Missed that Train
By Eric Wittlake, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Want to take advantage of today’s hot new marketing opportunity? Sorry, you’ve already missed the boat.

The best opportunity goes to the marketers who identify it well before it’s hot, not the ones who join at the frothy peak. You won’t see those initial eye-popping results today.

This trend has played out time and time again.

The first online banner ad, for AT&T, 44% click rate. Today’s average click rate for an ad the same size (468×60) rounds off to a nice even 0.0%! The only 44% you are likely to find in today’s banner discussion is the percentage of people with an ad blocker installed.

In 1978, Gary Thuerk sent the first unsolicited email to a whopping 400 people. The result? He successfully drove attendance to two in-person events and ultimately closed more than $10 million in sales. Today’s unsolicited marketing email to 400 people wouldn’t be expected to get a single webinar attendee!

Over the last 16 months, organic reach of brand posts on Facebook dropped from 26% to just 7.8%. That’s 70% shaved from the results of your Facebook efforts just for getting started 16 months later!

The story is the always the same. Twitter. Online video. Google AdWords. Blogging. Infographics. Native Ads. The marketers who get in early are the ones with the headline-making results.

Find Your Opportunities

What can we learn from these and other early adopters who captured outsized returns?

  • Innovate. AT&T took advantage of a brand new type of opportunity on HotWired. More recently, SAP was the first marketer to join the Forbes BrandVoice program and they are continuing to see some of the best results today.
  • Know the trend setters and early adopters in your market. Just like Gary’s first email blast, Pinterest delivered astounding results for early adopters. Often the best opportunities are right in front of you—you just need to see them through a marketing lens.
  • Be different. Did you already miss the best opportunity? Whatever you do, don’t just follow the masses! The unexpected nature of something completely new breaks through the filters we have all established for marketing. For a bit of inspiration in a stodgy B2B space, look up Maersk on Facebook. Or if you prefer, consider Red Bull’s marketing.

The Lasting Advantages

The early mover advantage doesn’t end there. The benefits of starting early often continue long past the point a marketing activity becomes mainstream.

  • In social media, marketers that started early had a head start building an engaged audience.
  • In content marketing, early adopters learned how to connect with their audience effectively (and got a head start on SEO as well).
  • In online advertising, early movers found the hidden gems. Working with a B2B advertising client about 10 years ago, we helped a niche site create their online ad offering. They became one of our best performing advertising partners for years.

Do you want your share of the results that you always see in case studies but so rarely achieve? Then stop chasing the results other people are getting and start finding your own opportunities.

By the time something is broadly recognized as the next great opportunity, it’s really just table stakes.

Here are some of the areas I’m watching with a marketing, not just product and marketplace, lens:

  • The sharing economy.
  • The Internet of things.
  • The proliferation of inexpensive sensors.
  • The brand new insights, segmentation, personalization and (most importantly) services this information and connectivity enables.

Today, these are becoming things we market. Soon, some will likely become ways that we market as well.

Where do you see potentially uncharted and untapped opportunity for today’s innovative marketers?

Eric WittlakeEric Wittlake spends his days working with B2B marketers and shares his marketing views on his personal blog, B2B Digital Marketing. You can find him on Twitter (@wittlake) when he isn’t spending time with his three young boys.

Top photo credit: Leon Fishman via Flickr cc

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