It’s a common phenomenon for any agency or freelancer working in a digital marketing discipline: a prospective client that quibbles about a few hundreds of pounds on your proposal, but at the same time is spending countless thousands on ‘classic’ above-the-line marketing.
For some reason, the perceived value of digital marketing is significantly less than that of classic marketing. A well-executed TV advertising campaign is expected to cost, at minimum, several tens of thousands of pounds, but companies are often loathe to even remotely consider similar expenditures on digital marketing campaigns.
The root cause of this perception issue is easy enough to identify: there is a long-established, ingrained belief that stuff on the internet is free. Free information, free services, free social media, and even free (or very low cost) websites.
With all that free stuff available online, why would you pay much for online marketing?
The thing is, of course, that digital marketing is hard. It takes time and effort and skill, and none of those things come for free.
While it takes just 2 minutes to create a free business page on Facebook, getting 100,000 fans to Like it and engage with your business is most definitely not free, and certainly not done in a few minutes.
A few hours work and a handful quid will get you a very basic website, but getting tens of thousands of weekly visitors to it (or, for that matter, a quality website that actually delivers value and showcases your brand effectively) is an altogether different thing.
Few companies appreciate this difference. Senior managers fully realise that to get on to TV you need to pay TV channels money to show your adverts. When you can get a website or Facebook page for practically free, why would you pay?
Audience Not Included
Classic marketing channels such as television and print advertising come with a built-in audience. People watch TV and read papers, and there are the relevant Nielsen metrics and ABC figures to prove it. Consumers of those media channels are exposed to your ads, whether they choose to or not (though this, too, is increasingly less the case).
Online, however, the audience is not guaranteed. Getting your ‘ad’ – your website or social media page – online is easy. Getting people to see it, that’s the hard bit.
On the internet the user is in control. Online, people have a choice whether or not to watch your ‘ad’. And nearly always, they choose not to.
Unless you give them a very good reason. That, in a nutshell, is what digital marketing does.
And yes it’s hard, and yes it’ll cost money. Increasingly more money, in fact, as companies are getting clued in and users have more and more options to choose from, and you need to provide ever-better reasons for users to choose you.
We can show companies all the traffic graphs and search rankings and attribution models we want, unless companies understand that in digital marketing they need to work to reach the audience that comes as standard in classic marketing, it’ll be a losing struggle.
I hope the day comes soon when digital marketing will be valued on a par with classic marketing, but I fear it’ll take a shift in common perceptions of what the internet is, and a clearer understanding in businesses of how users engage with brands online.