Marketing departments in companies have been known to be the ones that spend the most money. After all, it costs a lot of money to reach people, present your brand, show the benefits of your product, and consequently generate more sales. Although this is a possible path and the one that most companies follow, I can tell you with certainty that an organic marketing approach (see what it is), which uses zero or minimal paid advertising, is entirely viable.
Some of the world’s biggest brands are not built through advertising, but with other investments primarily related to audience and brand building, as we will see later on.
It is worth noting that not all brands can benefit from organic marketing, but only those that are interesting and/or have interesting products.
Let’s get started?
Brands that spend little or almost nothing on paid advertising
Apple, the world’s most valuable brand, spent only 0.7% of its revenue on advertising in 2015, when it increased its advertising spending by 50%. Since then, however, it has stopped reporting these expenses, but by market standards, they are extremely low. Competitor Samsung, which continues to report advertising spending, is the world’s fourth-largest advertiser and invested around $9.7 billion in advertising last year.
If you think Apple spends little, know that there are companies that spend nothing on advertising or only spend on ads after achieving significant market value. The most well-known among Zero-Cost Marketing companies is Elon Musk’s Tesla, which has a $0 budget for so-called paid marketing.
Tesla is not alone: Google, Meta (formerly Facebook), and Uber, among many others, have grown with organic marketing strategies.
In recent times, Airbnb’s new strategy has become very popular. The vacation rental site decided in 2019 to drastically reduce its investment in paid search (very common in the travel market), reduced its marketing budget as a whole, and began investing more in branding, PR, and SEO. As a result, the company reported record profits in the last quarter, with 80% of its traffic coming from direct traffic and five times more organic search traffic than paid search traffic. The company still invests in paid search, but timidly and to take advantage of low-hanging fruits.
The end of third-party cookies and the growing appeal of privacy
Another movement that drives organic marketing is the growth of privacy on the internet, ranging from the LGPD to the end of third-party cookies. People increasingly expect privacy regarding their personal data and behavior on the internet. An example of this is that iOS now asks which apps can or cannot track your use.
In addition, in 2024, Google Chrome will eliminate third-party cookies, which can currently capture a series of information that advertisers use to target, direct, and display ads. With the end of third-party cookies and consequently the lower effectiveness of ads, it will become more important to invest in branding, content, and organic marketing as a whole to differentiate oneself, or rely on increasingly ineffective and expensive media.
What is organic marketing?
Organic marketing is primarily a marketing philosophy that aims to spend as little as possible on advertising, while investing in product improvement and marketing actions that will make the brand more memorable. In other words, organic marketing uses specific techniques such as branding, PR, SEO, content marketing, user experience, guerrilla/viral marketing, word-of-mouth, etc.
Does this mean that ads should be abolished? Not exactly. Almost always, ads represent opportunities in the initial stage, but a company cannot become hostage to a platform like Google or Meta (formerly Facebook). In the philosophy of organic marketing, ads are accelerators of results, but not the basis of results or profitability.
The premise for organic marketing to work is that the company’s product needs to be interesting and valuable. Imagine, for example, a few years ago someone telling you that it’s no longer necessary to download pirated music in MP3 format because now there is a platform to listen to music online. Or, still some time ago, someone told you that there is a site where you can find anything. Or that taxis are a thing of the past and now it’s possible to order cars through an app.
All of this happened and these companies are Spotify, Google, and Uber, respectively. Although these companies advertise to some extent today, they do so mainly where organic marketing cannot reach: in spaces reserved for advertising, and to have global authority, it is important for brands to be present everywhere. However, the truth is that these companies grew with organic marketing, now have a huge audience, and many of them are selling ads.
As you can see, ads are a great business. But not for the advertiser. My advice is for companies to do as Google did: grow organically and, if possible, sell ads. It is extremely profitable!
Tesla and its Zero-Cost Paid Marketing Strategy
Tesla was not the first company to build electric cars, but it was the most successful. As if that were not enough, it went even further and became the world’s largest car company and one of the most beloved brands of all time. All of this with its famous $0 in paid-marketing. How is this possible? How true is this?
The first thing we can talk about is the large community of fans the brand has and how it is led by Elon Musk, who curiously is not the company’s founder and is actually the fourth CEO. Anyway, he is the face of Tesla, which had as early adopters tech-rich people looking for a car with status but also something that spoke a little about them.
Apple and the Cult of Steve Jobs
Any resemblance to Apple is no coincidence. The mobile giant also has a strong fan community and, for a long time, was led by its founder Steve Jobs. Just as Tesla doesn’t sell just cars, Apple doesn’t sell just phones and computers – it sells status.
It’s not true that Tesla literally has zero marketing costs, otherwise, it couldn’t even have a logo. But the truth is that the company spends practically no money on paid marketing (ads) and, instead of making its products known through mass advertising, directs its efforts to word-of-mouth and customer referrals, as well as the product itself, which is interesting and viral.
Tesla doesn’t market to its new customers, but to its current customers to bring others into the community.
Finally, it’s worth noting that content and PR are two important keys. Elon Musk has 115 million followers on Twitter (he actually bought the social network for a modest $44 billion), is a controversial personality, and is always in the news. If there’s someone who wants to be talked about, good or bad, it’s Musk. And his content is the engine for that.
Having a CEO who is a public figure gives the brand a face, a personality that the brand simply could not have without that figure. When brands cannot have their presidents as personalities, they invest in influencers, as is the case with Puma and Neymar.
Building audience: own the traffic, even when acquiring it
Recurring users are one of the most important metrics among technology companies because they measure how much that product or service adheres to its target audience. It is through recurring visits that more and more sales will be generated, thus reaching an average revenue per user.
