In my opinion, few marketers understood just how big online marketing would become when it first started. Little thought was put into the formats; they simply mimicked the traditional format of print ads. The first-ever banner ad, launched in 1994 for AT&T was an epic success. It was new, exciting and colourful, so it generated 44% CTR. Banner ads flooded the Internet almost overnight. They drove results at the time, so no one questions whether the approach was right or wrong.
Over the next 20 years, banner ads became so common that users started getting fatigued with them. The term was later coined as ‘banner blindness.’ Millennials who were born into the digital world are now simply ‘wired’ to ignore banner ads. The current CTR of banner ads fell to about 0.1% (TheGuardian). According to Business Insider, you are more likely to get a full house playing poker today, than click a banner ad.
In search of a way to catch the user’s attention, marketers started questioning the default ‘push’ strategy of communicating the brand’s message to consumers. What most progressive marketers started realizing, is that it can be infinitely more scalable and cost effective to leverage ‘pull’ strategy. The pull strategy is a consumer-driven marketing strategy, when it is the user who searches for a product and discovers your company. Content marketing, one of the primary strategies that is associated with pull marketing, has been widely adopted. As many as 90% of B2C companies now use content marketing to some extent (CMI). Here are a few reasons why, unlike the push strategy, the pull strategy is here to stay.
It is no longer brands’ monologue. Consumers found their voice through social media.
Social media is one of the most powerful pull marketing channels for brands to connect to consumers because of the two-way communication that it enables. These days, it is hard to meet someone without a Facebook account -- in Q4 2014, it had close to 1.4 billion registered accounts (TechCrunch). According to a report made by GroupM and comSource, “74 percent of consumers use Facebook brand pages as the desired format for following a brand for future engagement.”(Search Engine Land). No wonder so many brands rushed to explore the social channel to connect with consumers. Last year, close to 80% of Fortune 500 brands had a corporate fan page on Facebook. Over 83% of Fortune 500 brands are now on Twitter (UMass).
It is not just about selling a certain product or service anymore; it’s about reaching a level of recognition and trust that will make your brand stand out from the rest. Because users are granted the power to engage with and share content, to a large extent, they control how well the brand’s content spreads across social networks. If users do not see value in the brand’s content, then the brand has a problem. No value means no interest and thus, no brand awareness. According to Forbes, the top reason for users trying new products they see in ads is brand recognition. With no brand awareness, it is hard to expect the sales lift.
Users want content, not ads
Content marketing is not just a hot buzzword, but rather a marketing necessity. Flashy ad banners with the words: “ORDER RIGHT NOW” annoy and repel potential customers, as they are deemed too pushy, and consequently, untrustworthy. According to an online ad survey conducted in 2012, 68% of consumers use the adjective ‘annoying’ to describe online ads. (TechCrunch). Content marketing, on the other hand, softly ‘suggests’ a certain product, by predisposing users to the brand. For example, you’re reading your Facebook newsfeed, and you see a cool quiz on “What type of sneakers fit your personality?” You complete the quiz, because as any human, you’re curious to know more about yourself. The results tell you that you have an awesome A-type personality and you are shown a picture of a nice pair of Z brand sneakers that happen to be a perfect match for your type. You now have an emotional connection with brand Z, because it cares about your individuality. Even if you don’t need sneakers at the moment, chances are that when you do, brand Z will be your first choice. The most crucial advantage of the pull strategy over the push strategy is the ability to connect with the user on an emotional level, through engaging, relatable and memorable content.
Users increasingly use search
Users are becoming more discerning. Today, most users search online before making a purchase. According to imFORZA, a shocking 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine. An experiment conducted by Groupon marketers showed that 60% of ‘direct’ traffic comes from organic search results (Search Engine Land). A study by Outbrain shows that search is the number one driver of traffic to content sites, beating social media by more than 300% (Search Engine Land).
Today’s users seek out information about services and products; they read reviews, ratings and do the research, so the push strategy becomes irrelevant. Maybe 20 years ago an advertisement was just about enough to convince a user to buy something. Today the realities have changed. In 2009, 47% of users trusted traditional advertising. In just two years, the numbers decreased by 24% (Nielsen). Today only 3% of users completely trust traditional ads (Forbes). Evidently, the credibility of advertisements is decreasing in a nearly geometric manner.
The trust in content marketing however, is rapidly growing. About 27,000,000 content pieces are shared every day (AOL and Nielsen). For example, a user is considering two restaurants to which to take his date and searches both online. He finds positive reviews only for the first restaurant and this convinces him that it is a great place with wonderful food and a romantic atmosphere. Our user will likely choose the first restaurant, because according to Newswire, 70% of users have complete trust in online reviews. The second restaurant will be crossed out, because our user won’t want to risk going to a place with an unknown reputation. Pulling users in with positive reviews is smarter than trying to force them to buy something with aggressive marketing campaigns. Users then believe that purchasing your product was their choice.
Engaging target audiences with value-adding content allows a brand to build a mutually beneficial relationship with an audience, rather than aggressively pushing a product at them. With content marketing changing the marketing landscape, the power shifts from brands to users. Increased use of social and search, and growing distrust in traditional advertising – all make pull strategy marketers the best bet in the coming years.