Iterative Marketing Podcast Episode 17: Marketing Have and Have-Nots

In the good ‘ol days of Internet and social media marketing, low-budget marketers could play on an even playing field with big brand budgets — the Goliath’s. Today, that gap is ever-growing between the marketers with the haves and the have-nots. This podcast explores four key changes that contributed to the power shift — and how David can still beat Goliath.

Episode Show Notes

Introduction to Iterative Marketing

(0:00 – 4:04) Introduction to Iterative Marketing Podcast: Welcome to the Iterative Marketing Podcast, where, each week, hosts Steve Robinson and Elizabeth Earin provide marketers and entrepreneurs with actionable ideas, techniques, and examples to improve marketing results. 

The topic of this episode is the growing gap in the digital marketing space between entities with means, referred to as the “haves,” and those without, called the “have-nots.”

The resources discussed on the show can be found at, which includes a blog and a LinkedIn group for community interaction.

The Evolution of Digital Marketing

(4:04 – 6:44) The History: In the late 1990s, the advent of the internet revolutionized the marketing landscape. It offered a democratic platform where anyone, irrespective of their resources or stature, could attract and engage a significant audience. All it took was a blog and a bit of audience attraction. This was a game-changer for businesses that had traditionally relied on mass media for audience building.

This era of equality extended to the early days of social media as well. The chronological order of posts and the equal representation of brands and individuals made it possible for anyone to cultivate a thriving social media following. This opportunity to build a community was a beacon for entities of all sizes, allowing them to compete on an equal footing.

The same level of fairness was evident in paid advertising too. Regardless of the size of their advertising budget, advertisers could achieve similar targeting capabilities through platforms like, Google AdWords, and AdRoll. This era, stretching from 2001 to 2014 for digital advertising and 2007 to 2013 for social media, witnessed a competition based on skill and mastery of the available tools rather than budget size. It was a time when underdogs could compete effectively with giants, making it a golden age in digital marketing.

(6:44 – 7:36)  The Shift in Digital Marketing Landscape: The digital marketing landscape has evolved significantly, shifting from a level playing field to one favoring larger entities. This transformation was primarily influenced by four factors: the surge in online content, the introduction of social media algorithms, advancements in digital media and targeting, and the advent of big data. These changes have made it increasingly challenging for smaller entities to compete with larger, more resource-rich brands.

Factors Transforming Digital Marketing

(7:36 – 10:32) Content Shock: In the early days of the internet, few brands utilized content marketing, allowing those who did to dominate their respective niches. However, with the surge in content creation, almost every brand today has adopted a content marketing strategy, leading to a phenomenon known as “content shock.”

This proliferation of content has raised the bar for quality. Brands must now invest more time, money, and resources to create high-quality content that stands out amidst the noise. This includes higher production value, in-depth research, and engaging infographics. This shift has made it particularly challenging for brands without extensive resources to compete effectively in this saturated landscape. As a result, the digital marketing landscape is now more competitive than ever, demanding more from brands to rise above the noise.

(10:32 – 12:52) Rise of Social Media Algorithms: Social media platforms transitioned from chronological to algorithmic timelines to handle the influx of brand-produced content and implement a revenue model. This shift has increased the difficulty for brands to organically build a following, as the algorithm prioritizes content it deems interesting to the user, often favoring personal content over brand content. As a result, brands now have to pay to ensure their content reaches their audience, posing a challenge for those with limited budgets. The situation calls for brands to balance creating engaging content and investing in paid promotions.

(12:52 – 17:33) Advancements in Digital Media and Targeting: The third revolution in the digital marketing landscape revolves around the evolution of media access, specifically, reach and targeting. In the early days of ad networks and exchanges, which started in the late 90s and early 2000s, all advertisers were granted the same access to ad spaces. Ad networks, which aggregated ad space from publishers to sell to advertisers, and ad exchanges, which evolved from ad networks in the late 2000s to create a virtual marketplace for ad inventory through real-time bidding, gave all marketers an equal opportunity to purchase ad space.

This equality, however, took a hit with the advent of private ad exchanges. These exchanges offer premium inventory to brands and agencies willing to pay higher prices, resulting in more desirable ad spaces being taken up by those with larger budgets. This has established a system where premium inventory is sold first through private exchanges, leaving less desirable or remnant inventory for smaller advertisers.

The consequence of this evolution is a significant disparity between larger and smaller brands in the quality of their ad placements. In an attempt to counter decreasing ad rates, publishers sell their ad space through a hierarchical system, starting from direct sales at a premium, then to private exchanges, then public exchanges, niche ad networks, and finally to networks like Google AdWords.

Smaller brands often rely heavily on platforms like Google AdWords, which unfortunately offers the least desirable placements, leading to a lower quality of traffic and click-through rate. This shift in media access has essentially made it harder for smaller brands to compete with their larger counterparts in the digital advertising landscape.

(17:33 – 23:56) The Advent of Big Data: The fourth revolution in the digital marketing landscape is the emergence of big data, which is often touted as the new currency. This is mainly because data provides insights into audience preferences and behaviors that can be used to tailor marketing strategies. However, the effective use of data presents a challenge to smaller players in two main ways: volume and toolset.