This formula, to some extent, is widely disseminated in the world of startups, especially those that follow the SaaS (Software as a Service) model and work with product-led growth, which is marketing done from the product, with the expectation that the audience itself will promote it.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that any company that will survive in 10 years must be a technology company. The world is already dominated by technology companies, and those that are not yet in a slow or advanced process of digital transformation.
In the digital transformation process, building an audience for a brand is the best way to create a sustainable business in the long run. But what would the audience be?
What is an audience?
Audience is basically the people who stop to listen to what your brand has to say, participate in its community and try to bring more people to that group. It is by building an audience that Apple creates kilometer-long lines in its iPhone launches. As Icaro de Carvalho would say, “marketing is transforming seconds into minutes.”
In other words, the audience is those people who are continuously interacting with your brand, spending time on your website or other channels, and therefore recurrence is the watchword. As you can see, relying on search engine or social media traffic is basically renting someone else’s audience. And the owner profits.
But then the question arises: how to build an audience?
Using Organic Marketing to build your brand’s audience
If depending on search engine traffic, whether paid or organic, is the same as renting someone else’s audience, some might think it doesn’t make sense to invest in paid or organic search. In fact, the hole is deeper, and that’s where the tactical plan that will be executed within an organic marketing strategy comes in.
In fact, currently, search engines like Google and social networks like Instagram are the ones with the audience. The good news is that Google, not Instagram, will send traffic to your site, and that’s where the magic happens: by focusing on receiving qualified organic traffic, your challenge now is to retain the user so that he becomes a recurring user.
In this sense, Organic Marketing is very similar to Inbound Marketing, but the big difference is that the former has a clear goal of generating results depending on paid channels as little as possible. We can say that Organic Marketing uses resources from Inbound Marketing but is, above all, a different philosophy.
Direct traffic and branded searches: the major indicators of your audience size and market share
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most important disciplines within an Organic Marketing strategy, and we borrow some important insights from it. The first and most important is to understand that searches can be one of the most powerful ways to analyze the digital consumer, their consumption habits, and interests.
Airbnb, in reporting their Q3 2022 results, which shocked the world by demonstrating the effectiveness of reducing paid media costs, spoke about something very relevant: direct traffic represents 80% of their site’s visits. In other words, they are the owner of their audience because people search for them directly on their site. Therefore, direct traffic is an important indicator of your brand.
Through platforms like SimilarWeb, you can compare the direct traffic of your brand and your competitors. But there is a statistically validated approach, which is to measure the share of searches, or Share of Search, which is a predictive metric of market share that uses search data.
This is where the need to use what I call search intelligence comes in to build more assertive strategies.
Use search intelligence to understand your audience
Les Binet, the creator of Share of Search, is a respected marketing efficiency researcher who shook up the marketing world in 2020 by saying that the data available on Google Trends was much more valuable than research like Share of Voice (share of advertising spending) that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Search intelligence explores the keywords used in search engines, which are at the same time one of the most powerful sources of insights about the consumer, as well as one of the most neglected.
From search data, it is possible to predict market share, product and service demand, analyze complex markets, identify products that will be trends in the future, predict revenue, and even identify the probability of winning candidates in elections.
Here’s an example:
80/20 rule: 80% of efforts should be in brand building and 20% in performance
With this article, I don’t want to bring the apocalypse and say that all paid marketing will end. If we think about it, all marketing, whether paid or organic, involves investment. In digital marketing, which allows brands to own their own audience, as we have shown here, it is a much more profitable path to invest in brand building than in performance marketing.
Performance marketing has become very popular in recent years and basically consists of attracting traffic from people who are generally at the bottom of the funnel, as well as bringing a lot of relevant data from these users. The problem with this traffic is that it is highly competitive, making it easy for the advertiser’s margin to burn. Performance marketing sells, but it’s like a discount: giving too much discount ends any business.
My philosophy is that 80% of your marketing budget should focus on brand building, always with data-driven strategies. The other 20% should be spent on paid marketing or performance marketing, focusing on accelerating the results of organic marketing that actually takes time to bear fruit.
The interesting thing about all this is that, by using this approach, if you need to stop your performance marketing investment, your results won’t drop. The future of marketing is not paying for ads, building your audience, and not depending on third-party traffic.
How to start with Organic Marketing?
Organic Marketing starts with philosophy and then with marketing actions. According to Les Binet, on average, companies that have the most marketing efficiency invest 40% of their budget in performance and 60% in brand building.
My experience shows that retailers need to invest much more in performance to reach the bottom of the funnel, while industry, B2B, and brand owners in general should invest at least 60% to 80% in brand building, which is the focus of organic marketing – or even invest 100% in non-paid marketing.
Being quite transparent, today 80% of our marketing investment at Conversion is in brand building, while only 20% is in paid advertising. It is worth noting that even we, who propagate SEO and Organic Marketing, believe in surgically executed ads.
Here are the main investments we recommend:
- Content Marketing
- Strategic Advertising
- Community Storytelling
We could say that Organic Marketing is what the big media companies want to hide from you – but they themselves, when talking about their marketing budget, invest in organic and being their own media. In the past, during the time of newspapers and TV, it was practically impossible for a brand to own a significant audience.
But today, a company like Samsung has a site that globally generates over 1.4 billion visits. Although the Korean company is one of the world’s largest advertisers, 44.5% of its traffic comes from organic search and only 16.2% from paid search. In total, 24% of the traffic is paid – which doesn’t mean that Samsung follows the 80/20 rule, because cost is different from traffic.
Finally, I would like to reinforce that organic marketing is a philosophy that aims to bring qualified traffic and brand recognition without needing to spend on paid marketing. However, it is not necessarily cheaper or simpler. If it can be cheaper, it is unlikely to be simpler, as with each action you will challenge the status quo. Are you prepared?