Chris Carr is CEO at Farotech, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Philadelphia.
When Apple released its App Tracking Transparency update as part of iOS 14.5, users found a curious new message waiting for them: “Allow [company] to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?” Overnight, a major part of marketing campaigns became vulnerable as users became aware of a perceived privacy issue that was put front and center.
What was a big win for privacy could be catastrophic for companies that rely on tracking technology for their marketing campaigns. But this isn’t the first or last time this has happened.
Since starting my company in 2001, I’ve witnessed a number of significant changepoints in marketing. And one of the critical things I’ve learned is that nearly all companies today are staking their marketing futures on platforms they do not own and whose rules they do not create. At any time, these platforms can change the rules just like that. We call this phenomenon “building your house on sand.” Those who build their house on sand — who prioritize isolated solutions over comprehensive marketing systems — often fail when these changes occur.
Isolated solutions are akin to companies putting all their eggs in one basket. When marketing is done right, all the facets of effective marketing are diversified into one comprehensive but nimble system that works synergistically.
Keeping Up With SEO Algorithms
According to several sources, it’s estimated that Google changes its search algorithm 500 to 600 times per year. Meaning that what is stated as best practices are, in reality, moving targets, which can potentially be bad news for companies that rely on search engines to generate leads (which, let’s be honest, is a lot of them). There’s no guarantee that the optimization tactics companies use today will be viable tomorrow, which can have massive ramifications on how companies produce leads and opportunities.
Whether you’re a small business or a company the size of JCPenney, no one is immune to a Google algorithm change. Your rankings — and, as a result, your business — can plummet, even if your company stays within the ever-changing best practices.
It’s important to note that SEO in and of itself isn’t bad if you’re following best practices, but you want to avoid it as the only source of your referral/lead efforts.
Social Media: A Cautionary Tale
When it comes to social media marketing, Facebook is often considered the north star for marketers. When Facebook launched in 2004, organic reach on the platform became available and attractive. Business pages created massive audiences for companies that now basically had free rent in the largest virtual mall in the world. That’s when, in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg changed everything. In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg announced: “…recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”
While this might sound noble to the average user, it’s speculated that his overarching plan all along was to get businesses addicted to the free reach, get them to establish themselves on Facebook and then force them into a pay-to-play environment without an alternative.
Companies had been able to consistently communicate with their entire fanbase, and then — poof! — it was gone in the blink of an eye.
Starbucks became the first Facebook (non-person) brand page to reach 10 million likes in 2010. But with the organic reach of a Facebook Page post now averaging 5.2%, the once-massive potential to reach 10 million has become a lot more difficult and diminishes the value of a like to almost zero.
As of today’s writing, Starbucks has 36 million followers. In organic reach terms, they really only have a fraction of what they had in their former glory back in 2010. Even in 11 years, their organic reach hasn’t been restored to its former numbers.
There’s a saying in marketing that you’re only as good as your database. Well, Facebook and platforms like it now own your social media database and, in turn, your audience. If you wanted to keep communicating with them, you can; you just have to pay them for the privilege.
The Uncertainty of Paid Ads
As of 2020, it’s estimated that companies spent a whopping $378 billion on paid ads. Businesses often pay a premium because they feel that well-optimized ad campaigns will yield results. And they can — as long as search engines don’t change the game.
In 2017, a Florida investigation into fraud and abuse in the addiction industry found that bad actors with extremely large ads budgets were outspending credible institutions and dominating them when it came to visibility through Google paid ads.
Google started removing paid ads for the addiction industry after the public outcry. Centers across the nation, who weren’t even guilty of fraud or abuse and who depended on paid ads to reach addicts in need, fell hard without any other leg to stand on. If it happened to that sector, there’s no guarantee it won’t happen to others.
Building Your House On Systems
So is there any hope? What is our alternative? Let’s face it: As marketers, we need Google, Facebook and others to survive and reach our audience.
The alternative is three-fold:
• Diversify your marketing in a comprehensive system.
• Truly own an engaged database.
• Maximize the power of your brand.
When these three things are achieved, a company is nearly impervious to ever-changing algorithms.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to how well you know your clients and how well they know that your products or services bring true value. A good company is only as good as its database — assuming that database is engaged.
A comprehensive system allows companies of any size to be nimble so that when change inevitably arrives, you can double down on the parts of your system that weren’t affected while adjusting the ones that were.
Ultimately, a battle-tested brand shines through adversity. Stay true to your unique selling proposition and your values — they’re the only things you truly own and that no one can take away from you.