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Social Media Marketing Is Costly and Far Less Effective Than It Once Was. Here’s What to Do Instead

Once upon a time, social media platforms were like jet fuel for consumer brands: You could pour a reasonable amount of money into a hypertargeted ad campaign and watch your revenue skyrocket. That moment has passed. 

The cost to acquire new customers on social media has risen dramatically: In the second quarter of 2021, the cost per thousand impressions on social platforms was up 41 percent compared with the same period the prior year. At the same time, new privacy laws and the launch of iOS14 in early 2021 (which clamped down on Facebook ad targeting) mean that it’s more challenging than ever to zero in on specific consumers. Not to mention these platforms may have reached a brand saturation point. It’s enough to make you wonder if you shouldn’t just skip social media marketing altogether. 

Increasingly that is what Michael Duda and Brent Vartan advise clients of Bullish, their New York City-based company that’s part venture capital firm, part ad agency, to do. 

Duda, 50, and Vartan, 45, argue that customers acquired through social media aren’t loyal anyway. They measure loyalty by looking at Net Promoter score, or how likely a customer is to recommend a brand, as well as the percentage of customers who make a repeat purchase within a year. Social media campaigns, they’ve found, rarely push those metrics high enough. “When it’s important to get low-cost customers,” says Vartan, “you’re not getting quality customers.”

Are you ready to ease up on social media marketing or even quit it altogether? Check out Duda’s and Vartan’s recommendations for alternative strategies for tapping your existing customers and attracting new ones. 

1. Lean in to email and direct mail.

These methods of communication are cost-effective and can result in easy loyalty if done right. With emails, the key is to both draw customers in and to give them something that will bring them back. Duda and Vartan say the right announcement can accomplish the former, and teasing a future product launch can do the latter. Make emails interactive by adding an element like a quiz to make the experience feel more personalized, Varta recommends. Doing so also allows you to gather more insight on a customer’s preferences and behaviors. “Start a dialogue with people about the next thing [you] can sell them,” he says.

Direct mail is an effective strategy to invite back a customer who hasn’t purchased in a while. Duda cites Function of Beauty, a personalized shampoo company Bullish invested in, as an example: The brand saw a 23 percent increase in returning customer sales after implementing a direct mail strategy. If a customer wasn’t a subscriber and hadn’t made a second purchase within six months, Function of Beauty would send them a mailer asking them to purchase again. In a world that is increasingly digital, a piece of mail can feel more thoughtful and personal. “Physical touch points are [a] sign of validation,” Duda says. 

2. Introduce a new product as a means of getting the attention of a new audience.

A new and innovative product or one that’s limited edition can attract an audience your business might not have otherwise had access to–without spending any money on ads. NomNom, a pet food brand that Bullish invested in and that is now a brand agency client, for example, launched a line of pet supplements in 2019. While NomNom’s pet food line was one of many on shelves at PetSmart, its supplements were one of few. So it gave the brand an opportunity to grab the attention of consumers concerned about health with a somewhat novel product. “It’s finding ways to show up in the natural consumer decision journey,” Vartan says. “And once we have that person, we bring them into the fold.” Doing so could be as simple as inviting new customers to learn more about the brand through an email that introduces your primary product. 

3. Strike a strategic partnership.

The benefits of partnerships, according to Duda and Vartan, are two-fold: They can organically grow all parties’ audiences without significant spending on advertising; and they can underscore your brand values in a way you can’t do alone. Duda points to the partnership between Hally Hair, a hair dye company Bullish invested in, and the Disney Pixar movie Turning Red, a coming-of-age story about a young girl grappling with her family history and identity. He calls it a “one plus one equals three” partnership.

“They’re not in the hair color business, they’re in the self-expression business,” says Duda of Hally Hair. “And Turning Red is such a great brand statement. … The brand values and the aura of what [the movie] stands for are absolutely in sync.” The partnership, which is still ongoing, involved Hally Hair releasing a special edition Code Red hair dye inspired by Mei Lee, the protagonist of Turning Red.