Almost Timely News, March 12, 2023: Broken Agreements

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Almost Timely News: Broken Agreements (2023-03-12)

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What’s On My Mind: Broken Agreements

Let’s talk about agreements for a moment. Marketers like you and me have had implicit agreements with various technology companies and firms over the years. We’ve had agreements that were more or less mutually beneficial – we do something, we get something in return. For example, we created something of an agreement with Google. In exchange for quality content that satisfies user intent and makes a search engine relevant, the agreement was that we would get customers in return. We make content and adhere to Google’s guidelines, we get visitors to our sites.

We had similar agreements with social media, right? We actively participate in places like Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, and in exchange for our participation, we get to interact with potential customers and win some percentage of them over to becoming our customers.

These agreements have generally worked for the last 25 years to varying degrees. Early on, as technologies debuted, the balance of power was in the hands of the marketer. We had the audience to some degree, and we had the ad dollars to spend; to keep us happy, early technology players sent us a lot of business. Those who were around for the golden years of social media will recall substantial double digit percentages of new traffic and new customers coming from unpaid, organic social media.

Over time, that balance of power has shifted. Companies became dependent on easy, and in most cases, free traffic. Organic search and organic social media powered entire generations of startups, built huge empires from online bookstores to streaming entertainment companies. In some cases, the balance of power has shifted so far in the opposite direction that the balance of power is more or less broken. Ask the average social media manager at the average company how much traffic and how many conversions come from unpaid social media and it’s going to be a tiny fraction of a company’s overall conversion drivers.

Organic search isn’t much better. Over the past 5 years, we’ve seen search engines – Google in particular – gobble up ever-increasing percentages of clicks. Back in 2019, Rand Fishkin and Jumpshot calculated that Google, for the first time, was consuming over 50% of visits for itself with its instant answers.

The evolution of large language models threatens to change that balance of power even further. As companies integrate the usage of large language models into their products, we’ll see more and more forms of search and conversation taken up by machines. For example, Snapchat now offers a chat companion in its app, for paying members, called My AI. We’ve seen LLM-based chat companies like Replika do astonishingly well at offering virtual companionship. And of course, we see Google’s Bard, Bing, and ChatGPT all consuming ever more attention through the use of large language models to provide information and entertainment to people – traffic that never leaves their services.

That raises the critical question for marketers – what do we do when the agreement between us and large technology companies is simply broken? The short answer is that you do the same as with any broken agreement: you either renegotiate, or you walk away. When I mentioned this to the audience this past weekend at Podcamp Philly, a few marketers were understandably concerned. “How will we get new audiences if search is out of the picture and social media isn’t working for us?” was a common sentiment.

How did you earn business in the pre-digital age? How did you earn business before social media? The answers hopefully should be fairly clear: word of mouth marketing, which is timeless, along with advertising, and these days, with influencer and guild marketing. We’ve said for decades now that the best way to market in the macro picture is to pretend services like Google and Facebook didn’t exist. If they weren’t available, how would you do your marketing? What would you do differently?

The reality is that many marketers, especially marketers who are younger and don’t know of the pre-digital era, have become addicted to the relative ease of digital marketing. Marketing where you don’t have to leave your desk has a distinct appeal, and companies love it as well because it scales better and at lower costs. But nothing lasts forever, and no channel, strategy, or tactic ever remains supreme for very long. There is more to the world of marketing than just digital marketing, and there’s more than one way to acquire a customer. That said, in the realm of digital marketing, expect to spend more – on ads, and on squeezing what performance you can from unpaid channels. Plan to pivot to influencer and community-based marketing if you haven’t already. Build and nurture your email list like it’s made of gold, because it almost literally is. And look to where attention is, but marketing isn’t – back in the real world.

The most successful marketers follow the attention of the audience to wherever it flows, without falling in love with any particular channel. You do what works on any given day with your audience. That’s the only guaranteed long-term formula for success – stay with your audience wherever they go.

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ICYMI: In Case You Missed it

Besides the newly-refreshed Google Analytics 4 course I’m relentlessly promoting (sorry not sorry), I recommend the piece on which parts of marketing will be revolutionized by AI.

Skill Up With Classes

These are just a few of the classes I have available over at the Trust Insights website that you can take.



Get Back to Work

Folks who post jobs in the free Analytics for Marketers Slack community may have those jobs shared here, too. If you’re looking for work, check out these five most recent open positions, and check out the Slack group for the comprehensive list.

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If you find it valuable, please share it with anyone who might need help tuning up their LinkedIn efforts for things like job hunting.

What I’m Reading: Your Stuff

Let’s look at the most interesting content from around the web on topics you care about, some of which you might have even written.

Social Media Marketing

Media and Content

SEO, Google, and Paid Media

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Tools, Machine Learning, and AI

Analytics, Stats, and Data Science

Dealer’s Choice : Random Stuff

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How to Stay in Touch

Let’s make sure we’re connected in the places it suits you best. Here’s where you can find different content:

Events I’ll Be At

Here’s where I’m speaking and attending. Say hi if you’re at an event also:

  • Martechopia, London, March 2023. Use MARSPEAKER20 for 20% off the ticket price.
  • B2B Ignite, Chicago, May 2023
  • MarketingProfs B2B Forum, Boston, October 2023

Events marked with a physical location may become virtual if conditions and safety warrant it.

If you’re an event organizer, let me help your event shine. Visit my speaking page for more details.

Can’t be at an event? Stop by my private Slack group instead, Analytics for Marketers.

Required Disclosures

Events with links have purchased sponsorships in this newsletter and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

Advertisements in this newsletter have paid to be promoted, and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

My company, Trust Insights, maintains business partnerships with companies including, but not limited to, IBM, Cisco Systems, Amazon, Talkwalker, MarketingProfs, MarketMuse, Agorapulse, Hubspot, Informa, Demandbase, The Marketing AI Institute, and others. While links shared from partners are not explicit endorsements, nor do they directly financially benefit Trust Insights, a commercial relationship exists for which Trust Insights may receive indirect financial benefit, and thus I may receive indirect financial benefit from them as well.

Thank You

Thanks for subscribing and reading this far. I appreciate it. As always, thank you for your support, your attention, and your kindness.

See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


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