Help! I’m losing leads because of content blocking!

A few months ago I wrote a post following Apple’s iOS9 keynote. Specifically I wrote about the announcement that Apple would introduce content blockers to iOS9’s Safari. In short, content blocking is the ability for a user to use a plugin (which utilises a native API within iOS9) which blocks certain content & scripts from their browsing experience. It’s specific to Safari, and specific to iOS. That said, this is just an addition to something that has existed for years on desktop browsers for years, and I presume Android users have had this for a long time, too.

Apple describes the content blocking system as this:

The new Safari release brings Content Blocking Safari Extensions to iOS. Content Blocking gives your extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content.

Your app extension is responsible for supplying a JSON file to Safari. The JSON consists of an array of rules (triggers and actions) for blocking specified content. Safari converts the JSON to bytecode, which it applies efficiently to all resource loads without leaking information about the user’s browsing back to the app extension.

(via developer.apple.com)

In a professional capacity I wear many hats. Mostly technical, but I deal with marketing & growth teams a lot. Mainly in a b2b capacity, but there are also b2c, b2b->b2c and various other business models I talk to. I work for a software company providing software & services to those companies. Lately the conversation has turned to content blocking with a lot of companies. Many of whom have gone batshit crazy over this. So, I’ve decided to have an argument with everyone in growth hacking capacities that think Apple has fucked them.

With that in mind, let’s look at some usual agenda items levelled at content blocking from marketing departments:

iOS 9 blocks cookies! We can’t analyse our stuff!

Incorrect.

iOS9 does not inherently block anything. A user has to do some form of setup first. This setup is simple. It involves them downloading a content blocker from the App Store before telling Safari to use the rules it provides (the aforementioned JSON file). While it’s simple, it’s not inherent. It’s also simple to me and most others but it is not simple to the average user. Most users will glaze over when they see “content blocking” in an app’s description. This is never going to be as ubiquitous as Candy Crush.

All of my leads are anonymous!

Incorrect.

All of your leads are still there, doing stuff. If your leads with iOS9 are using content blockers, the chances are they’re doing the same on their desktops and any other device they use. Personally, I use Ghostery on my personal browser (Safari) but for work I don’t use any on my Chrome install. Even savvy users who might be leads of yours are probably accessing your site on a work machine, with work rules installed. The chances of an IT team wanting to support AdBlock, Ghostery or similar is slim-to-none.

So your leads are only anonymous if they’re savvy to this kind of thing and want to be anonymous, which might be the case if you’re selling software to nerds (I imagine marketers in Github have some issues to deal with…) but for most companies this just isn’t an issue. And where it might be an issue, it’s probably not that big. Less than 10% users are making active efforts to get rid of trackers.

Apple, Ghostery & others are killing digital marketing!

This is the biggest reason people get so passionate about it. Digital marketers or growth hacker types are up-in-arms because they believe their job is going to go away as a result of not being able to present to their board the impact they have on lead gen & sales.

And I get why they’d be scared. I mentioned most non-savvy users aren’t going to use this stuff. Most marketers I speak to don’t slot into the technically savvy/curious mould, so they don’t understand this technology & they fear it. Much like parents fear rock music and short skirts.

Let’s take a scenario: I’m in the market for a CRM. I search my best friend, Google, for some information on the best CRM for my business. I find a few blog posts & articles relevant to my interests. I whittle the search down to two or three vendors and decide to download some extra materials to digest on my commute home, or to present to my team internally. So I convert over to those sites. I’m now a lead in their systems.

However, I have Ghostery blocking everything. So, Google Analytics never caught me so I didn’t show up in your normal cohort reports. HubSpot doesn’t have an original source type for me because there’s no cookie associated to my form completion.

But I’m still in your system. I’m in your automated nurturing campaign because you got my email address. You can market to me.

So what did you lose? You lost some analytics. Okay, they might have been helpful (especially if my original source type was a PPC campaign), but your content still generated a lead that could become a customer. Because my original source type is screwed and I’m not in analytics, your job is to make sure I, as a lead, get to a good sales rep who uses a good sales engineer. Because as a marketer, you can kind of assume I’m technical. That might not necessarily always be true, but a lot of marketing is based on educated guessing, rather than raw facts.

As a user, what did I lose? Well, I lost the ability to share your articles with a click of a button on social channels. I gained my ability to remain anonymous to Facebook, LinkedIn & Twitter, though. I lost the ability to have dynamic content served from the marketing platform, but I likely wouldn’t have noticed it anyway (your dynamic content should be subtle). And I lost the ability to fill in really short, snappy forms to convert or re-convert. That might get annoying if I re-convert, but savvy technical people actually rarely re-convert (again, educated guess on that one).

