How to revamp your business digital marketing before new tech blocks it from your best customers

Digital Marketing

Shana Bull is a marketing educator and digital storyteller, working with wine, food, hospitality businesses, teaching classes on marketing, and freelance writing. Reach her with your questions about digital marketing at, @sharayray on Instagram or at

Read past columns:

Social media has become a mainstream way to connect with friends, family, and customers.

In fact, for many, social media has become the only way they connect. For marketers, however, social media presents some uncertainties, like hard-to-decipher algorithms, the spread of misinformation, and having to compete for attention.

Add to that the upcoming Apple iOS 14 update — which will make it easier for everyday iPhone users to opt out of having advertisers track them on their devices (you know, like that one time you thought about a weighted blanket and all of a sudden started seeing blankets plastered all over your Facebook and Instagram ads).

This means that marketers who rely on targeted user data to create ads based on online events will have a harder time making ads that target the right customers.

Geeking out: Many digital marketers have heard of the Facebook pixel, which tracks where users go online, but Facebook also tracks events (aka actions that happen on a particular website). For example, marketers can dive deep and track which ads get the most signups for a specific product, if someone signed up for an email list, and even if someone put a product in their cart on a website and never bought it.

They can see which ads sell the most products or get the most webinar signups—and consequently add more money to ads that do well and pause the ads that aren’t performing.

With Apple making it easier for users to opt out of this, it will be harder for marketers to see which ads their customers are responding to the most. This also means that ads might get more expensive for small businesses, because it will be harder for them to optimize the ads that get the most sales.

By the way, those who opt out will still see Facebook ads; there just might be fewer tailored to the individual’s specific interests.

Evolution of social media

Those who have been marketing on these platforms for a while have seen the evolution of images and videos taking over social media feeds, as well as organic growth on business pages slowing down. This is just a reminder that all that time spent growing your audience on social media doesn’t mean much if they are not actively engaged with your content.

Right now, social media advertising is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get in front of a hyper-targeted audience online, both to send them to your website to sell your product/service and to encourage engagement on your content. With all of these potential upcoming changes, Facebook may cause ads on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp to become more expensive for small businesses.

Don’t give up on digital marketing

Social networking has done some amazing things as well, including keeping people informed and raising money during disasters like the Wine Country fires each year.

But, there is more to digital marketing than just social media. Other forms of marketing can offer more control than you might have over your Facebook or Instagram pages—and yes, you can connect with customers on these other platforms similarly to a social networking site.

And if you are a small business owner or marketer who feels like their business is on hold due to the pandemic, here are some other forms of digital marketing every business should be paying attention to.

Think about email differently. Email marketing is a great way to keep your biggest fans updated on your latest promotions, new products/services, behind the scenes, and upcoming events.

But right now customers are inundated with promotional emails, according to Taylor Eason, Cork and Fork Digital Media. So think of ways to keep your audience engaged with emails (as opposed to solely using emails as billboards for promotions). Ask questions, conduct surveys, and have fun creating content for your email newsletters to keep your audience engaged.

Create lead generation for your website through landing pages (collecting signups for your email marketing). Provide something of value to your potential customers so they are willing to sign up for your newsletter.

For wineries or food producers, this could be a discount on shipping. For restaurants or caterers, this could be a recipe or an ecookbook for a dish on your menu. Or, if you want to get to know your customers, create a fun quiz on your website that will send them different promotions depending on their answers.

Incorporate SEO into your website by producing ongoing content creation through a blog. If you work with a local agency that specializes in SEO for the North Bay, you can create a plan to work specific keywords into your content creation so you drive more traffic to your website from people searching the web.

Engage on customer-review websites. Yup, Yelp is a great place to engage with customers. Read more in my NBBJ article on the subject: “13 tips Wine Country hospitality businesses can use to guard their online reputations.” Focus on making your Google listing as dynamic as possible.

Dive deeper into digital data. Social media insights, CRMs, and ecommerce tools have a great amount of data on your customers — and maybe small businesses don’t have a dedicated person doing anything with this information to help guide future marketing efforts.

Get up to speed with Google Data Studio or another analytics dashboard system you like. Rose Souders, CEO and founder of Santa Rosa digital marketing agency Potluck Consulting, agrees:

“Take a deeper look at Google Data Studio or another analytics dashboard system you like. You can't make smart decisions or improve your marketing if you don't know what's working and what's not. Tools like these can help you get both a bigger picture view of your marketing AND also help you zoom in on specific goals you're trying to achieve or things you're trying to better understand.”

Start advertising your hospitality business on Pinterest. This platform is not a social networking site; it is a visual search engine that people visit when they want some inspiration. You can target people looking for recipes, vacation ideas, wines, or even gift items like wine glasses.

Host more in-depth virtual events. Wineries can entertain their audience through wine tasting events, and restaurants or food producers can sell a kit for people to make at home and host a video call to teach them how to make it. Through Zoom, you can have everyone join the conversation (but as the host, you can and should mute everyone when appropriate), or try paying for the premium feature to host a webinar in which you can have panelists talk and guests listen.

Take out digital ads on local newspaper websites like the North Bay Business Journal or Sonoma Magazine to get in front of a local audience.

Social media marketing isn’t going anywhere, and brands should still focus on creating connections with their customers and advertisements on these platforms.

But if you are not leveraging other forms of digital marketing, you are missing out on a more well-rounded marketing strategy that can offer greater control. Well, as much as any business can control anything.

What 2020 — and our resilience during fire season — has taught us is that small business owners and marketers should create a second backup plan for their backup plan.

Digital Marketing

Shana Bull is a marketing educator and digital storyteller, working with wine, food, hospitality businesses, teaching classes on marketing, and freelance writing. Reach her with your questions about digital marketing at, @sharayray on Instagram or at

Read past columns:

Show Comment