Marketing isn’t the same beast that it was ten, five, or even one year ago. In fact, it’s changed so radically since the invention of the Internet that traditional marketing and digital marketing have become two distinct disciplines, even though they both have the same goal.
Still, marketers everywhere feel similar pressures and pinches in their work. Stress is common, especially when you’re expected to major results in a short timespan. A marketer’s day has a lot of hurdles to jump, and they can be lined up one after another.
But some of those hurdles can feel more like mountains, especially since you have to get past them eventually. These five in particular are the biggest challenges for marketers this year.
1. Tracking and overcoming competition
If your industry is like most in the world, you have new competitors by the day. Part of that reason is that the US economy is still recovering to pre-recession levels with 13.2 million firms and establishments currently, according to US Census historical data. Plus, with hundreds of thousands of companies opening and closing every year, and only 33% of them surviving to 10 years, your competition probably changes every couple of months.
When you have such high levels of competition online, you’re dealing with an “attention economy,” an idea that treats people’s attention as a scarce commodity the same way the regular economy treats goods. The attention economy doesn’t grow all that much — in fact, it’s pretty steady. But the number of people competing for that attention grows by the day.
Even if you don’t buy into the attention economy, the principles behind it can give you a good background for taking on your competition.
- Your audience has a finite amount of attention.
- You have lots of competitors.
- How do you get your audience’s attention?
With that line of thinking, you’re at the perfect starting point to determine how you can edge out your competitors. You don’t have to climb mountains to out-do them — you just have to take attention away from them. You can do that with a number of different strategies, including expanding your own content marketing initiatives or creating landing pages optimized for different competitors’ names. But no matter what you do, just make sure it gets your audience’s attention.
Unlike the attention of television watchers or radio listeners, you don’t have to use current events or excitement to draw the attention of your online audience (though those can help). You can use a couple other ideas to take the fight to your competition.
Checking out your competition’s top-performing pages and creating similar content can give you a better foothold in SERPs for high-value keywords. You can also identify successful content ideas from your competition, but repurpose them into videos, interactives, audio, or other formats. Last, you can brainstorm to come up with unique ideas that can potentially draw a lot of traffic.
In terms of risk vs. returns, the safest and easiest bet is to check out the content that’s been successful for your competition (using tools like SEMrush or BuzzSumo) and add your own spin to the same ideas.
Repurposing content into different formats can potentially yield better returns in terms of traffic, but there’s also the chance that the content won’t transfer well and your creation will be a flop. And coming up with new ideas is inherently risky — even if you spend days working on a new piece of content, there’s no promise that it’ll perform well with your audience.
No matter how you choose your ideas, the important idea is to fully commit to your choice and stick with it. Focus all of your attention in that avenue to make it as successful as possible.
Like the Native American proverb says: If you chase two rabbits, you will lose both.
2. Cutting back
Similar to how you have to scrutinize your competition to stay relevant in your industry, you also have to scrutinize your own company to find areas of waste. This isn’t always easy, especially when you’re the person responsible for creating new marketing initiatives, but it has to be done for a company to fully succeed.
Waste is dangerous because of its obvious potential to bog down a company’s finances and reduce growth. Even though a $20 / month charge for a service doesn’t seem like much, it can add up over the course of your business’s lifetime — especially if you don’t get $20 worth out of your subscription.
Still, waste is a major issue in a lot of industries, particularly when there are other industries built on the premise of helping them. In SEO, for example, there are a lot of subscription services that offer data on a whole range of different topics, which makes a lot of sense — the more data you have, the more informed your SEO decisions will be. But that data has a cost, and subscribing to every service would require enough to send even the most successful SEO firms out of business.
If you have to figure out areas in your business to reduce or eliminate waste, you have a hard question to answer: Is every dollar you spend absolutely worth it?
One of the best ways to eliminate waste is to hire a third-party consultant who can come in and objectively strike expenditures that aren’t justifiable or viable. The downside to this method is that consultants cost a lot of money, and when you’re trying to cut back on costs, the last thing you want to do is spend more.
Aside from that, you can have your accounting department audit all of the other departments for monthly expenditures and justifications to see how much you’re spending and how much you’re getting back. The issue here is that it’s hard for people within a company to be objective about its spending. Plus, you run the risk of creating bad blood among your departments if accounting cuts a program that another department really wanted.
In a nutshell, you need to be honest about what you don’t need for your job and cut it. The problem is that “need” is subjective, so it’s important to have a keen eye for cost-cutting potential. If you don’t think you can be subjective about your spending (which is totally understandable), look for outside opinions. And if you’re in dire financial straits, it’s always better to cut non-essential expenditures before you cut personnel.
3. Working with a limited budget
Similar to cutting back on expenditures, many marketers are expected to work wonders for their companies on limited budgets. It’s hard enough to get attention and promote your company as it is — and when you’re on a shoestring, it makes everything way harder.
This problem is more prevalent in traditional marketing, where television ads and radio spots can quickly burn through your available budget. Digital marketing is comparatively much more affordable, though that doesn’t mean that marketers who work primarily online don’t feel the strain. Fortunately, recent trends show most companies are gradually increasing their digital marketing budgets while reducing their spend on traditional marketing — but your budget can still feel constraining.
With a small budget, it’s hard to find ways to increase your results when you don’t have much at your disposal. You’re pretty much limited to cutting spending in other areas of your department and reallocating it — but that always means you’ll be losing a product or service to get another one, which can easily land you back at square one.
Basically, when you’re working with a small budget, you have to make every dollar count — just like when you’re cutting costs. But it’s not hopeless. Low-budget marketing just takes some creativity.
