Traditional digital marketing is dead. Here’s what growth looks like in 2019.

Must be that pesky algorithm again.

Let’s face it, the digital marketing gold rush is over as we know it. The days of generating 18x ROI from your carefully curated Facebook ad set is a thing of the past and we are living in the new reality of digital advertising.

Some want to blame Russian political operatives for upending our most dependable social network and its ad platform. Others blame the ever elusive “algorithm” for changing without justification or notice. However, these are just pieces of the problematic pie.

If you need to blame someone, blame marketers. That’s because marketers have an innate ability to ruin things. Think about every useless (and many times, useful) advertisement you’ve seen on your IG feed in the past 12 months. Now consider all the website banners, pop ups and annoying mobile ads you’ve exed out of recently. Sprinkle in an uninvited “mid-roll” video ad in the middle of your YouTube experience and you see where I’m going. Users are fatigued. And given that Google and Facebook control the lion’s share of eyeballs on the internet, it’s easier than ever for brands to disseminate uninspired marketing messages with a few clicks of the mouse.

Around 2009–2010, there was a massive emergence of direct to consumer (DTC) brands — Warby Parker, Bonobos and many more. These were brands that defied the traditional retail and wholesale models and sold their products directly to people online. But how were you informed that you needed a new razor or period absorbing underwear? Digital advertising, of course. Maybe you saw a couple clever subway ads but chances are that you were inundated with ads every time you opened up your social app. The crazy thing is, it worked at first. And a lot of companies got rich. And their valuations ballooned. And more VCs saw the “whitespace”. And to justify further VC funding, these DTC brands continued to pump money into flooding the channels that had been driving ROI for them.

Despite the number of DTC companies growing exponentially, the number of advertising channels available were fairly static. You had Facebook/Instagram, Google Adwords/Youtube, and sometimes, maybe, possibly Pinterest. Brands, and subsequently agencies, started getting lazy with creative and becoming heavily reliant on the paid media genie to work its magic. This led to everyone jamming the same channels to maximize their return on their investment. A cursory understanding of supply vs. demand would explain why that’s not sustainable. In the marketing world, this is knows as the “Law of Sh*tty Clickthroughs”.

Eventually, the well ran dry. CPMs became untenable, cart abandonment rates surged and users started to being less responsive to traditional remarketing tactics.

In 2019, we’re dealing with a radically different paid media climate. As an agency that specializes in growing DTC brands, we’re educating and reinventing the growth model for our clients by reallocating paid media dollars to other areas. I’ve identified three areas that DTC brands need to cultivate in order to drive sustainable growth moving forward. Let’s get into it.

  1. Create value for your community

Your products are just the starting point for the long term relationship you need to have with your customers. As a matter of fact, these aren’t even your customers — they are your tribe. The next step is building an ecosystem around those products to promote better usage, more engagement and customer love. Think about why Apple hosts “Photo Walks” in certain communities — to foster more understanding, inspiration and love around their core product: the iPhone.

DTC brands know they have to exist outside the internet but often get confused on the how. Activations, pop-up retail experiences and meet-ups are a great place to start and learn more about the needs of your tribe. Make sure you’re providing value by creating an ecosystem around your product and showing your users more ways it can enrich their lives. Create with one question in mind: How can you drive more customer love?

Here’s an example of a value-driven activation by one of our favorite DTC sneaker brands, Greats: https://www.instagram.com/p/Byc46nzFlCx/

2. Design brand rich experiences for your audience

Investing in brand is always an eternal question for DTC brands. Many early stage ones resist the idea of spending on something without measurable ROI, while others will build billion dollar luggage companies off brand alone.

In 2019, brand is the one thing you can control which can’t be affected by the duopoly of Facebook and Google. But it requires you to invest, plan and get creative. As customers become more savvy, they are looking for brands that connect to their value system and worldview. It’s not solely about price anymore. That’s why certain mattress-in-a-box companies are able to charge $490 for a Full size (Casper) while others charge $345 for a similar product (Allswell).

The good thing about brand experiences is that they can be created both on and offline. Everlane’s Renew experience is an informative, visually dynamic customer journey which promotes ultra-transparency and ethical manufacturing around their capsule. Zola’s recent takeover in SF — masterminded by our good friend Philip Pirkovic — was an example of an offline brand experience which managed to promote equality, creativity and customer joy at the same time.

Regardless of how big you want to go, thoughtful investments in brand will attract the customers who share similar values and emotions and you won’t have to convince them about your awesomeness through a Youtube banner ad.

3. Focus on trust building in every interaction

Building a brand off of shock value or deep discounts is unscalable and unsustainable for any type of long term growth. Andrew Davis has one of my all-time favorite quotes about building trust:

“Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.”

As trust has eroded in the platforms we use every day (Facebook, Youtube, etc), it’s even more important for brands to double down on extending it to their tribe. Transparency around your production methods, sourcing and pricing is the minimum place to start. When looking to build a tribe online, it’s these small things that compound and lead to having an actual relationship with your customers. It won’t happen overnight, but it will pay off.

The truth about trust building is that you’re always going to have to go that extra mile to execute it. That means, investing more in content production, hiring the right storytellers and all the other costs that come up with transparency. However, in a world where a President tells more lies than truths and Ali Express has turned everyone into a e-commerce company, trust is currency. Invest wisely.

Like what you just read? Clap it up to help others see this post and apply it in their own lives!

Questions about marketing, sneakers, real estate investing or anything in between? Feel free to reach out to me on Instagram.

The oldest son of an immigrant. | CEO @ Green Room Creative. Investor, hustler, speaker. Connect: @anihustles