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Marketing is broken: we need to go back to basics- Jono Alderson,Yoast

April 2, 2019

Written by Lucy Fuggle

“Today’s marketing is broken”, declared Jono Alderson in one of our most popular sessions of Turing Fest 2018.

“Most brand websites are a mess,” he added, while platforms like Facebook and Medium are sexy, sleek, and evolve to new technologies quickly. They’re “where consumers go to spend time rather than where they go to complete a task.” Apps like Facebook have the infrastructure to evolve fast and give their users unlimited content that’s tailored precisely to them. 

As marketers, we use ads to pull people away from their favourite platforms and towards our slower, more archaic brand websites. We can then retarget and nurture them with further advertising and email workflows. We’re assuming that interruption works. We’re hoping that the ads we’re paying more and more for will grab their attention. But our marketing model is becoming increasingly less effective. 


“Consumers don’t generally want to be pulled away from the experience that they’re having… and platforms don’t really want those consumers to leave either. Nothing quite fits in this economy.”

Jono Alderson has over a decade’s worth of insights from a career spanning roles as principal consultant at respected SEO agency Distilled, global head of digital and head of insight at SEO platform Linkdex, and head of SEO at award-winning agency twentysix. He now manages Special Projects at Yoast.

According to Jono, we can access a new – or maybe old – roadmap to help us move our marketing forward. It’s the strategy of the world’s most successful brands, many of which have resisted the trends and innovations of modern marketing. Businesses like P&G have a tried-and-tested recipe that they’ve always used. And it still works.

We’re thrilled to be welcoming Jono back to the Turing Fest stage this August. To tide you over before Jono’s return to the Grow track at Turing Fest 2019, here are some of the key marketing lessons from Jono’s 2018 session. Switch on your brain and get your pen at the ready: Jono’s insights will shake up what you think about marketing. 

Your new marketing paradigm:

Instead of interrupting consumers and hoaxing them into visiting our brand websites, we need to increasingly meet our consumers where they want to be spending time.

“Rather than paying for those clicks continually until we all die of boredom and old age, maybe there’s less friction in getting your content and your messaging into the platforms”, says Jono. “Here’s the good news: you can do that for free.” 

“Frameworks like AMP, Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News allow you to take your content and to plonk it straight into their environments in a way that removes all of the friction, in a way that sits nicely into their frameworks, in a way that is faster, and sleeker, and better, and prettier, and nicer than what you could probably achieve on your own website.”


Jono emphasises that as we move further towards distributed content, you’re not going to be able to sell in the same way. “You’re going to need a different type of content to build brand recognition and preference and familiarity.” Brands will need to cede control of their content in exchange for in-app discoverability.

Even if you choose not to follow the trend of native content and focus on optimising your own website instead, that’s going to get more and more expensive. Your audience may well diminish too, as more people see your competitors’ content outside of your field of vision. “Even if you choose not to play along with this, the world is changing”, says Jono.

“This is a revolution from an owned media model to a distributed content model.” “Nobody quite knows where this is going, but it’s a thing, and it’s established, and it’s picking up velocity. So you need to choose how and where you’re going to play.” 


As new platforms enter the landscape, it’s going to become even more challenging to keep up. But as Jono explained at Turing Fest 2018, there are ways to evolve and adapt.

Lessons for the future from Jono Alderson

1. You need to make your marketing agile

We don’t know what the future holds. With the vast number of new platforms in the future, we’ll need to make decisions on the fly, pivot, and prioritise in a matter of days, not weeks or months. We’ll need to choose where to invest and what trends to follow, says Jono.

Make an effort to practice making fast decisions. Allow your marketing to be more flexible. Rethink the way you’ve always done things. Let your tech stack change. Try small-scale tests. Give your strategy room to pivot.

2. Your website needs to be distinctly valuable

“What experience does your website offer that’s distinctly valuable? How can you get a user to remember your brand and type your website directly into a URL bar? What’s so valuable about what you do that makes people directly visit you instead of passively browsing content on their favourite platforms?”

Pushing people through your marketing funnel “doesn’t work in a world when nobody wants or needs to visit your website”, says Jono. Yes, conventional business logic says don’t build business equity on rented platforms – but if your audience isn’t visiting your website, and all there are are rented platforms, what do you do?

We need a new – or old – marketing model. “Your goal can never be to attract people to your website in the hope of converting a small percentage of that audience. At least not if you want to grow and reach new audiences.”

“You need to start investing in building brand equity in these rented platforms, to start to build equity in people’s minds, to move from selling to familiarity.” Doing this goes beyond our website and our content – it goes back to our brand, its stories, and its familiarity.


3. We need to learn from the world’s most successful brands

To move forward, the roles of a company’s content, brand, and website need to shift away from conversion and towards positively influencing brand preference and recall. To do this, Jono emphasises we can learn from the world’s biggest and most successful brands, including P&G.

“When you analyse P&G’s marketing, they look woefully unsophisticated. It’s like they’ve ignored the digital revolution”, says Jono. They tell stories – that’s their focus. And that’s not an accident.

“Their objective isn’t to sell, it’s to build brand preference and association. Their objective is to be known and loved by you, so that when you’re in the supermarket and see eight different competing bottles, you recognise and prefer theirs. All of their marketing is hugely sophisticated, it’s just done in a different way than we typically understand. It’s a different way of thinking.” 


