The Slow (but Inevitable?) Decline of Digital Marketing


If you are a digital marketer, there are reasons to be worried. But if you use print, direct mail, and other physical marketing tactics, there’s reason to be optimistic.

In the early days of digital marketing–not so long ago it seems–a marketer could get away with just being an email expert. You could achieve success by running email campaigns against lists of purchased emails. Admittedly, that’s oversimplifying it but not by much. With a solid campaign, a good landing page, and a bunch of email addresses, you could produce results. Then rinse and repeat.

But then things started to get complicated.

It’s increasingly difficult to get the same level of results from email campaigns as it was in the glory old days of internet marketing. With the advent of advanced filtering by ISPs and email providers (think Google Promotions tab), the ever increasing number of emails being received every day, and the general trend of consumers being exposed to many different messages across many different channels on a daily basis, obtaining results through email alone is an uphill battle at best.

More Marketing Channels and More Marketing Tactics

Now, to really maximize marketing campaign results, digital marketers must consider, if not incorporate, many different channels and tactics when executing their campaign strategies.

  • Display advertising
  • Search advertising
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Social media content
  • Social media advertising
  • Remarketing on Google (not to mention more than a few other possible ad networks), Facebook, LinkedIn and/or Instagram
  • YouTube and/or Vimeo ads
  • Content marketing
  • Marketing automation
  • Programmatic marketing
  • Multiple things I probably missed…
  • Future tactics that I can’t imagine yet…

Of course, the right mix of these channels and tactics can be very effective. But achieving that mix is getting more complex as the number of options grows and therefore harder to achieve and, as a result, more expensive to get the same marketing ROI.

And it’s only going to get more challenging–and likely more expensive–due to a combination of some of those channels slowly but surely becoming less effective and the fact that more and more channels are increasingly required to generate results.

Audience Fragmentation

Google was the first panacea of advertising on the web. But Google search usage is declining as well as organic CTRs while no-click-searches are increasing (with phone seeing some significant declines in CTR and increases in no-click-searches). Google ad revenue continues to decline and it’s CPC pricing power is slowly eroding.

Why? Because usage is slowly fragmenting away from Google.

Take Amazon, for example. Amazon is increasingly the starting point for product searches. Nearly 90% of Amazon’s product views come from the company’s own product search and not from advertising, merchandising, or product aggregators.

Speaking of Amazon, voice assistants are another prime example of this overall trend. There are now over 1 billion devices with voice assistants. And it doesn’t look like voice assistant ads are going to be readily accepted by consumers.

And if you think social media is going to be the savior, you may want to think again.

Social media organic traffic is on the decline which means social media CPC is increasing. The average cost per click for Facebook ads in Q4 of 2018, regardless of placement, increased 36% year-over-year. Instagram CPCs rose 77%.

Consumer Privacy and Control

As huge data breaches continue to occur and social media company business models (think Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal) continue to rely on audience data, trends in privacy and consumer control will only continue to gain momentum. Which may make it increasingly difficult and expensive to segment and target going forward.

The EU led the way with the GDPR. Now California has the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). And the momentum is building for federal data privacy legislation.

And consumers are fully on board–88% of consumers do not think companies do enough to protect them, while 78% think the US government should adopt stricter privacy and security standards.

Then there’s the trend of consumer ad blocking.

As of early 2017, at least 309 million people (16% of the world’s 1.9 billion smartphone users) were blocking ads on the mobile web. And all that blocking is happening with one of the most important audiences–Millenials.

The bottom line is that trends indicate consumers will increasingly want more privacy, more control over their data, and more control over their internet experience.

Low Consumer Confidence in Online Advertising

According to a survey of 1,030 U.S. consumers conducted by Clutch, the least trustworthy advertising mediums are online (41%) and social media (38%). While advertising through traditional mediums is seen as the most trustworthy: 61% of consumers trust TV, print (58%), radio/podcast (45%), and out-of-home (42%).

Confidence is low and negative feelings are increasing. A survey conducted by Choozle, a Colorado-based programmatic platform, which polled 502 U.S. consumers for its 2018 Digital Advertising Trends Survey revealed that 43% of consumers reported having negative feelings about digital ads, compared to just 34% in a similar survey Choozle conducted in April 2017.

A Light at the End of the Marketing Tunnel?

We’re not arguing that digital shouldn’t be a part of your marketing mix. But as you can see, digital is increasingly facing challenges with consumers.

So what is a modern digital marketer to do? Well, the answer is potentially unintuitive–consider integrating print advertising in your marketing campaigns.

Consumers trust print advertising more than digital channels.

In one study, more than eight in 10 consumers trust print ads when making a purchasing decision. And another by MarkethingSherpa, 82% and 76% of consumers indicated that print ads (newspapers, magazines) and ads/catalogs received in the mail respectively were the most trusted channels when making a purchase decision. That’s 1st and 3rd of 13 channels with TV being 2nd at 80%.

Trust is obviously important but results–effectiveness–is even more important. And the science shows that print works.

Neuromarketing studies show that our brains process physical marketing in ways that make it clear that print advertising and direct mail marketing are highly effective, especially when combined with digital media.

And more than one consumer study has shown that print works.

For example, according to a Canada Post study–Connecting for Action–integrated campaigns that combine direct mail with digital media attract 39% more attention than campaigns that rely on a single medium.

Another example is from the IAB Cross-Media Ad Effectiveness Study which showed that print contributed the largest percentage point changes to all but one key advertising metric with a 90% confidence.

Direct mail is effective because “giving, receiving and handling tangible objects remain deep and intuitive parts of the human experience.” Not to mention, U.S. advertisers spend $167 per person on direct mail to earn $2,095 worth of goods sold which is a 1,300% return on investment. The response rate to direct mail is much higher at 3.7% compared to 2% for mobile, 1% for email, 1% for social media, and 0.2% for internet display.

Consumers continue to use paper coupons and at a higher rate each year. According to a recent study, 93% of people said they will use direct mail coupons in 2018 which is up 5% compared to 88% in 2017. And coupons have a high average response rate of 5.1% as reported by the DMA. This is nearly three times the average response rate of email, paid search, online display and social media combined.

And according to the USPS, although total mail volume has declined by 29.85% since 2006, that doesn’t mean direct mail marketing is declining. There are several reasons for the decline in mail volume (e.g., online bill pay) but ultimately, fewer pieces of direct mail in mailboxes is a good thing for marketers–less competition for attention. The average person only receives around 2 pieces of mail on a daily basis. Not to mention that the Data & Marketing Association (DMA) reports that 79% of consumers act on direct mail immediately, which is much higher than email’s 45%.

The point is clear–print and other forms of physical marketing works and if you aren’t integrating print with your digital and marketing automation campaigns, you’re likely missing out on the lift that the effectiveness of print can contribute to your campaigns.