May 22, 2019


In my latest podcast, I had the opportunity to talk with Ryan Deiss, founder and CEO of DigitalMarketer.  Ryan has long been an established leader in digital marketing, and I had a variety of questions to ask him:

  • How do you view the state of marketing in 2019, and how should agencies adapt to it?
  • How can we respond to clients with unrealistic expectations?
  • How has the traditional marketing funnel changed?
  • What are the three golden rules of digital marketing?

Current state of marketing

Digital marketing, Ryan tells me, has won.  In 2019, digital ad spending will outpace traditional ad spending for the first time in history.  One of the main consequences of this shift is that there is now far more competition in the digital marketing field.  Gone are the days when SEO was simple, email signup rates were high, and clicks were easy to get.  People have options now and ultimately will do business with the company they trust the most.  This requires that we invest considerable energy and dollars into branding in order to differentiate ourselves from the other players out there. 

This focus on branding affects agencies especially.  Clients often expect every dollar they give you to be directly accounted for, and every penny turned into a lead or sale.  As an agency, it's your responsibility to educate clients on the value of building a brand and show them how eventually that investment will lead to a lower overall cost per click, higher conversion rates, etc.  Making this point clear from the beginning of your relationship is essential to avoiding headaches down the road. 

Talking about this client relationship led directly into my next question for Ryan.  In today's world, businesses are bombarded with marketing 'gurus' making promises like immediate 10x returns—promises that any marketing professional knows are unrealistic.  How do we work with clients who have heard these sorts of numbers?

Clients and expectations

Ryan says that at DigitalMarketer, they're thrilled if they're generating 75% ROI in the first thirty days of an ad spend.  It's important to communicate realistic expectations like this to the client to inoculate them against the hype they may hear elsewhere.  Let them know that getting 10x ROI simply isn't how it works anymore.

What's equally as important, however, is choosing the right clients in the first place.  Starting out, you may need to take what you can get in order to gain traction in the industry, but eventually you want to be selective in choosing more sophisticated clients.  Ryan suggests asking up front what their 30-day average customer value is, and what their lifetime value is.  If they don't know, first sell them a short-term discovery project to figure out those numbers.  You shouldn't be building an ad campaign without knowing those stats anyway, and the designated shorter time period will allow you to get a sense of what the client is like before committing to a longer relationship.

Customer-centricity, Ryan tells me, doesn't simply mean making the customer happy.  It means being very intentional about getting the right customers and making them successful.  Successful customers—not merely happy ones—are the ones who will stay with you and refer others to you.  One of the most important things to learn, then, is the value in saying no to customers and clients who aren't a great fit.

Funnel vs. customer journey

 As Ryan puts it, the traditional funnel model in marketing is focused on the immediate conversion experience.  The multi-step funnel does still work, he says, but it's incomplete.  Conversion is no longer a singular experience driven by endless upselling.  Consumers aren't forced to put up with those tactics anymore, so they don't.

Now, the process requires more patience.  The timeline has expanded, and the various steps of the funnel are occurring in days or weeks instead of minutes.  Instead of going for the immediate sale after someone opts in, now you offer a free trial in the hopes that thirty days later, they'll convert.  Also, the customer journey no longer starts with that first opting in.  Instead, it starts with brand awareness.  Nor does it end at the moment of the sale: now we have to think about how to turn them into advocates and promoters, which requires making sure they have success with our product.

As mentioned before, branding is key.  Ryan doesn't see there being a lot of new marketing channels emerging in the coming years.  Google and Facebook still represent over 80% of total digital ad spending, and that's where the majority of your money should be going.  What will differentiate you from the competition is not your technological savvy—which everyone has—but your ability to craft great content.  Marketing, he says, is the articulation and the amplification of a value message.  Businesses used to get their advantage by focusing on the amplification piece of that formula.  Now that everyone is equally loud, though, the advantage goes to those who can best articulate their message.

On a similar note, Ryan considers it a better strategy to cover all the channels in a smaller universe, as opposed to being omnipresent in a single channel, like Facebook ads.  We have to follow our market around their digital life, be everywhere they are, or risk losing them to someone who is.

Ryan's three golden rules of digital marketing

  1. Define what you are selling by the customer you serve—not by your product or how you sell it.
  2. Clearly identify your use case.  You're not selling a product—you're selling a transformation from a less desirable 'before' state to a more desirable 'after' state.  Understand what those states are and how your customer leverages your product to get from one to the other.
  3. Know who your brand is.  Your brand is a character that knows what it believes, what it likes, and what it doesn't like.  It should always speak with a unified voice.  Also, know that your brand's character isn't a hero—it's a guide.