How referral marketing can navigate around the adblocking problem

Nothing works like it used to, things that were free now cost lots of money, and things that were affordable no longer are. Such is the dilemma of a modern marketer.

The rise of ad blocking was a standout feature of 2015, a year which saw the release of Apple's iOS 9, the launch of the AdBlock browser on Android, and Adobe and PageFair forecast that it cost publishers up to $22 billon in lost ad revenue.

This is set against a backdrop of a number of challenges for publishers, including ever declining email open rates, the rise of ‘dark social’, paywalls on social networks reducing organic social to near zero, the trend towards delayed TV watching, Google’s continued assaults on the whole concept of SEO, banner blindness, paid search, affiliate costs...it goes on and on. Each of these, both individually and combined, makes it harder than ever to get marketing messages in front of a target audience.

For those who just can’t see beyond ‘interruption advertising’, the knee-jerk response is simply to shift ad spending to other media more impervious to ad blocking like pre-rolls on You-Tube and Facebook video and mobile newsfeed ads, paid product placement in TV and cinema, and advertorials that increasingly blur the distinction between editorial and ads. But there are better and more cost-effective solutions staring marketers in the face.

As Steve Ruble of Edelman said, the first solution to ad blocking is to double down on earned media, and clearly the best form of earned media imaginable is ‘positive word of mouth’ where your best customers tell their friends and colleagues just how great your product or service is.

First of all, I am making an assumption here that the product or service your company provides is great. If it is not, then perhaps you should first figure out how to make it great, as no amount of advertising or celebrity endorsement is going to make a shoddy product attractive. But assuming what you offer is really great, then why would your customers not want to tell their friends and family all about you?

When your customer sends a communication to their friend or colleague, it is significantly more likely to be opened and read than any communication sent by your brand. For example, our Buyapowa clients typically see emails sent by customers to friends getting opened up to 70% of the time, compared to average e-commerce open rates of only around 20%.

Forrester Research found over 70% of consumers trust brand recommendations from friends, but only 10% trust advertising, this gives you an idea of just how powerful this combination is. So not only are consumers more likely to see your message, they are more likely to trust it and act upon it. For these reasons, is it any surprise that our clients often see e-commerce conversion rates more than 17 times the industry average?

Now referral marketing itself is nothing new, I am the first to admit that. In fact it is one of the oldest forms of marketing and, long before anyone even dreamed of television, never mind the Internet, and all the interruption advertising opportunities that would bring, it was how our grandparents and great grandparents learned about great products.

But given that customers are now more connected than ever before, smart brands and retailers are using the latest generation of referral marketing software to engage and empower all of their customers to tell their friends and family just how good their products and services are. They are doing this by combining 'easy to use' sharing tools for all forms of social network, email and messaging along with accurate referral tracking and recording. By combining smart rewards and gamification they also incentivise customers to share and share again and because their customers are sharing with friends they are able to get around ad-blocking or any other of the inconveniences I mentioned above.

It is by adopting these new referral marketing technologies that brands and retailers like Ocado, Feelunique, O2, Amara and L'Oréal are building a scalable marketing channels based on the simple premise that the best marketing messages are the ones your best customers send directly to their friends and family.

If you are still addicted to interruption advertising, you can try the other solutions I mentioned above – but an altogether better solution lies in referral marketing.

If you would like to chat more about this, we would love to talk to you.

This article originally appeared in MarketingTech on 19th January 2016.

Image: Creative Commons Johan Rafael del Barrio

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