  • Volume: Large brands often have significantly more traffic and, consequently, more data than smaller ones. This larger volume of data allows for quicker iterations during testing and more granular audience segmentation. Small businesses often struggle to identify significant segments within their limited data.
  • Toolset: The tools for analyzing and leveraging data effectively are often enterprise-class tools that come with a hefty price tag. To truly manipulate data for insights and use artificial intelligence effectively, businesses may need to invest in expensive business intelligence dashboards, data warehouses, and even data scientists.

The data we’re referring to can be divided into two categories: audience data and predictive data. 

  • Audience data, such as the data collected by Kraft through their recipe website, helps businesses understand their audience’s preferences and segment them accordingly. 
  • Predictive data, on the other hand, uses browsing patterns to predict who might be interested in a company’s products or services. 

Both of these types of data are often beyond the budget of small businesses, further widening the gap between them and larger enterprises.

Moreover, tools like Data Management Platforms (DMPs), which enhance the richness of first-party audience data, are usually priced beyond the reach of small and medium businesses (SMBs). Currently, there is a lack of affordable SMB equivalents to these tools, which exacerbates the problem.

(23:56 – 24:52) The Challenges in Change: The digital marketing landscape has been significantly reshaped by four key revolutions: content shock due to the explosive growth of online content, the introduction of social media algorithms, changes in media access and the role of paid media, and the rise of big data. These transformations have made it more challenging for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to compete with larger businesses, particularly as the tools and time needed to implement effective strategies can be costly. However, despite these obstacles, opportunities still exist for smaller businesses to succeed.

Charity Outreach

(24:52 – 25:43) Charity Break: Future Leaders of Our Community 

The Silver Lining for Smaller Brands in Digital Marketing

(25:43 – 27:25) Budget-Friendly Options: After journeying through the challenges of the modern digital marketing world, it’s time to look at the brighter side. Yes, there is indeed a silver lining that can help everyday brands to compete effectively with industry giants.

While big data and powerful tools may seem out of reach for smaller brands, the increasing accessibility of marketing automation platforms provides a ray of hope. Tools like Marketo, HubSpot, and Active Campaign, along with a free, open-source platform, Mautic, offer brands with modest budgets the power to manage their small data effectively. These tools allow for audience management and content personalization, making it possible for smaller brands to compete effectively in the digital marketing arena.

(27:25 – 33:04) Challenges Facing Brands in Using Marketing Tools: The use of marketing automation platforms has become increasingly popular in recent years, but many brands are still not using them to their full potential. Some enterprises have access to tools like Marketo and HubSpot but are only using them for basic tasks like sending email newsletters. This suggests a lack of understanding of the full capabilities of these platforms or a shortage of talent with the necessary expertise to utilize them effectively.

Even if a brand does find someone with expertise in marketing automation, they still face cultural challenges in implementing data-driven marketing. Marketing automation platforms require cross-functional collaboration to be truly effective, as they provide insights and data that can benefit not only marketing but also sales, customer service, and other departments. Therefore, getting everyone in the organization on board with data-driven marketing can be a difficult task.

Moreover, bureaucratic red tape within larger companies can also pose a challenge to implementing data-driven marketing. Smaller companies are often more agile and able to iterate quickly because they don’t have to go through as many layers of approval for decisions related to marketing efforts. In larger companies, there may be a lengthy approval process for every minor change, which can slow down the ability to pivot and iterate quickly.

Overall, these challenges make it difficult for brands to take full advantage of marketing tools and techniques. However, by overcoming these challenges, brands can gain a competitive advantage in the digital marketing space and reach their target audience more effectively.

(33:04 – 35:14) Ability To Be Nimble: One advantage that smaller brands have over larger brands is their ability to be nimble and quickly adapt to changes in the market. They can use marketing tools to their full effect and reach their target audience in a personalized manner. In contrast, larger brands are often built on legacy business models and have a complex distribution network that can hinder their ability to take control of their customer experience.

However, it’s important to note that not all big brands are doing this wrong. Some are leading the market by using big data from multiple sources to improve marketing and product design. For example, Amazon constantly improves its recommendation engines, taking hundreds of data points into account. Nordstrom uses deep social data from various sources, including its credit card and Fashion rewards program, to create personalized communication with its shoppers. Additionally, Nordstrom’s Innovation Lab develops and tests new products that merge the online and offline behaviors of shoppers, creating a more personalized experience for them.

Overall, these examples show that larger brands can also successfully adapt to changes in the market and take advantage of marketing tools to improve their customer experience. However, smaller brands still have the advantage of being more nimble and quickly adapting to changes, allowing them to compete with larger brands.

Join Us Next Time

(35:14 – 37:37Conclusion: In this episode, we discussed the current opportunity for smaller brands to outcompete larger organizations in the digital revolution. While big companies are still adapting to new technologies and figuring out their implications, smaller, more nimble brands can leverage accessible tools, deliver personalized experiences, and iterate faster. However, this window of opportunity is closing, so smaller brands are encouraged to enhance their skills now.

Have a great week and we’ll see you next time. This concludes this week’s episode. For notes and links to resources discussed on the show, sign up to the Brilliant Metrics newsletter.

Iterative Marketing is a part of the Brilliant Metrics organization. If you would like more information on the marketing services provided by the expert team at Brilliant Metrics, reach out today for a free discovery call.

The Iterative Marketing Podcast,  a production of Brilliant Metrics, ran from February 2016 to September 2017. Music by SeaStock Audio.

Learn more about Iterative Marketing and listen to other episodes on Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.

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