One of the best solutions to low-budget marketing is content marketing, which involves creating content that targets certain keywords or concepts and can get you more recognition in your industry. You can research and create content entirely in-house, so you don’t have to worry about freelancer costs, subscription fees, or other expenditures that’ll nickel-and-dime you into oblivion. Plus, this strategy synergizes well with your initiatives to stay competitive in your industry since you can target keywords that your competitors use.
On top of that, you can use PPC campaigns to target high-value keywords if your site doesn’t have the SEO strength to break into organic search rankings. PPC platforms (like Google AdWords) let you set how much money you’re willing to spend for an ad, but you’ll only pay if someone clicks on it. That’s what makes it so cost-effective.
So even if you’re working with a super-thin budget, there are solutions that produce real results with low spend. Select channels with high ROI (like SEO and email marketing), and make your budget go as far as possible.
If you’re going to work in marketing, you need to have patience. And more than that, the people around you need to be patient, too.
Dealing with this is easier said than done, partly because it’s not always you who’ll be impatient. It could be your coworkers, other departments, or even your boss that keeps asking about results — even if it’s only been a day since they last asked.
With that in mind, impatience can be fatal for Internet marketing initiatives that need time to grow. SEO and content marketing are notorious for breeding impatience since they don’t show results until your site has been crawled and re-crawled several times. Even with Google, that can take a while.
If you ever find that you — or a decision-maker near you — are losing patience with a certain marketing initiative, you can try a few strategies to keep the initiative alive.
If you (or your boss) are a facts-and-stats person, the best way to cure impatience is to show the increasing ROI that comes with a lot of marketing strategies like SEO and content marketing.
Charts and graphs are especially helpful since most people are wired to understand graphics more quickly than words, and they include the vital stats that’ll show your marketing idea’s worth. If you don’t have records of previous marketing initiatives that paid off, check around for marketing data online — there are always people willing to share their success stories.
Another potential solution is to nip the problem in the bud by establishing an approximate timeframe at the beginning of your marketing strategies. You can always shoot for a little longer than you think you’ll need, which will give your strategies a little more wiggle room when they take a couple months to get off the ground.
Last, you can shift the focus of the impatience away from your marketing strategy and onto your competition. By looking into areas where your competition succeeded, you can convince yourself, your boss, or other decision-makers to stay the course or even ramp up a certain strategy depending on how successful your competition has been. That kind of approach is especially strong for digital marketing, which thrives on compounding ROI over time.
Competition is ramping up. You have to eliminate wasteful spending. You have a thin budget. And to top it off, time is working against you.
All of these factors combined make you (and every other marketer) a prime candidate for burnout. For those who have never actually felt burnt out before, it might be the most frustrating roadblock you can encounter in any kind of situation — work, relationships, and even personal habits. It’s the feeling that you just can’t do something anymore, and it takes a huge effort to do the smallest amount of work.
Burnout is dangerous for any job because of its potential to frustrate someone so much that they just get up and leave. And the chances are good that if you’ve been in marketing for a while, you’ve seen that happen first-hand. You may have even done it once or twice — no one could blame you either, it’s just how the job works sometimes.
Stress, outside pressure, sleep loss, and the desire to progress without knowing how contribute to burnout in their own ways, especially when they all happen at the same time. It can feel like getting caught in an emotional avalanche that makes it hard to get motivated to go to work, much less improve a marketing strategy.
Unfortunately, burnout is hard to counteract. It can come up seemingly out of nowhere, and if you’re not careful, it can catch you off-guard. To prevent that, you can keep these symptoms of burnout in mind:
- Persistent fatigue or exhaustion
- Caring about work is a major effort
- Feeling that your tasks are boring or overwhelming
- Feeling that nothing you do is appreciated
- Every day is a bad day
But even though burnout may feel hopeless, there’s light at the end of that tunnel. It just (ironically) takes a little effort.
Preventing burnout is a process, and it’s different for everyone. What works for you probably won’t work for your boss, and that probably won’t work for their boss either. Every person is different, and it’s up to you to find out what works and what doesn’t.
Still, there are a handful of helpful ideas that work for most people.
First is exercise. Physical activity, whether you’re playing football, yoga-cizing, or pumping iron, doesn’t just help your body — it helps your brain too. When you exercise regularly, you’re less likely to feel depressed and stressed long-term compared to people who don’t. Plus, you’ll probably feel more confident once you start to see the physical and health results of your work, which can help you work better under pressure.
Next, you can find a hobby or a creative outlet that occupies your time and provides a rewarding experience. And you don’t have to be an artist, either — motorheads, beer aficionados, woodworkers, stamp collectors, and model train enthusiasts can all find ways to make themselves feel satisfied after a day of work, even if their day job exhausted them.
It’s also important to get a good night’s sleep, meaning a deep REM sleep that helps you feel refreshed the next day. You don’t necessarily have to get the standard eight hours — that can be too much or too little, depending on who you are — but it’s important to find the amount of time that works for you and stick to it. Getting adequate sleep makes you sharper and happier, and it can even help you lose weight.
Last — and this one is a little weird — you can force yourself to smile. Socially, people smile when they’re happy, and forcing yourself to smile can actually make you happy. You don’t have to believe this one right now. But the next time you feel stressed, go to the bathroom mirror and make yourself smile for a couple seconds.
And if anyone asks, tell them they should do it too!
As a marketer, you always have a lot on your plate at one time. And in such a fast-paced, Internet-based industry, there’s always something more for you to do. Every time you start a new initiative, you have to follow up on it, and that just adds one more thing to your to-do list every day.
While that can feel exhausting, there are solutions everywhere. Researching your competition, getting objective opinions on cost-cutting initiatives, making your small budget work, shooting for long-term results, and managing your stress can help you overcome the five biggest problems facing marketers in 2015.
Do you have your own solutions to these problems? How do you rise up to challenges like these? Let me know in the comments!