I want to start talking about digital marketing by being very transparent, and letting you know a bit more about who I am by being frank and a bit vulnerable!
I’ve always trusted people before they’ve proven themselves trustworthy. I’ve always assumed business owners, bosses and authority figures have mine (and others) best interests at heart.
And I’ve always believed in the good in people before I look for the bad.
I’m wired that way, and I acknowledge that it’s not exactly the best wiring to have. It can even be perceived to create a whimsical ‘Alice in Wonderland’ perspective that is doomed to result in heartache, disappointment and frustration.
I have experienced all of those outcomes, and I attribute it entirely to my kind nature and my assumption that everyone in this world is good at heart and acting in the best interests of others. I’ve been hurt, felt slapped in the face and punched in the gut, over and over until I was in real pain.
So, I’ve learnt my lessons, and become a much tougher and more aware person. Nowadays, I’m riding the middle line between kindness and self-respect. I expect the best and plan for the worst.
Okay, so now you know the experiences that have brought me to this place of ‘balanced awareness’.
Having worked in the digital marketing arena for the best part of 12 years, I can now honestly say that I have encountered all of those feelings and experiences – even though I am a service provider myself.
When I first started in the industry, I didn’t intentionally choose it; the industry chose me for my skills and experience in mapping journeys and using technology. Just on a smaller scale than the large corporates.
There were a lot of ‘gurus’ and information marketers around especially in digital marketing, and it took me a little while to absorb them all and understand who I was and how I felt about them all. I have an enquiring and creative mind, so would order their books and material and try out their strategies to see what worked and what didn’t work.
As a student of this new landscape, I was delving into email marketing, marketing automation, digital marketing, customer life cycles and the different tools to manage them all.
Over the first few years, I saw the number of technology tools grow minimally, but in the last five years, the number of tools and platforms has exploded exponentially. It is overwhelming for any business owner to consider the options and know what the best choice for them is. This is why small business owners rely on experts to assist them in choosing the right tools for them at the right time and using them in the right way.
At the same time as the technology explosion occurred in my industry, so did the number of providers. All of a sudden, there were new ‘experts’ popping up everywhere online. People built a shopfront (website), hung a sign saying they were an expert, and they were in business. It was a very challenging period for those of us who had credibility and expertise, but it was terrifying for the customers.
For the customers had no idea who to believe or who to choose. They could keep using their old marketing practices, but the simple fact was that after 2010, (I’m rounding it to 2010 even though the internet exploded our world around 2006) every small business needed to
not only have a website but be utilising some new online marketing practices.
This was when the issues in the industry began to unfold, and why there is so much mistrust today.
With a massive number of providers all shouting out online about how good their product is, the customer became confused and sometimes reacted to the loudest voice or the biggest promise, or the most prominent storefront (think of a large fresh food market with stall owners shouting out their prices to get people to come over to them).
The customers wanted to solve their problems and get results, which they were promised – so they went with the loudest, prettiest, or biggest. Did it get the results they wanted? Mostly no.
Many small business owners started with one provider and then after a while, because of poor results, lack of transparency and other frustrations, they would end that arrangement and go back to the marketplace to find someone else. If they had a referral, they would take it up. A very few got lucky, but most were left to navigate the shouting voices of the store owners, and they got sucked into the nearest shop.
Unfortunately, many of these big and pretty stores were very new. They had been set up by people who may have done one thing well in the past and decided they were an expert – so set up a business and promised they were “The best in the industry” and so on. But they weren’t, so the results weren’t there.
Many businesses experienced this over and over again. They had been through many providers and sometimes spent incredibly large amounts of money with agencies and providers who delivered absolutely nothing.
They became jaded and hurt. Business owners would tell me, “I’ve been ripped off before, many times, so how can I avoid this again?”
Last year I met a business owner who said he was happy with his digital marketing provider and he’d been using them for over six years. I was surprised by this and initially impressed, as I wondered who this provider could be if they were able to keep a customer happy for that long? I hadn’t heard of that before!
After asking a few questions and delving into the details of what this provider was doing for him, I uncovered five years of ‘not very much’ and that he was definitely being ripped off. He had no idea and thought they were looking after him. And I thought I was naive!
I provided him with a report of what they should be doing for him, and he took it to them. They promised to do all of that for him. I wished him all the best as I certainly wouldn’t have left my business with a company who had ripped me off for five years.
But he’s not the only one like that. Every week I hear stories of businesses which have spent thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing that has produced very little to no results.
With so many businesses having these experiences, is it any wonder that the collective perception of the industry is a negative one?
When I step back and look at this industry and consider who is trustworthy and who isn’t, the scales are very one-sided. It’s so unfortunate, but this is where we are.
It is not uncommon to see this kind of thing occurring when a shift in our world creates opportunities like the internet did for business. There’s always a period of massive growth when all types of traders enter the marketplace; good, average, and bad.
It hasn’t changed much over the centuries of doing business; however, what’s new for us is that we are now connecting through the internet not face to face as humans. Which makes the lack of trust and credibility even more of an issue.
So, this is the state of the industry, and small business owners are wary, jaded, and unimpressed. Is it any wonder why they take a long time to make a decision and try to ask for full guarantees upfront?
The kind-hearted part of me knows there is good in this industry. The optimist in me knows that there are ways for it to improve. And the innovative truth-seeking entrepreneur in me is determined to find an honest way to deliver an experience for customers that they can trust.
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