Digital platforms like Google and Facebook revolutionized marketing. Not only could advertisers target users with stunning precision and track their entire purchase journey, but they could also run highly effective campaigns at relatively low costs. The peak of these activities came during the early days of the pandemic when advertising costs plummeted at the same time that an unprecedented number of Americans suddenly became dedicated online shoppers.
However, the picture has changed dramatically since the first half of 2020, and the profession now confronts one of the most challenging moments since marketing went digital. These developments, outlined below, underscore the importance of becoming less reliant on prospecting and brand-building activities to drive sales, and instead shifting efforts towards developing an omni-channel marketing approach.
Two New Marketing Challenges
Marketers face two critical new challenges that have upended their top-of-funnel advertising activities. Anyone who’s worked in marketing has watched costs on Google and Facebook rise dramatically over the last year. Our agency has tracked a 30-40% increase in cost-per-click (CPC) and cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) year-over-year. Two factors are driving these increases:
- During the early days of the pandemic, the more prominent players pulled out of the digital advertising market, which dramatically reduced costs. Today, players like Amazon and Walmart are back in the market in a big way, which naturally inflates prices.
- Google is also leaning more heavily towards an automated bidding strategy to help advertisers reach their ideal audiences, which is also driving up prices.
If rising costs weren’t enough of a challenge, new issues with reporting and data analysis on Facebook make judging a campaign’s effectiveness even more difficult. After Apple updated its iOS system to put a premium on user privacy, Facebook can no longer track revenue as well as it did before the update. As a result, return-on-ad-spend (ROAS) statistics for Facebook campaigns have fallen by an average of 22%. This decline doesn’t necessarily mean that Facebook ads are any less effective. Rather, they’re a representation of the tracking hole the new iOS update introduced into Facebook’s advertising ecosystem.
How Can Digital Marketers Respond?
Before these twin challenges emerged, digital advertisers could count on top-of-funnel activities to deliver guaranteed revenue with a crystal clear ROAS. Now that costs are much higher and returns are murkier, it’s time for marketers to embrace an omni-channel strategy that deemphasizes a reliance on new traffic generation and puts increased attention on other activities like conversion rate optimization and customer retention.
The Omni-Channel Approach
The omni-channel approach breaks marketing activities into three distinct categories: traffic, conversions and post-purchase. There’s an opportunity within this framework to define specific strategies, goals and metrics to help each area thrive. However, before this process can begin, marketers need to adjust their attribution models to compensate for changes in Facebook’s tracking abilities.
With ROAS statistics in an apparent free fall, some advertisers face a huge temptation to cut off higher funnel campaigns that don’t look like they’re accomplishing anything. Before taking this drastic step, they should dig deeper into Google Analytics to ensure they’re not eliminating something that leads to sales — different Google Analytics attribution models can mask consumer search behavior.
Imagine, for example, that a user begins their shopping journey by searching for shoes. As they see results, they refine their search to red shoes. More results lead to the third search for red basketball shoes. Finally, their purchase journey ends with a search for red Adidas basketball shoes. Many marketers rely on a last-click attribution model that emphasizes the final search term that led to a conversion while hiding the first search term. So in this example, campaigns would only target red Adidas basketball shoes while potentially ignoring the more general term that kicked off the whole process.
Google Analytics generates two reports that provide a better view of the entire conversion picture. The first is the assisted conversions report (conversions -> multi-channel funnel -> assisted conversions), which breaks down the last click and all the conversions that assisted in the final click. The second report is the model comparison tool (conversions -> multi-channel funnel -> model comparison tool) which compares different attribution models for a given campaign.
With a broader understanding of their customer’s journey, marketers can make smarter decisions about which campaigns are effective and which they can prune.
Unfortunately, understanding customer acquisition won’t reduce the cost of bringing in new traffic. The fact that acquisition is so expensive now, and will likely remain so, means that marketing strategies should focus more attention on retaining these costly new customers. That starts by optimizing website conversions.
With every click being precious, potential customers must have the easiest path towards a click. Visitor behavior is mappable within Google Analytics by navigating to behavior -> site content -> exit page and creating separate segments for home page visitors, product page visitors, cart page visitors, cart abandoners and purchasers. This information will illustrate where customers abandon their purchases and offer a starting point for optimization efforts.
When marketers do decide to shift some advertising budget away from underperforming high-level campaigns, conversion rate optimization efforts are a fantastic place to redistribute those funds because even modest conversion rate increases can deliver significant revenue returns.
Once new traffic converts to buyers, the post-purchase element of an omni-channel marketing strategy will help build loyalty and drive future purchases that are much less expensive to obtain. The first step in a post-purchase strategy is to create a coherent and powerful email strategy that automatically meets customers at crucial moments in their purchase journey, and existing customers in ways that encourage repeat purchases.
Loyalty programs are another great way to bring people back by rewarding ongoing purchases. Logical Position partners with Smile.io to help small outfits, while Loyalty Lion might be a better fit for mid-market or enterprise businesses.
Marketers can also use their email lists or loyalty program information to build lookalike audiences on Facebook that will help make their prospecting efforts more efficient. This built-in feedback mechanism is another incredible benefit of an omni-channel strategy.
Recognizing a Changing Environment
As marketers move towards an omni-channel marketing strategy, they also need to do a better job of tracking their total advertising costs. By comparing this number with total sitewide revenue, they can develop an overarching ROAS metric, rather than relying on platform-specific ROAS numbers that might not tell the whole story. By comparing these numbers month-over-month, quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year, a global picture emerges that bypasses much of the confusion created by the iOS attribution changes.
These new challenges are not insurmountable. However, marketers need to recognize that conditions at the top-of-the-funnel have changed. An omni-channel strategy provides the necessary framework to help them broaden their perspective and place more emphasis on other marketing activities that have the potential to pay even higher dividends.
Tim Benson is an omni-channel growth strategist at Logical Position, an Inc. 500 company headquartered in Oregon with offices nationwide. The agency offers full-service PPC management, SEO, and website design solutions for businesses large and small, and was ranked as the third best place to work in America by Inc. Magazine.