So no, content blocking isn’t murdering digital marketing. It’s just going to expose the weak marketers who get lost in a sea of not knowing what to do, or go on shouty rampages when their tracking software doesn’t work for them. This is as opposed to getting creative and actually targeting those savvy users with something. Look at the Guardian, for example. They present a message to ad-blocking users telling them that there are other ways to support their cause, like becoming a subscriber.

Dynamic content is a huge draw for us!

As mentioned above, this is where you lose some power. Marketers love having some power – and they lose it when they have to deal with users who actively block dynamic content. It just means being smart about what email is sent to a converted – but untracked – lead.

I recently spoke to a marketing agency owner who, himself, blocks trackers and uses false emails to convert on content. He downloads a lot of material from HubSpot and others using an alias so he never gets actively sold to. He then uses that content as a means to give advice to his customers.

Crummy way to do business, but it’s obviously working for him since he’s not homeless.

I made a point to him, though: how would you market to someone doing the same thing? He’s acting like a person who walks into a computer store and is actively rude to the staff to make them go away. They’re there to help and offer advice. Need to find something with specific specs, within some price threshold, or need something new that might not be on the shelves? Don’t be an ass… talk to the staff. That’s what marketing is in a digital age. Marketing is trying to helpful at best. Growth hackers who suck change the colours of buttons, but good ones find the right funnel to enter leads into. To offer them what they need.

My second point was that if he had allowed a sales rep to talk to them, he wouldn’t be sold at. A sales rep these days isn’t a second-hand car sales douche. A proper sales rep in a proper company is there to offer advice, and you know what? They’ll stop talking to you and mark you as not ready to buy if that’s your preference. They’re not going to hound you until you buy!

So, when a user actively blocks dynamic content; let them. But don’t assume the worst. They’re protecting themselves against a deluge of bullshit but if they convert into a lead, they’re interested. It just means they need to be handled with a different set of gloves.

I’m losing 20% of my leads!

Wildly incorrect.

Firstly, with content blocking and everything I mentioned above, you have no active way to measure the ‘fact’ that you’re losing 20% of your leads. Even napkin math can be wrong on this one.

Let’s use an example. You’re a SaaS company with a typical marketing funnel the feeds a typical sales funnel. Let’s say 1 year ago your September sales month brought in €100K in ARR (annual recurring revenue). You have a 30 day sales cycle, so your funnel was brought in from marketing activities primarily done for August, where you generated enough leads for 20 sales reps to hit a monthly quota of a little under €1000. That equated to about 50 leads per rep, with 20 of them being marked as MQLs (i.e. more likely to close).

Now, the business is seeking 50% YoY growth.

You now have 35 sales reps (because Q4 hiring isn’t done yet and some reps are on ramps, so not at full quota). In August you needed to generate around 150-200 leads for each sales rep (napkin math, the number here is huge and I’m ignoring the persistent leads that might already be worked by reps) to have a chance of hitting quota in September. So you pump out some solid content in May/June to get SEO traction for August, and you plan some really sweet offers to generate some MQL’s (marketing qualified leads). Yet you only manage to get 40 leads for each rep.

You’ve lost some traction compared to last year. And unless a higher percentage of those leads you generated are MQL’s, then your reps are unlikely to be able to fill their quota’s without cold calling or similar.

Let’s pause here. This example is fairly solid. Okay, the math is wrong but it’s early on Monday morning and I’m not using a calculator or normal reporting mechanisms! But, the example is fine. This is way beyond most folks. This is CMO level stuff, but in my mind a normal marketer should be worrying about sales quotas, MQLs and unique ways to top the funnel up when it’s needed (predicting a problem is how a business should operate because that allows for contingency to keep driving the growth plan). So already we’re beyond the capacity of most generalist marketeers or growth teams.

But, let’s imagine the person we’re talking to is savvy. I’ve had this conversation a few times. There is no realistic way to attribute that number drop to content blocking.

Typically if I dig a little deeper, the issue is wider than just content blockers. Because content blocking will block dynamic forms (blocking progressive profiling), people assume they block forms. They don’t. The default “name, email & what do you want” forms will appear. But a re-converting users will just see those fields again. In other words, you’re still completely capable of generating a lead from a content blocking user. The content blocker is just blocking the cookie tracking mechanism; not the form mechanism.

So, even if you could associate some analytics of your lead drop to content blockers, that graph would never say that content blockers in-and-of-themselves lead to a drop in lead generation.

The issue is likely the usual stuff you see with a SaaS business. The examples are things like no new markets to penetrate (going global), competitive landscape, your software hasn’t grown or diversified, you’re still targeting the one persona you did a year ago instead of targeting three or four of them, etc. etc.

In other words, iOS9’s content blocking isn’t screwing your marketing up. It’s just a convenient excuse.