Ad-free content is growing in the digital world, and companies are scrambling to reach consumers with their products and services.
Fortunately, there are steps Survival Industry businesses can take to save their marketing efforts.
Thanks to the American Marketing Association, and reporter Sarah Steimer, here are three steps survival businesses should consider. To read the full story, with deeper explanations and charts and graphs, click here.
Move away from traditional advertising and closer to customers
Consumers can typically recall advertisements from their childhood; they can hum a jingle or recite a slogan. The children of tomorrow, however, may only have one ad recollection: the quiet click of opting out.
Ad-free subscriptions are on the rise, leaving traditional advertising in the dust. For some perspective, consider a 2016 estimate from CordCutting.com that suggests each Netflix subscriber avoids about 160 hours of commercial-watching annually by streaming content through the ad-free service. It’s not only television or movie content that is going ad-free. Music platforms Spotify and Pandora offer ad-free subscriptions, and operating systems such as Apple’s High Sierra will offer a reader mode that strips out ads. Google also announced plans for a built-in ad blocker for its Chrome system.
Consumers are on board with giving ads the boot, due in large part to exhaustion. Although advertising has been around for decades, it feels more painful than ever because consumers’ attention is limited, says Bob Gilbreath, co-founder and CEO of internet marketing agency Ahalogy.
“Advertising has always been a tax on our time and attention,” Gilbreath says. “As the demand on our attention goes up, the price of our attention goes up and that tax feels worse and worse.”
The advent of digital access—be it mobile, in-home or elsewhere—made consumers more selfish with their time and demands. The audience gets what it wants, when it wants it, which makes advertisements feel jarring and generally disruptive.
Traditional advertising still has its purpose, but its placement is slowly dissolving. Marketers need to shift gears as more consumers opt out. Consider three ways to adapt or perish.
Step 1. Content Marketing
If consumers are tired of being interrupted, the obvious answer is to stop interrupting them and maybe even add some value to their lives with content marketing.
Gilbreath says the B-to-B world has already begun to master content marketing, offering consumers white papers, blog posts, videos, how-tos or challenge sales, wherein a salesperson educates a client or prospect about a change in the market.
“By making [consumers] smarter, you’re able to present your product or service as a solution to the biggest business problems,” Gilbreath says. He predicts a rise in in-house content expertise whether through an R&D lab, what the company is doing in its field or joining forces with outside experts.
Creating and hosting original content has the added bonus of brand safety. There are degrees of separation between an advertisement’s creation, hosting and performance when it comes to media buys, and recent cybersecurity fraud issues have muddled click results. Self-publishing also allows the brand to avoid having its name stationed near other content that could be deemed controversial.
Step 2. Direct Marketing
Removing ads from media platforms means a shift from fishing for customers to strengthening brand-consumer relationships. Where marketers may be jolted by the potential loss of basic data from media relationships, they may build a deeper set of data by getting to know their customers better.
“Everyone should aspire to be a direct marketer and not have to count on these random ads being strewn all about,” says Peter Fader, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Gilbreath says e-mails from a brand are a great direct marketing tactic, provided the e-mails contain useful content and inspiration. Fader, on the other hand, says the answer isn’t in finding a new platform to place ads on (“It was billboards, then magazines, then TVs and e-mail, then mobile, now let’s find ways to jam things into Snapchat.”), it’s about thinking of other ways to talk to the consumer.
This more direct attitude is what the subscription model is all about. For a fee, media companies offer consumers a better overall experience, which may happen to include the removal of advertisements. Fader argues that brands could take a cue from these platforms and join the subscription game.
Fader acknowledges the role traditional advertising plays for introducing newer brands to consumers or spurring awareness and reminders.
Step 3. Improving Services
If marketers aren’t spending as much on traditional formats in the future, they may use the money for improving products and services.
“If you look at what startups call marketing, they call it growth-hacking,” Gilbreath says. “The mindset there is, ‘I’m a startup, I don’t have tens of millions of dollars for advertising, so I need to find creative ways for my product to sell itself.’ Often that’s where you have to find ways to make the product viral or ways to spread it around.”
For established brands, product or service improvement shouldn’t be conducted for the mass market, Fader says. Instead, the improvements should be customer-centric and focus on acquiring or keeping the customers identified as more valuable than the rest.
Fader uses Electronic Arts as an example. The gaming company has stopped focusing on how many units of a new game it can sell and instead asks how the product can teach the company more about those buying it.
Companies can also boost their relationships with consumers through loyalty programs that keep the firm at the top of customers’ minds and track customer data. These aren’t the loyalty programs of yore that require a punch card and “get one free” incentives. Modern loyalty programs should be used to learn more about the individual customer’s needs and wants. Fader says offering gifts or promotions to loyal customers shows that the company is trying to learn more about the consumer’s interests and needs so it can better align its communications and offers to the individual or group.
Ad-free subscriptions may not have taken over (yet), but marketers need to refocus on customized content that reels in and maintains relationships with valuable customers. Customer engagement, like personalized subscriptions, can no longer be one-size-fits-all.
About the Author: Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.