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Digital Marketing Today: It’s Time to Wake Up to the New Realities

Posted In: Digital by Ant Kenny,
June 18, 2024


Ant Kenny, Head of Digital

Hey, I’m Ant, Head of Digital at Boutique. In this post, I’ve explored how shifts in digital marketing have made things more complicated and offer food for thought on how to navigate this ever-evolving landscape. From the basic SEO tactics of the early 2000s to today’s sophisticated digital ecosystems, marketing has transformed dramatically. I’ll dive into what these changes mean for your strategies today and how you can adapt to stay ahead. 

Picture this: It’s 2008, and I’m fresh into my first marketing job, specifically in SEO. I stroll into the office, ready to tackle the workload for one of our 30-odd clients (yes 30!), each paying around £200-400 per month. It’s reporting week, and excitement is in the air. We’ve managed to get a relatively unknown brand to rank at the top for their main keyword in Google. This brand, now part of the sands of time (I’ve checked), shot to the top through some not-so-sophisticated tactics: keyword stuffing, buying backlinks, and a bit of basic technical SEO. And just like that, without breaking a sweat or deploying any real strategy, they’re raking it in. For just a few hundred pounds, the client is thrilled, and so are we. It was easy, effortless, even. Back then, that’s just how things were done. It wasn’t glamorous, and by today’s standards, it wasn’t ethical. But that fee brought significant returns for the client’s business. 

But where was the strategy in all this? It was as basic as targeting high-volume search terms and banking on the traffic that followed. It wasn’t flawed for the time, but it was far from progressive. And brand strategy? That was the last thing on our minds. Why bother when SEO seems like a golden ticket? In all honesty, brand building was so far from my mind I’m almost ashamed looking back that I thought this way, I mean did I learn nothing from my marketing degree?

And what about other marketing channels? At the time, they barely registered on our radar. Sure, paid search was also used, but why bother investing time (not money) in any other channels when SEO was the low-hanging fruit? And social media? Well Facebook had only just started to allow advertising in the November of 2007 so wasn’t even a thought then. In fact, the thought was that “It’ll never catch-on” because search was where it was at. How wrong we were.

Everything felt so simple back then. Fast forward to today, and it’s a whole different ball game. Yet, astonishingly, some still cling to the outdated belief that tactics like SEO and digital marketing in general is a breeze, that investment doesn’t need to be significant, and brand building isn’t necessary. This post is a wake-up call. The digital marketing landscape has evolved dramatically, and it’s time to adjust our strategies and mindset accordingly.

I think it’s fair to say 2024 has been hard for businesses in the UK. There are many reasons for this, the big one being the low levels of consumer confidence brought about by the cost-of-living crisis (we won’t go into that here) but the reality is that digital marketing isn’t what it used to be. The landscape has evolved dramatically, and consumers have also changed dramatically. I want to explore some of the changes that have occurred and what this means for marketing, so let’s dive in…

It’s funny to even still say this in 2024 but it needs to be said. SEO is way more than having an optimised website with relevant content and backlinks. Yes, these still serve the fundamentals but it’s not enough to just do this and expect to rank well. Search engines have gotten smarter, and they’re now focused on delivering the best user experiences. They’re looking at everything from how fast your pages load to how users interact with your content. And above all they are looking for that brand footprint. Brands prevail in SEO, and they stand the test of time. If you think you can do SEO without a lens on brand building, then think again. This is why there has been such a shift in “link building” to digital PR. PR is about promoting your brand and getting in front of your audience, a link being a lovely by-product of doing this well. Lastly (and this is a topic in in itself) SEO doesn’t garner the same levels of clicks for ranking positions as it once did, the rise in zero click results, SERP features, paid ad real estate has all seen the level of bang you get for your buck reduce. Have a play around with AWR’s CTR curve data and see for yourself. And only time will tell on how much Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) will distribute this further.

If you’re not investing in a robust SEO strategy that ties into your wider brand and commercial strategy, then you need to be.  Oh, and when it comes to producing content, don’t try and half ass it and cut corners.

