The great thing about being a copywriter — or a subcontractor/creative professional in general — is that we have a front row seat to the ebb and flow of our particular industries.
As we weave nimbly between clients, projects, and launches, we watch the trends, systems, and strategies come and go like seasons, and we watch the mighty rise… and the mighty fall.
So I’ll have right out with it:
Deep within my chosen industry (women’s empowerment/coaching/consulting/marketing/branding/the creative space), a massive change earthquake is underway.
With a jarring suddenness, the brand giants who rose to notoriety just a few short years ago are slowing down, stepping back, or crashing completely.
Millions-in-revenue programs and strategies that used to be gold standard “cash faucets” are drying up while their leaders and advocates are frantically digging for ways to restore the flow.
This is largely because, as one of my fellow writers so succinctly put it: my niche is marketing “on steroids”.
(It’s another part of the reason why you may not have spotted a trend like this in your industry yet.)
In my corner of the interwebs? The pool is smaller and the stakes are much, much higher.
Multiple similar programs launch simultaneously, and you’re constantly inundated with affiliate programs, opt-in gifts, funnels, Facebook group invites, ads, retargeting campaigns, webinars, challenges, master classes, and emails, emails, emails day in, day out.
I would know. I’ve written a lot of them.
And as an (unsurprising) result?
Consumers are getting wise much faster.
I should specify here: None of this is currently impacting me or my clients directly.
I’m not sharing it because it’s a secret, either. In fact, even colleagues and clients outside of the niche are watching it happen; utterly bewildered with cups of coffee in hand.
But it’s impacting a number of once-heavy-hitters in the space — industry giants who, coincidentally, are watching their businesses tank while continuing to teach business and branding to the unsuspecting masses.
It’s a running joke (among copywriters especially) that the biggest industry names are often the hottest messes on the back end… but I’m not sure it’s very funny anymore.
Even more worrying: These gigantic, nebulous “build your business online and brand and market yourself like a pro because that totally doesn’t take years to learn” programs are still being sold at high-ticket prices while their information hasn’t changed much from 2, 3, even 5 years ago.
And in a space that moves this quickly from one impactful strategy to the next?
That’s. Not. Good. Enough.
The people continuing to sell programs know this. Everyone who passed 9th grade Economics and learned about the law of diminishing returns knows this. Some just willfully ignore it.
We have to do better. We have to set an example. Especially if we claim to honestly give a damn about our “tribes”.
That’s why I’m writing this. As professionals in the space, it’s our duty to speak up, call stuff out, and discuss what’s not working anymore.
I’m also sharing this because my particular industry puts sales strategies and funnel tactic lifespans into fast motion — so if it’s not happening in your niche currently?
It may be soon… though hopefully at a slower, steadier pace than the current tidal wave of challenges facing marketers/brands/businesses where I hang out.
So: Whether you’re seeing it or not, I’ve collected a list of 8 observations I’ve made as this niche begins to crumble at its foundations.
Are you seeing it too? Catching it happening in different industries?
Let’s swap notes in the comments ❤!
Observation 1: Consumers are ever-more discerning, and it’s costing marketers BIG MONEY because they’re not paying attention, or don’t know how to react.
I’m just gonna come right out and say it: Traditional funnel formulas (looking at you, PLF) don’t work the way they used to, especially not in my niche.
Why? Because consumers in my industry now know what to look for — and how to avoid it. It’s that simple.
This may be why a number of world-famous programs in my space have had their revenue neatly cut in half year in, year out because of this, but still they plug, play, and cross fingers.
While I get it — these programs are not easy to make, and launching is exhausting— this is not enough anymore, largely due to the deluge. We all have ~50 email campaigns in our inboxes every day trying to grab our attention. We’re bored. And tired.
Observation 2: FB ads are about to change again. And this time? They may be way, way more expensive.
Rumors are spreading fast that the days of $1-$2 cost-per-click [CPC] leads are wrapping up, and we’re looking more to $8-$9 CPC. While it feels absurd… it’s something we should prepare for.
This also may be what’s currently crushing a few “million-dollar” brands/businesses who once used FB ad firehose tactics in the early days when it came to building their notoriety.
Because for better or worse? Facebook got wise even faster than our customers.
This is also just another sign that the #1 place to look for any related ads training is Facebook itself.
Of course there are a few experts you can still absolutely trust, but before you hand them your money, make sure they have deep, deep knowledge of how ads work in your industry, and have had a ton of recent success with businesses similar to yours.
Observation 3: People are wise to webinars.
Unless you’ve set a precedent of VALUE FIRST, that one webinar you’re cooking up to sell a $3,000 product probably won’t work.
Yeah, it sucks. But you know what sucks more?
Thinking people are dumb enough to purchase a high-ticket program, or work with you for a year after listening to you talk for an hour without offering anything tangible or actionable, and unsubtly make a hard pitch.
We have to realize our audiences are smart. Smarter than us, even.
(Personally I know my crew is smarter than me, and I hit the gas on my efforts accordingly.)
