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Adapt or Die: How to Thrive Amid Digital-Marketing Chaos The key is proactively adapting now and forever.

By Jeremy Knauff

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

triloks | Getty Images

When it comes to marketing, far too many entrepreneurs settle into a comfortable rut where they're doing the same thing and getting increasingly diminishing returns. This leads to less exposure and declining revenue. Often, this happens slowly over time, until it hits a crisis point where they finally realize they have to take massive action to get back on track.

Marketing is a constantly and rapidly evolving field, so as entrepreneurs, we need to keep up in order to remain competitive and profitable.

We have to adapt if we want to not only survive, but thrive.

Related: How You Should Be Evaluating Your Content Marketing Success

Facebook's devolution creates uncertainty

Facebook was once a dream come true for marketers, but if you asked those same people today, you'd get a very different answer.

Shortly after Facebook launched pages for brands, marketers jumped on board and learned that they could quickly build an audience of highly engaged fans who would see nearly everything they posted. It didn't take long before the social media juggernaut started ratcheting organic reach down.

Today, marketers are lucky if 1% of their audience ever sees their posts, forcing them to rely on paid ads to reach the audience they had already earned.

But Facebook's problems don't end with the death of organic reach. Even their advertising platform has become increasingly plagued with problems The company has chosen to replace most of its customer service staff with artificial intelligence, but the AI isn't quite ready for that yet.

Marketers, who were forced into running paid ads to make up for the loss of organic reach, are now facing a new and ridiculous challenge: Facebook's AI gets it so wrong so often that, despite completely complying with their terms of service, ads are rejected, pages and groups are deleted, and ad accounts are permanently shut down.

When this happens, there is no one to talk to and typically no way to appeal the decision. This has caused many marketers — even some who were once Facebook's most vocal advocates — to completely change their opinion on it being a viable marketing platform.

When you factor in all of this, along with Apple's not-so-quiet war with Facebook, the rocket-like growth trajectory of Clubhouse and recent lawsuits by the Department of Justice, it's easy to see why Facebook's once-dominant position is quickly slipping away. It's simply no longer the utopia it once was.

From a practical standpoint, we should never have relied so heavily on Facebook in the first place. Or any single channel, for that matter. As someone with deep roots in the search industry, I've seen firsthand the devastation caused by the overreliance on a single channel each time Google released a major update to their algorithm, but we'll discuss that in more depth shortly.

Customer data and relationships are critical

Facebook's arbitrary bans of pages, groups and ad accounts have made something abundantly clear to marketers, and it is this: It's foolish not to own your customer data. That's critical because it's how you maintain these relationships regardless of what else goes on with any particular channel. This has highlighted the importance of email marketing because, in addition to the ability to communicate with your customers literally any time you want, it also gives you the ability to export your data and take it to another platform.

Email marketing creates a different relationship with your customers than ads because if done right, can help to create a more personal relationship. The key here is for at least some of the emails to come from a person (or people) within your company rather than just from the company name. It's also important that these emails be written in a natural and engaging style.

Podcasts have continued to grow rapidly for this same reason. According to Steve Olsher, founder of Podcast Magazine, "As recently as 2006, only 22% of Americans had even heard of podcasting. Today, that stat has skyrocketed to 75%, and based on the industry's current trajectory, data indicates the number of podcast listeners will reach 160 million people by 2023. Despite the growing number of podcasters, I still see tremendous opportunity for marketers to leverage podcasts to grow their business."

There's something unique about the human voice that creates a much stronger connection when we hear someone speak compared to simply reading their words. Podcasting giants like Joe Rogan, Pat Flynn and Tim Ferris have built empires around this concept, but hundreds of thousands of other people have leveraged podcasts to grow their businesses, too.

Add to that the fact that most podcasts are unscripted so you're getting the host's and guest's true, authentic self, and you can easily see how podcasts help to build powerful relationships with your audience.

But Clubhouse has taken this concept to a new level. Emerging at the height of the pandemic when people everywhere were craving human connection, the app has enjoyed massive and consistent growth ever since its inception. This drop-in audio social media platform gives users the ability to have group conversations in real-time on a variety of topics, quickly creating strong relationships with industry peers, media contacts, partners and, most importantly, customers.

But the point isn't that we need to be using podcasts and Clubhouse, even though we do. The point is that regardless of the channel, we need to focus on building and nurturing authentic relationships with our audience, both because people expect it and because these platforms enable it.

Diversification of marketing is no longer optional

In 2012, I watched Google unleash their Penguin update with zero regard to collateral damage, crushing hundreds of thousands of small businesses in the process. While some marketers had admittedly used questionable link-building tactics, a great many were simply caught up as false positives in an overzealous attempt to combat what the search giant deemed to be unacceptable marketing practices.

As a result, these businesses were instantly made invisible because people couldn't find them on Google, which controlled a massive 66.2% of the U.S. search market at the time. To put this in perspective, I don't mean that they simply lost their ranking for particular keywords; I mean that they were completely removed from Google's index, so you couldn't find them even if you searched by the company name!

Countless businesses had to scrap their domain and start over from scratch, losing years of hard work and marketing dollars, and countless more were driven completely out of business because of Google's actions. And we've already talked about how Facebook has been playing the same kind of games with businesses for the last several years. But this issue is bigger than Facebook or Google.

Many businesses have found themselves scrambling to escape a bleak and desperate situation when their primary, or in some cases, only marketing channel was suddenly yanked out from under them, forcing them to completely start over.

I don't want you to misinterpret my intent here. I'm not saying that you shouldn't use Facebook or Google. Both can still play an important role in your marketing if properly utilized. What I'm saying is that you should not be overly reliant on any single channel.

Ideally, you should leverage a number of marketing channels together, both to maintain greater exposure and, more importantly, to protect you from the damage that comes when a platform dies off or shuts you down.

These channels could include:

  • Organic search
  • Paid search
  • Organic social
  • Paid social
  • Email marketing
  • Outbound sales
  • Print marketing
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Podcasting
  • Video marketing

The key is to utilize at least three channels not only to drive exposure, branding and sales for your company, but also to use those channels to create force multipliers. And then once you've established a solid position, begin implementing additional channels.

In other words, let's say you choose to implement organic search, paid social and email marketing. You might encourage your website visitors to subscribe to your email list, run paid ads on Facebook to drive visitors to your website and use your email marketing to drive engagement to your social channels and search for your company on Google.

These actions used together help grow your email list, while at the same time, the increased engagement on social media will boost social proof and organic reach, and the increased branded search will improve your overall organic ranking in search.

Related: Marketing Lessons I Learned From Fortune 500 Companies

When you diversify your marketing in this way, you reduce or eliminate the impact you could feel when faced with major changes in one channel, but you also make your marketing exponentially more effective. This creates a powerful snowball effect where the results are increasingly compounded over time. And results, after all, are the bottom line.

Jeremy Knauff

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor


Jeremy Knauff has become successful not because of brilliance, charm or a superpower, but rather because he’s always learning and refuses to give up. He is a speaker, author and founder of the digital marketing agency Spartan Media.

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