Has anyone in the history of the world ever kept a New Year’s resolution?
I know I haven’t. But that doesn’t stop me from making them year after year and convincing myself that this will be the year for life-altering change. And then my credit card gets charged for my monthly gym membership and I realize I haven’t been in three months… (Where did the time go?)
The problem is, New Year’s resolutions are frequently impulse decisions — we take on ambitious goals without considering how they fit into our day to day lives.
Similarly, it’s easy to walk away from a marketing article with the intention of implementing X tactic. But without taking a step back and seeing how it fits into your overall strategy, you’re about as likely to actually do the work as I am to actually do my workout.
When we spoke to 13 of North America’s most influential digital marketing experts about their plans for 2017, a lot of them shared plans to take a step back and rethink their marketing strategy from a new perspective — rather than take on more tactics.
Here’s some of what they shared.
Scrutinize then optimize your current channels
You may be open to experimenting with new channels, but how often do you take stock of the ones you’ve been using forever? Why did you start using them in the first place?
The answer may be that you’re using them simply because you always have and don’t know anything else…
When we spoke to our digital marketing experts, many of them shared their plans to pull the plug completely on certain channels so they could focus on experimenting with new ones.
Unfortunately it didn’t work because the cost per click was around $10 and very limited ad targeting options (e.g., no remarketing or custom list support).
But there were other channels that worked well:
There were many new channels that we tried out or doubled down on that worked spectacularly well for us – and I wrote them all up, including our approach and the results – the new channels included the use of RLSA, Facebook and Twitter Ads, posting content to Medium, changing our SEO tactics, and experimenting with off-topic content.
John Rampton, CEO of Due, was disappointed in the results from Facebook advertising campaigns, but it’s worth noting that he suspects it may have had more to do with targeting oversights:
In 2016, the most underwhelming marketing tactic we tried were Facebook ads, but I think this was because our target audience of small businesses was not on Facebook searching for business solutions.
Similarly, Moz last year experimented with pumping more money into paid advertising, according to co-founder Rand Fishkin. Moz nearly tripled its advertising budget with Facebook, AdWords and retargeting on various platforms.
Rand’s big takeaway from it all?
Broad targeted advertising is nearly useless. Unless someone has already been to our website, is familiar with our brand and/or is specifically searching for us or a handful of tightly connected search phrases, digital ads produce very little lift in new signups.
Moz has since cut back spend massively and is focused on optimizing its targeting instead.
Jay Baer of Convince and Convert experimented with some free marketing channels in 2016 – notably, cross-posting from his blog to Medium. And while the effort for posting to Medium is minimal, so too have been the returns:
So far, the readership just hasn’t been there. Curiously, I have 53,000+ followers on Medium now, but generate just 3,000-4,000 views across four different posts per month.
These channels may or may not be effective for your audience, but the lesson here is to survey what’s working for you and what’s not.
And then don’t be afraid to kill your darlings (the channels that just aren’t working).
Out with the old, in with the new.
Build genuine relationships with a small group of influencers
It’s easy to get caught up in the dozens of tasks you have to do each day, but if you’re not currently making time to network and build relationships with your peers, 2017 is a great time to start.
It’s the secret sauce of Aaron Orendorff, prolific blogger and Forbes Top 25 Marketing Influencer. Here’s what he told us:
Marketing is not a single player sport. I dug deep on collaboration this year and combined it with unique story angles. This approach created Unbounce’s [highest traffic] post of the year: Clinton vs. Trump: 18 CROs Tear Down the Highest Stakes Marketing Campaigns in US History.
The key to this approach, Aaron explained, is twofold:
First, you have to have killer idea (and, no, “What’s the best blogging tip?” doesn’t count). Second, roll contributions into each other. What I mean is, start with who you know and once you get initial buy-in use their name to get the next one… or just ask if they’ll connect you.
While this personalized approach has worked for Aaron, many marketers are still taking a cold approach, without much success.
Peep Laja of ConversionXL explained that reaching out cold won’t cut it:
I myself get bombarded many times a day with all kinds of requests (“we linked to you/we mentioned you/give me feedback”), and I totally ignore them.
How do you avoid getting ignored? For starters, quit it with the canned messages.
Begin with just five to ten people… choose people who appeal to you on a personal level – people you think you will genuinely get along with. Look for signs that you share the same interests (outside of your work) and sense of humor.
