A Tipping Point for the Digital Marketing Industry: From Caterpillar to Butterfly
Oxford dictionary defines a tipping point as: “The point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.”
Right now, we are experiencing a tipping point in SEO and digital marketing. Fueling it is a series of changes that have occurred due to COVID-19 and a pressing need for SEO expertise in every industry to stay relevant and survive online.
A digital world and the digital marketing that supports it are no longer revolutionary – they are evolutionary. And this will gain even more momentum going forward.
Let’s explore some of the factors leading to this digital marketing evolution.
A Permanent Shift to Working from Home
In April, I predicted that COVID-19 would create a permanent work-from-home economy in many sectors. Today, we are finding out that work-from-home (WFH) is becoming the new norm for many businesses.
For example, Twitter told its employees they could continue the WFH model indefinitely. Many other businesses are following suit because they’ve been able to prove working from home is successful.
In May, Gallup published the results of a poll that showed only 26% want to return to the workplace while 50% would rather continue working from home.
Even as some businesses adopt this new mindset, it presents certain challenges. While it might seem intuitive for tech and computer-based businesses to be able to adapt, it may not always be so.
There’s an ideal at Facebook embodied in the image of a group of young “hackers” gathered around a whiteboard inside a glass-walled conference room late in the evening, hammering out some new feature. How do you do that on Zoom—or in Facebook’s case, Bluejeans?
Digital marketing agencies may find a WFH shift harder, too — unless they hire the right people. If you read the article I wrote on the new WFH economy, you might remember some of the issues that I highlighted:
… the typical SEO company/agency scenario goes like this: After competing for seasoned pros in the local talent pool, you start hiring entry-level pros and interns.
Then you have the monumental task of training them, mentoring them and getting them up to par to work on accounts.
But this employee only lasts so long. Many new professionals want new roles with more money and better titles. Then comes the turnover, and the cycle begins again.
… many agencies are going to find that a workforce of entry-level professionals who need mentoring is going to fail in the current environment.
In our experience, seasoned pros fare much better in a remote situation. They don’t need the same level of guidance.
Of course, many SEO consultants and companies already had WFH teams — but not all. Right now, the industry is at a tipping point with how it will operate and best serve its clients.
Online Is the New “Ideal” Location for Businesses
More employees working from home means fewer occupied buildings and less foot traffic for the businesses that support them. City centers are likely to be most changed by this shift. Reports show that Times Square in NYC continues to be a ghost town.
We are facing a shift from the old adage of 'location, location, location' to 'What’s the URL?'
Nationwide Insurance said that the company would keep four major offices but exit all other locations because the WFH model is working.
CEO of Mondelez, Dirk Van De Put, said: “Maybe we don’t need all the offices that we currently have around the world.” And Morgan Stanley CEO, James Gorman, says they’re going to need much less real estate.
Finally, Barclays CEO said that “putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.”
Neighborhood businesses that serve WFH professionals will reign in this new economy. But all businesses will need to beef up their online presence to compete.
I wrote about this extensively in my article on how COVID-19 will change the way we live and search, where I said:
In a WFH economy, neighborhoods will be where people spend most of their time — grabbing lunch down the street or walking to their local coffee shop. …
If you want to survive in this new digital world, you have to be digitally connected to be found.
For local businesses, prepare for a future where fewer people drive past or walk by your store. Where the first touch point is a Google search. … For non-local businesses, think about the demands of this new WFH economy, how that will impact your offerings, and how you optimize. …
In this new world, search traffic is just as important as foot traffic.
In other words, we are facing a shift from the old adage of “location, location, location” to “What’s the URL?”
Marketing and SEO Learning Goes Virtual
A huge shift for the industry is obtaining the education people want and the marketing leads that vendors need from large marketing conferences. Without conferences, companies are instead taking that need online.
Major conferences have opted for virtual events in the midst of the pandemic (including SMX), and recent surveys show that marketers are unlikely to attend in-person events until at least the second half of 2021. Many wonder if online-only events will be the norm moving forward.
I previously outlined the benefits of virtual learning, including cost savings, time savings and more accessibility. But not all virtual learning will win in this new educational model.
Consider the fact that most virtual learning today is in a prerecorded format. Regular conference goers now lose out on personal interaction as they are cornered into a format with none whatsoever.
That’s why online courses will prevail. Online courses that are prerecorded, however, will eventually drown themselves out due to low quality and high maintenance. The reality is that even today’s completion rates for online courses rarely rise above 15 percent.
Why? It’s part distraction, part competing priorities and part learning style.
In order to succeed as a learning format, online courses need to provide teams with the same material within a specific time frame. This is so they can clarify ideas, share their understanding of the material, and discuss how it applies to their situation right away.
The ability to tweak the online curriculum for current events and update the courses to remain relevant makes the course much more valuable. This is essential in SEO as things change at lightning speed.
A huge benefit of live interactive learning (like in a classroom) is the time dedicated to answering questions. This makes the material relevant for everyone and offers personalized consulting for each student. In the digital format, this will need to be accomplished by “ask us anything”-type Q&A sessions virtually.
Agencies Are Back In Vogue
It’s been a trend for many years: companies are hiring their own in-house SEOs and scaling back on agency services. This was a natural evolution.
But then SEO teams got busy, and their continuing education and development fell by the wayside. I summed up the issue in my article on agency expertise:
You’re an in-house SEO professional who, after years of demonstrating your expertise, was promoted up the ranks to run the SEO department.
Now, in addition to overseeing strategy, you’re being pulled in a million different directions. On top of that, you’re tasked with building a great SEO team. One that is on par with your standards of SEO.
But corporate doesn’t allow for an entire team of SEO directors. So you hire people with a handful of years under their belt and a lot of potential. The problem is, things continue to get busier. It’s hard to develop staff and stay on top of projects.
And when things get tricky — for example, if you’re trying to solve a really complex SEO problem, or you’re facing uncharted territory (such as COVID-19) — you may find that your staff can take you only so far. And you’ve been out of the weeds for enough years that you realize your company needs some outside expertise.
In a world where companies face decreased staff or budgets but need to compete online more than ever, businesses are realizing that digital marketing agencies are the secret weapon.
All the circumstances I’ve outlined here lead to a new era when digital marketing displaces most traditional channels.
For those who don’t see this happening, as Gartner points out: “Failure to anticipate potential change to campaigns, promotions, event marketing, sponsorships and other marketing strategies will leave marketing teams in defense mode throughout the duration of the crisis.”
It’s clear to many that we are at a tipping point. And our time as digital marketers has come. The digital caterpillar has emerged. And it only gets better from here.
To discuss how we can support your digital marketing needs, request a free consultation here.