As marketers and leaders, we need to do more, and we need to do better.
Your tribe doesn’t need you rushing through slides so you can tell them all about *~*~* the program that will change your life *~*~*.
They need tangible results and a flurry of small-but-impressive-feeling wins.
This is why challenges/sprints/master classes are still effective, but that may soon be shifting too.
Observation 4: You can no longer rely so heavily on partner promotions to push you through to success.
Even newbies in the space can spot an affiliate marketing campaign from 100 paces in 2017. Are they still great to have? No doubt. But do not rely largely on them as a source of revenue if you can possibly avoid it.
These days, instead of just tossing a mention of a product into your casual Monday newsletter to mop up a few sales, you really have to dig into the story of why you support the product, and how you know that fellow human, before someone will even consider buying through your link (no matter how many bazillions of dollars in bonuses you have).
If it ain’t genuine? It’s gonna get glossed over, period. And you’re probably gonna lose some consumer/customer trust as a result.
Observation 5: People are more interested in access than aspiration — and you need to be in it for the long haul.
I’ll be honest: In my niche at least, consumers probably don’t want to know “the story” of how you went from homeless to seven gasprillion dollars a month for the 500th time anymore.
(Even if that’s true, it no longer feels sincere.)
Consumers don’t just want to be inspired. In fact they’re so damn over-inspired if you look closely you’ll notice they’ve got Hero’s Journey Facebook ads oozing out of their sweat glands.
Of course stories are great. Stories sell stuff. Stories will never die.
But overall? Consumers are way more interested in what you can help them DO. They want to get to know you better. They want your time and energy — even if you don’t have it to give.
So for every story you tell? You’ve gotta help them write their story too.
People are greedy when you have something they want. It’s the human thing to do — and it means they’re hungry for whatever value you have to give them.
So ask yourself: How are you serving up the brain food they need on the reg? How are you making them feel seen and heard?
This relationships-focused approach is a slower way to grow your business; it takes time to build up genuine, deep trust. But it results in a damn-near-unshakeable foundation.
Observation 6: THE RETURN OF THE SALES CALL.
Da da da daaaa! And you thought they were dead.
Well, not in the coaching industry. Discovery calls have been sealing the deal for high-end coaching packages for years, and for good reason.
People are too smart to “just trust” anymore. They need to see you. They need to talk it out.
That’s access baby. Give the people what they want. Especially if you’re selling a program that costs a few g’s.
Observation 7: The nature of email marketing is changing.
Make no mistake: Email marketing will likely always be useful and necessary, but I think its time as the go-to revenue generator for marketing campaigns is winding down…. only to ramp up again in 5–10 years or so, most likely (let’s hear it for the cyclical nature of marketing/fashion/everything in the world!).
It’s time to shift our understanding of emails beyond just sales opportunities. In this humble writer’s opinion, emails should serve as powerful long-term relationship-nourishing tools.
Emails are how you maintain attention, but a constant tap-tap-tapping on the door is required now before you sell a single thing.
The old methods to “make” someone open an email and purchase aren’t nearly as effective as the long game, and may not translate into consistent sales for much longer.
This also means brands, business owners, leaders, and marketers can no longer keep “phoning it in”. They absolutely need to make sure they’re constantly sharing value, observations, and concepts that are fresh and cutting-edge with their subscribers. No more laurel-sitting, fam.
Observation 8: They who do not invest in new tech are doomed.
Time to swap out funnels for bot copy y’all! WHO’S READY?
(Just kidding. Maybe. Bots may go the way of Google Plus, but in the interim? I’ll be eagerly watching clients and marketers play around with them.)
PSA: Paying close attention to how email systems evolve, along with bots and ads, is worth the study if you have the time. The key is likely the balance between the three, as opposed to one being a magic bullet.
We should be asking ourselves how, between emails, chats, and social posts/ads, can we create persuasive/productive/inspiring experiences, and systematize that?
Now you might be thinking: “Shit! Hillary! What do we do now?!”
And the answer is…
… I’m probably not the #1 authority to give you that info, honestly.
But here’s my opinion (I always have several to spare.):
1) Get the hell off the beach/vacation/spa table/retreat lounge chair andget back into your business god damnit.
I strongly believe that this current massive, terrifying shift is a result of “BUSINESS CAN BE SO EASY YAY LOOK HOW EASY” hype that was being fed to this specific sphere for so long.
People were told they could automate/outsource eeeverything and they could make All the Moneys In the World while on vacation in their villa in Italy without wifi.
So they stopped thinking. They stopped sweating. They stopped learning. And it’s starting to show.
You wanna make a difference and be a “changemaker” while you sell your stuff?
Show up — online and in person. Get back to work.
2) Focus more on value value value. Lay more groundwork. Do more footwork.
As in — run trainings that DON’T have a hard sell at the end.
Genuinely give a damn about your audience and help them with some small wins so they can see the bonus of a big investment. Train them to value you by valuing them.
Is there a short cut for that? No.