In other words, reach out only if your intention is to build genuine relationships. You wouldn’t ignore an email from an actual friend, would you?
Pair great content with great (dynamic) visuals
Since 2015, the content marketing world has been abuzz with Rand Fishkin’s concept of 10x content — the idea that you pick a topic and set out to create something 10x better than anything currently out there on the subject.
But with marketers everywhere striving to create 10x content, how then can you continue to stand out from the crowd?
For Sujan Patel, the marketers who will stand out in 2017 are those who pay special mind to design:
10x content isn’t new, but what will differentiate content in 2017 and beyond is content that directly incorporates design and formatting, instead of relying on great content in a long-form blog post.
As an example, Sujan shared a piece of content he created for a client: a guide to building a personal brand, where the content is inextricable from the design. He’s found that the time they spent on visuals is really paying off:
We see email optin rates over 25% and huge share numbers and backlinks from this type of content.
In 2017, I’ll be leaning more towards complex layouts and a greater emphasis on graphics. I’ll also be segmenting by screen resolution.
If the prospect of dialling up your visual content production feels daunting, Nadya Khoja of Venngage has some advice:
I recommend starting out by visiting your top performing content and repurposing it into engaging visuals. You can do this by pinpointing the main takeaways and tips that are highlighted in that content. Use a tool to create the animated graphics or finding a freelancer on a site like Upwork who can quickly transform that information into a compelling video or motion graphic.
Devote more time and tools to understanding your customers’ motives
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the ax.”
Abe wasn’t a marketer, but he would have been an excellent one — in this blog post, Michael Aagaard, Senior Conversion Optimizer at Unbounce, explained why: you should never start a marketing campaign (chop down a tree) without doing your research (sharpening your axe).
That’s why Michael spends so much of his time conducting customer research and understanding the psychology of decision making. But this year, he took it a step further by socializing his findings to the team:
I spent a good deal of time sharing the insights and results internally so more of our employees could see the value in conducting real customer research rather than relying on assumptions or trends.
And Aagaard can’t stop, won’t stop:
In 2017, I’m going to ramp this up even more – both in terms of the hands-on CRO work I do at Unbounce and in relation to educating our employees and our customers.
Steve Olenski, Sr. Content Strategist at Oracle Marketing Cloud, urged marketers to look into mobile data management platforms (DMPs). He explained that they’re a critical part of the modern marketer’s stack because they enable us to better understand customer behavior:
With a mobile DMP, brands can harness and analyze the massive amount of customer data generated by mobile devices — including intent, geolocation, and purchase behavior to better target ads across multiple mobile devices and platforms, from in-app ads on smartphones to mobile web ads and tablet-specific campaigns.
In 2017, commit to collecting more customer information. Because at the end of the day, understanding your audience empowers you to give them more of what they want.
And that keeps them coming back for more.
Be part of the AI and AR conversations
Okay, this one’s a tall order, but it’s one that can’t be ignored for much longer.
Some of the digital marketing experts we spoke to emphasized the importance of keeping your finger on the pulse of cutting edge technology — notably, artificial intelligence and augmented reality.
Today, machine learning systems are being applied to everything from filtering spam emails, to making recommendations for what you should buy or watch (or who you should date).
2016 marked the launch of our effort to apply machine learning to improving conversion results. We’ve now built machine learning models that can predict conversion rates with reasonable accuracy, and our efforts to create models that provide actionable advice on improving conversion rates are coming along.
Jayson DeMers, CEO of AudienceBloom, has been keeping a close watch on augmented reality, especially after the breakout success of Pokemon Go this year:
AR print ads are starting to catch on, with Macallan Whiskey in Esquire Magazine, and Vespa Scooter ads being standout examples here. Axe/Lynx even took things a step further with an interactive “fallen angel” ad in a busy public location. This is a technology in its infancy that’s finally starting to take off.
Whoever innovates here – and does so quickly, early in 2017 – stands to win big.
While you may not necessarily be able to invest in this cutting edge stuff, the least you can do is keep your finger on the pulse of what others are doing. As these technologies progress, they become increasingly affordable and accessible — and you don’t want to be playing catch up when they become ubiquitous.
Down with New Year’s resolutions
I’d like to encourage you to not make a New Year’s resolution this year.
In 2017, make strategic decisions that will actually bring you results.
Over to you — what new things will you test at work in the New Year?