It’s like everyone has descended on the digital party, and they’re all shouting to be heard and the pandemic accelerated this as speed! With millions of websites, countless social media profiles, and ads everywhere, standing out is tougher than ever. You’re not just competing with your direct competitors but with every piece of content out there vying for attention. The result? Higher marketing costs and the necessity for standout, creative content that offers real value. Add to this that anyone can give advertising a go (PMAX anyone?) means even more brands are advertising when they might not have done before.

And let’s talk about the proliferation of digital channels. Once upon a time, managing a couple of social media accounts was enough. Now? You need a strategy for Instagram, a different one for TikTok, another for LinkedIn… the list goes on. Each platform has its own nuances and audience expectations. If you’re not crafting specific strategies that resonate with each platform’s audience, you’re probably not making much of an impact. 

The consumer journey has also become an increasingly wild ride, aptly dubbed “the messy middle” by Google. It’s no longer a straightforward path from A to B; it’s a winding road with numerous detours. Consumers might start on one device, research on another, get distracted by videos, and finally circle back days (or weeks) later through a different channel. If you’re not there every step of the way, offering relevant touchpoints and compelling content, you might lose them in this messy middle. Read our thoughts on why the old marketing funnel is dead and the customer journey is now much more of a cyclical one here and here for more insight into just how complicated it has become.

Today’s digital marketing demands savvy, effort, and, yes, a more substantial investment. We need to use sophisticated tools, dive deep into data analytics, and constantly refine our approaches. It’s not just about being present online anymore; it’s about being smart, strategic, and resilient in the face of these new challenges.

So, what can you do?

Investing in a solid strategy isn’t just important; it’s essential. We’re talking about laser-focused campaigns right from the start. No more throwing strategies at the wall and seeing what sticks. This approach is not just time-consuming; it requires a smarter way of thinking. As the landscape grows more competitive, we can’t afford to waste efforts on tactics that don’t deliver.

You should still be testing and learning. Part of the problem with marketing sometimes is that strategies and tactics are put in place and then not refined through testing, almost like a hit and hope approach. Equally ensure your data is providing what you need and use it to refine what you’re doing. Data is so important and getting this right has never been more important (particularly with GA4, don’t get me started!)

I’ve thought about it for a while, but the industry needs a reality check on expectations. Quick returns might sound enticing, but they’re increasingly unrealistic. We must shift focus from solely generating sales to building robust, recognisable brands. If you’re only chasing sales and ignoring brand building, you’re hitting an invisible barrier, a glass ceiling that’s getting ominously lower. Brands that recognise the value of both aspects will thrive, whereas those that don’t will find growth stiflingly limited.

There’s immense value in the upfront work. Know your audience, understand what makes them tick, explore your competitive landscape, and get a deep dive into how your audience perceives your brand and your website. This kind of foundational work often doesn’t show immediate ROI, which is why it’s frequently skipped and not invested in. But this needs to change. It’s up to agencies to advocate for these vital steps and ensure clients understand their long-term value.

The digital marketing industry must commit to integrity. Too often, clients are sold on services they don’t need or pushed into channels that benefit the agency more than the brand. It’s time to stop these practices and start painting a realistic picture of what’s truly beneficial for our clients. We need to hold ourselves accountable in this industry to make it better, educating clients is key.

In summary, the world of digital marketing has undergone profound changes, making it more challenging than ever to stand out in a crowded market. Marketers must adapt by embracing a more holistic approach that includes understanding audience intricacies, focusing on strategic brand building, and leveraging data across all digital channels. To thrive in this evolved landscape, it’s crucial to move beyond the surface-level strategies of the past and invest in comprehensive, marketing practices that drive not just traffic, but true engagement and brand loyalty. Embracing these realities is essential for anyone looking to succeed in the complex world of modern digital marketing.

If you’re facing marketing challenges or looking to refine your digital strategy, we’re here to help. Reach out to discuss how we can tailor a strategy that not only meets but exceeds your marketing goals. Let’s turn these challenges into opportunities together. Contact us today.



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