's bothering them. It's a rare glimpse of the "real world" that's often quite different than (and I mean this with great love and respect) what you hear from those of us writing about marketing.
Lately, I've heard a lot of untrue statements; a lot of "conventional wisdom" that people either have to butt heads with their bosses or co-workers about. These myths are usually stated with a large degree of certainty but are rarely backed up by anything more than anecdotal observations. While it's human nature to want to make sense of things based on your own experience, a lot of companies (both clients and agencies) are wasting money or missing opportunities because they believe them.
Today, I'll take a stab at busting these common digital marketing myths.
Social Media Belongs to the Young
This is by far one of the most common myths. In many ways, it's not unlike the arguments that people would make back in the '90s about sinking money into Web sites. "Well, all that techie stuff is all fine and dandy for the young folks," went the common refrain, "but our audiences are older and they don't use that stuff."
Baloney. It was baloney then (well, unless you went back to 1994 or 1995) and it's baloney now when it comes to social media.
Look at the statistics on social media usage and you'll see that "the kids" are actually a lot less likely to use social media. Seventy-seven percent of mobile social network users are over 25 and 43 percent are over 35. More than 50 percent of Facebook users are over 35. As for Twitter, while the 24 and younger set make up the fastest growing segment of the services' users, fully 52 percent of users are over 35.
Print Is Dead
I usually hear this one from well-meaning people who are big believers in online marketing. I totally understand this sentiment, but it's just not smart marketing.
Print still has an important role in the overall marketing mix, as evidenced by studies such as this one that looked at catalog sales and found that print catalogs are still big drivers of revenue (because people like to browse print and buy online). I don't blame them: print catalogs have a greater emotional impact than an equivalent product listing on a Web site. Every type of media has its place and is best used for what it's best at (the emotional impact of print or the ease of online purchasing).
If You Want to Drive Traffic, Put All Your Money Into Online
This is another one often spouted by well-meaning true believers. However, as this study (and many others over the years) shows, offline media is often one of the biggest drivers of online behavior. And, interestingly enough, broadcast media - TV and radio in particular - often builds the kind of awareness that consumers need in order to be driven to a particular site.
In Online Display Advertising, It's All About the Number of Impressions
True, increasing your impressions will increase your exposure to your targets, but as John Burbank, CEO of Nielsen's online division so aptly puts it, dishing up lots of impressions isn't enough...you also have to serve and engage your target audiences in order to reach them online.
A lot of the metrics we use to measure success of online campaigns may be wrong. Michael Zimbalist makes a compelling case in Ad Age that we shouldn't be thinking about impressions at all, but rather a more TV-like model he calls the "Werp." This involves serving up ads in a way so that they hold the user's full attention as the only marketing message on the page for a minimum of five seconds.
If You're Thinking Mobile, It's All About the iPhone
This one really gets to me. I've been a Mac guy and a big Apple fan since 1984, but it bugs the heck out of me that "mobile" has now become synonymous with "iPhone" in many marketers' minds.
The hype machine has convinced us that mobile "apps" can only be served up on the iPhone when the iPhone only holds 25 percent of the smartphone market. If you only concentrate on the iPhone, you're missing out.
Video Games Are for Teenage Boys
The idea that only pimply-faced teenagers play video games has been with us for a long time. This misconception affects everything from video game advertising creative to how marketers think about integrating the growing video game population with advertising. According to a recent report published by Deloitte, the popularity of video gaming is surging among older populations.
Mobile Advertising Is [Insert Adjective Here]
It seems like no other advertising medium is filled with as grand a set of pronouncements, as conflicting a set of data, and as much confusion as the mobile marketing biz.
There's data to show that mobile advertising far surpasses online advertising in terms of effective ROI (define). Then there are studies that demonstrate that a heck of a lot of consumers don't even know they can get online with their phones.
Who's right? Probably everyone...and no one. Speaking of "mobile" as one homogenous medium is wrong. There are a dizzying array of platforms, an alphabet soup of OSes, and huge variations in consumer sophistication when it comes to using these devices. Until the great "mobile wars" are over and we settle on a couple of OSes and comparable experiences across devices, it's wrong to take a monolithic view of mobile marketing.
It's Enough Just to Drive People to My Site
Whoo, boy! This is another biggie when it comes to misconceptions leading to dumb decisions and wasted resources.
It's not just enough to drive people to your site if you're looking to capture their information, drive sales, or generate response of any kind. To be effective, you need to match your landing pages to your campaign.
Even then, there's a lot you can do to drive response in terms of design, copy, and the user interface. "Frivolous" changes (such as the "Mad Libs" form style that can increase response rates 25 to 40 percent) can have a huge impact on response rate. Either way, dumping people on your home page usually isn't the best approach.
[Social Media Platform] Is the Place to Be
This is another biggie. Even though one platform or site is big today, history shows that putting all your eggs in one virtual basket is a bad idea. Popularity rises and wanes in unpredictable ways that seem unlikely at the time but later come to light as audiences move on to the next big thing.
Don't believe me? Head on over to Alexa and check out the data page on Facebook traffic. Looks good, right? Well, use the comparison function under the chart to set the date range to "Max" and try running comparison charts against MySpace and Second Life, two social sites that at one time ruled the roost. Oh, how the mighty fall!
But there's another issue, too: not all social media platforms are equal. They don't all share the same demographics, they're used for different things, and they're different in terms of consumer engagement. A Facebook status update isn't the same as a tweet (or vice versa), but both have their place in terms of conveying different kinds of information. Study what you're doing and use the right tool for the right job.
Everyone Else Is Doing a Better Job Than Me
Finally, there's the feeling that "everyone else" (whoever they are) is doing a better job than you when it comes to online marketing. They've got better measurement tools, more successful campaigns, and are more savvy about delivering ROI for their online media campaigns than you are.
Sure, some of you are probably confident enough that you never feel this way, a lot of people (especially older, more "traditional" marketers who've had to make the transition to the online world) at conferences feel that they're the only ones who don't get it in the same way as the hotshots they read about in the industry press.
Never fear! If you peek behind the curtain, you'll discover that "more than 40 percent of marketers don't even know whether the social media tools they're using were capable of measuring ROI!" And that's just the people who were honest enough to share the fact they didn't know something - not an easy thing to admit.
Other studies make it clear that we're all still figuring this stuff out. Anyone who tells you that they know "the answer" is a fool or a snake oil salesman.
Sean is off today. This column was originally published March 15, 2010.
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Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.
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