4. You have to influence earlier

“If I need a new laptop”, says Jono, “six months ago I needed to have a positive experience with Dell.” 

“You can’t just wait until someone arrives on your website and try to sell to them. They’re not there, they’re not coming. You’ve got to do it beforehand. You’ve got to make them want to believe in you, to tell the stories, to engage with them way before they ever visit your website. If you wait until they visit your website, it’s too late.”

All of the world’s biggest and most successful brands have optimised for preference and recall and brand awareness, says Jono. “Because they know that at some point down the line, I will make a choice of which brand I want. And at that point they can win. It’s too late to wait.”

“They all think like this. They all market like this. They have all, always marketed like this.”

“As marketers, we need to create positive brand signals way before the point of purchasing intent, when you don’t even know these audiences are going to become potential consumers. You need to have created preference way, way back.” 


5. You have to guarantee your brand reaches the evaluation stage

“What happens when voice search and assistants cut out the consideration parts of the journey, the parts that we as marketers influence? What happens when systems choose which brand we want based on what they know about us?”

One of the things keeping Jono up at night is how voice search and assistants might change the marketing model as we know it.

Outsourced ownership is already a thing. Jono has exited the gas and electricity market with Flipper, which switches his service silently in the background based on the best deal. “You can no longer market to me in the gas and electricity market. The point where you could’ve is handled by a system.” His mortgage is also handled by a third-party service called Habito.


“Two industries I’ve exited in the last six months. How long until that covers insurance, and food, and one hundred other things? All of our tools fail. The funnel no longer exists.” 

Jono isn’t saying that all research processes will be replaced. “But you’re already in a filter bubble where systems like this choose which brands you don’t see. Google Maps is increasingly showing fewer and fewer closed businesses. If I search for a restaurant, it won’t show me one that isn’t open yet.”

Traditionally, if you don’t have the strongest product, you get around that with your ads, your website, and your content. But you can’t do that if machines don’t even show your product. “If you can’t get into the consideration set, you’ll never be seen.” You’ll fail. “You have to guarantee your brand at least reaches the evaluation stage”, says Jono.

So what do you do about it?

Systems will recommend brands to consumers based on:

  1. availability – is it open/nearby/valid? – easy data

  2. suitability – is it good/right/cheap? – does it look right?

  3. implied preference – does it align with what I understand of your preference?

After making sure you have a quality product that is accessible, you should focus on implied preference. “You need to positively influence the consideration set way before the consumer is at the point of purchase. Way before they express a need.”

“As marketers, we need to create positive brand signals way before the point of purchasing intent, when you don’t even know these audiences are going to become potential consumers. You need to have created the preference data way, way back.”

Brands observing this data can look at direct actions, network actions, and lookalike actions to anticipate who is likely to buy their product in the future. And, of course, this data will influence the brands that are surfaced as recommendations by voice search and assistants. 



6. You need to constantly develop your brand currency

“Brand currency is a score between me and a brand that’s affected by our interactions”, says Jono.

“Higher brand currency is higher brand recall, which is higher preference, which is higher propensity to be chosen by these systems. You get enough brand currency, you skip this process entirely. The systems goes, ‘obviously he loves Dell so much, we should never even bother to show him any other alternatives’.”

As Jono explains, you can build brand currency with three elements:

  1. Fulfilment: The service is available and is of appropriate quality

  2. Story: Messaging or elements of the service surprises and delights

  3. Experience: Brand interactions are deeply meaningful (e.g. answer Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). 



The three opportunities to generate brand currency:

  1. Brand marketing: Top of funnel messaging, distributed content, meaningful marketing. Opportunity to deliver an experience.

  2. Brand experience: Direct interactions (and sales!), network interactions, lookalike interactions. Opportunity to generate brand currency.

  3. Brand currency: Direct preference, implied preference, lookalike preference. Opportunity to be present in a consideration set.

Jono adds that this works nastily in reverse: “if you fail at these points, you lose brand currency and are less likely to move to the next step and be recommended by these systems.”


Jono says to “imagine if the whole of Google’s search was based on brand currency and reputation.” That’s where the future is heading. You’ve got to earn your brand’s visibility.

“All brand interactions by anyone, everywhere affect brand currency.” That’s because of lookalike audiences, explains Jono. “Every piece of marketing you do or you don’t do – at everyone at any time anywhere – could be the thing that makes a difference between you showing up in someone else’s recommendations or not.”


Maybe it’s crazy. But then again, maybe it’s not that crazy. “It’s how these guys have always worked”, says Jono, pointing to a slide of logos of the world’s biggest brands.

“It’s how they market. It’s how they tell stories. They’ve always understood that their objective is to build brand currency with everyone.”

As digital marketers we’ve forgotten this, says Jono. “We’ve been so focused on the practical and tactical”; on our specific target audiences and funnels. 


Where are we heading next? Jono admits it’s hard to say…

7. But even if we don’t know where the future is heading, we do know that…

  • This is radical and challenging

  • Early adopters will win

  • Early adopters are already winning

  • Current models will fail

  • Brand (as woolly a term as it is) is everything

8. And practically, we need to…

  • Familiarise ourselves with the technologies that are changing the web

  • Consider how this is changing consumer expectations and behaviour

  • Prepare for a world where marketing will need to influence inferred preference

  • Start to optimise for experiences which fulfill a brand promise

  • Marketing is going to start looking different – but maybe it will look the same as it always has, especially for the world’s most memorable brands.

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