Silver Bullet Syndrome
Silver Bullet Syndrome

Silver Bullet Syndrome – the vain hope of digital marketing

My job as a freelance digital and social strategist means I get to work with a wide variety of clients in different industries with disparate KPIs. A lot of the time, client goals are focused on a single metric – like online sales, or brand awareness or offline sales (bricks and mortar retail) or even B2B marketing. Armed with a single metric to make a difference to the bottom line, some marketers get obsessed with the single solution – aka Silver Bullet Syndrome.

What is Silver Bullet Syndrome?

Silver Bullet Syndrome is the wishful thinking desire for a single fix-all, solution to digital marketers’ problems. It’s a vain hope that one platform, campaign, or comms piece can solve all the digital KPIs (usually the desire for more website traffic or more conversions like online sales). Unfortunately, in today’s complex social and digital marketing world, a single solution is very unlikely to deliver all the wishful outcomes projected onto it.

The symptoms

Let’s use a digital advertising content example. Say you’ve produced and posted a snappy little social video, which tells a great brand story and has got a lot of organic social traction (you’ve had a lot of views, likes, comments, shares, retweets etc).

You’re disappointed when – even though a lot of people have seen your posts with the video – less have watched the video until the end of it, and far less have clicked through to your website. Why? Maybe you haven’t run your video for long enough, in front of all the right audience segments.

And you’re further disappointed when – even once people have clicked through to your website, a very small percentage of them actually put your products in their shopping cart. Why? It could be that your website copy isn’t selling the product properly, or that your UX turns people off, or that the tone of your site comes across too heavy, or too retail, or both. Or it could be all these things – and more.

The point is that it’s not all down to your social video: everything has to be right. Yet still, you declare your ‘Silver Bullet’ video a failure – because it alone hasn’t transformed your website into the tornado of online sales you were hoping for.

We can apply this same scenario to any single social or digital advertising campaign. Your social ads are performing well according to social ad benchmarks, and people are actually clicking the ads and landing on your website – but the single campaign doesn’t deliver the thousands of sales hoped for. Why? The reality is a ‘Silver Bullet’ campaign just doesn’t exist.

The cure

Here’s the short answer: you have to consider your entire customer journey and acquisition program (including all the ways in) at all times. You need a 360-degree view covering everything you’re doing, and the more data and metrics you have on each part of the customer journey, the more likely you are to know why your visitors aren’t converting (i.e. where your bucket is leaking) and be able to fix it.

In other words, you need a whole belt of ‘Silver Bullets’! Here’s my top 5 of cures, which of course isn’t just one solution fits all! (If you have more, please add them in the comments):

  1. Google Analytics is your website’s best friend.
    Make sure you have Search Console enabled so you can see the interests and demographics of who’s landing. If sales are your focus, make sure you have Goals set up properly and eCommerce sites should be tagged properly with GA or your preferred tagging system. You should be able to quantify each stage of your sales funnel – and you’ll see whether returning visitors are converting at a much higher rate than new visitors (they usually are). One optimisation project I worked on recently showed that even though women 25-34 were clicking through from social ads more frequently, the ones buying the product were women 35-44. So the hoped-for ‘Silver Bullet’ of an ad appealing to all women was delivering varied results, pointing to the need for multiple ‘Silver Bullets’ – in the form of multiple landing pages, and/or a revision of the ad targeting to focus on the highest-converting demographic.
  2. Use landing pages.
    If you’re running targeted social or digital ads, you should have corresponding landing pages. Most of the reason that social ads work so well in terms of click-through rate is because the targeting is spot on, and your ad copy and imagery are appealing to the target. But what happens to those segmented visitors when they turn up on your site? Likely, they will be presented with generic information that will have very little targeted relevance to them. Your segmentation / brand story should start with the ad, then continue through to the landing page. Make sure there is continuity and relevance – then you’re likely to increase your conversion rate. This practice also applies to SEO. If your web page meta description is describing things that aren’t on your site, you’re going to get a higher bounce rate, which will signal to Google there’s a disconnect between what you say is there and what is actually on your site, and you’ll end up dropping down the search engine ranking position (i.e. where you appear in organic search will go down).
  3. Make it easy.
    When Facebook implemented Open Graph and the web exploded with Facebook sharing, their mantra was “frictionless sharing”. Take a long, hard look at your website user interface and user experience and be honest: Is it really easy to buy? How frictionless is your buying process? Your GA data will be able to give you key insights for transforming a low converting site, and give you pointers as to where people drop off. There are ways to A/B test shop pages too, and if you’re serious about upping your conversion rate, you should be running a test and learn to find your best converting layout.
  4. Track your results.
    All digital and social advertising offers website tracking via ad pixels – invisible pieces of code inserted on your site, to give you further insights into where your visitors go and what they buy. If you’re not implementing ad pixels, you’re only getting half the story.
  5. Give it time.
    Ad pixels can track online sales up to 180 days after your ads have finished. So you can track whether visitors have converted to customers a very long 6 months after your ads have run Sure, you may be after short-term sales, but many consumers take a long and circuitous route to buy your product. Your ad pixels will show you the effect of the “long tail” too.

There are many more cures for Silver Bullet Syndrome. What are some of your favourites?