And maybe there shouldn’t be.
So keep in mind: Lead time, lead time, lead time on your next launch, guys!
Which brings me to another point:
3) Start listening to your consumers again (though hopefully you never stopped).
More and more brands have put their customers on mute, assuming what worked once is going to keep working forever. (Or they poll their audience to find out how to make money off them next, instead of listening carefully to what they really need.)
It’s way too common for business owners and marketers to see someone selling something we share expertise in and think:
“Oh that’s the ticket! I can do it better!”
But it can’t work that way.
Because people don’t need That Thing anymore, they already have it.
They need Your Thing. That thing only you specifically can offer.
And once they have Your Thing, and you’ve found out how to sell Your Thing?
Guess what? You have to keep going. You can’t stop.
I strongly believe this is why my current clientele continue to thrive the way they do. Because they never stop paying attention, coming up with new ideas, and serving, serving, serving (instead of just paying lip service).
4) Expect nothing to work the way it has before — and to prepare for that, talk to your people (this ties into the two prior points).
Spend time with your tribe — proper time, without trying to sell them something god damnit — and find out what they want.
Share with them, even if it takes up precious hours or days away from your Italian villa vacation.
Be serious about giving so your people will be serious about getting from you, because they feel:
- They have a personal relationship with you,
- You can be trusted.
Because once you’ve built mutual tribe love like that?
You stay agile enough to weather any earthquake your niche or market throws at you.
I can promise you that… because I’m watching it happen in real time.
To close this out, I want to stress: I am by no means a marketing prophet.
I don’t know how accurate these insights will sound a year from now.
I don’t know which capsizing brand cruise ships will find a way to right themselves, and which ones will sink beneath the waves completely.
But there’s one thing I do know: I’m not the only one catching this stuff.
… And those who don’t pay attention will likely perish.
Of course I’d love to know now: What are your thoughts on this trend? Are you seeing it too?
Dish it in the comments. Let’s talk — and let’s stay afloat together.
Photo by Andrew Amistad on Unsplash
8 thoughts on “8 observations from a crumbling niche — and how to avoid getting crushed.”
Great article, I like how honestly you have written it.
Yes agreed !
Thank you Hillary! This is what I needed to hear today for my own embryonic little entrepreneurial self. I’ve been observing the differences between the tribes I am inspired by to learn vs. the ones I used to fall for before, and felt like a jilted one night stand. I do see them now trying to be nicer/more giving, but you can feel they don’t want to, really…funny. Love you!
Yes! So much this. At least from the consumer side of things.
I want to buy from people that reply to my e-mails! That keep testing, tweaking & improving. People that engage with me.
I am doing my first (online) workshop soon and had 1 organic sign-up so far.
One person that somehow ran into my corner of the interwebs and decided it looked good enough to give me a shot. And I honestly had a tear in my eye after seeing the notification. I hope I never lose that feeling of gratitude (and pressure because omg now I really need to make it amazing!)
But the Facebook ads cost is bad news, since I want to run my first set of them next week…
Then again in my corner of the world (The Netherlands) we don’t have many online marketing giants. So as long as I keep a local focus it might still be decent.
Thank you so much for this! I’ve been seeing my own lack of attention manifest in the same ways – webinar replays pile up in my inbox, along with all the crappy “freebies” I hoped would help me to actually take action, daily emails and sales pitches I just delete and the ever-annoying clickbait email subject lines? Not clicking, or if I am – to unsubscribe!
Just like you said – it’s time to start thinking again!
Between this post and Laura Belgray’s email today, there’s definitely something in the water! Thanks for summing it up Hillary. And thank god for 1:1 online services – we don’t need half of this stuff to have fun, interesting businesses that get results for our clients and pay the bills.
O.M.G. yes yes yes. PLEASE yes, preach this message! I am a book coach who also runs a company with 22 book coaches working for and we offer a super human-centered, high-touch 100% customizable program to help writers ACTUALLY FINISH THEIR BOOKS (b/c they get actual emotional support and sustained intensive feedback from a real person who is invested in their success) and and I want to cry and scream and kick at all the programs in our space that offer the chance to, um, write a novel in 30 days (that one is coming up Nov 1) or write a bestseller guaranteed or sell 10,000 copies of a book or turn your blog posts into a book THOUSANDS of people want to read. It is so dismaying to watch people spend their money on those programs that have no chance of working EVER. I found you through @TaraGentile’s Medium post and I have seen your work before around and about but with this post, you made me a superfan. Thank you for this brilliance! I want every writer — EVERY WRITER — to hear this.
This is fascinating reading this in 2020 – I can see from the comments you wrote it in 2017, and people are STILL using these tired old formulas! PLF refuses to die, the 5-day challenges are still around (though some of them aren’t so bad), and quite honestly, I will only buy from someone I’ve followed for at least six months so I can see they walk the walk before I give them my money. The big trend now seems to be membership programs, but at least they’re a much lower financial commitment and it’s on the entrepreneur to deliver the value every month to stop me cancelling my payments…