How Tonal is turning media landscape upheaval into opportunity  


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The acceleration in the media landscape’s shift toward mobile, streaming, and content consumption that’s not ad-supported has rocked digital marketing. Privacy enhancements are making things even more complicated. But all is not dark — the tremendous consumer appetite for digital channels just keeps growing, and that’s where smart marketers still have a place.

“The resulting landscape creates opportunities for digital marketers who deeply understand not only how to market their products and services, but also the technical workings of their specific channels, and how those can be harnessed to produce results for the business,” says Rob Webb, SVP of growth at Tonal, the smart home gym company that currently boasts Lebron James as spokesperson.

Not surprisingly, the COVID bump saw Tonal achieve extremely high growth since the pandemic began – 8X year over year. But to get there, Webb asserts, they relied heavily on their internal marketing analytics and forecasting abilities.

“Our team deeply understands the channels they work within,” he says, “and what’s capable within them, what we can do with external analytics, and how we can extract signal from noise and make sure we’re making good marketing decisions to put up good results for our business.”

Why marketers have to be technologists

Whether or not you have an AI and analytics team at your disposal, it’s vital to understand the AI and machine learning that are at play within the systems that you’re working with on a daily basis, and testing to see how you can tap into the machine learning algorithms used in the platforms and channels that you’re targeting. It’s even more important because the level of technical complexity in the world marketers work in these days is high and rising.

Marketers who truly understand how their business works, from who their consumers are to how they think about their product, but also the technical capabilities and limitations of platforms in their arsenal, can add immense value for businesses today who are trying to break through, Webb says.

“Whether you’re a digital marketer, a brand marketer, a product marketer, or a content

marketer, you should be pushing yourself to have a deep understanding of what the technical

capabilities of the tools and channels you manage are — and not relying on someone else to tell you,” he says. “Extract information and get advice, but you need that knowledge yourself, in your own head.”

The challenges and opportunities in the current media landscape

And here’s what smart marketers need to keep an eye out for in the rapidly moving media landscape. TV viewership is still the largest channel out there, but it’s collapsing quickly. While sports is a bright spot, the Tokyo Olympics were down 40% in prime-time TV viewers versus the Summer Olympics in Rio, and low viewership is expected in the Beijing Winter Olympics. It’s kicking off a cascade of make-goods for digital marketers looking for a place to put their dollars, with the traditional mega-brand target rating points (TRP) and gross rating points (GRP) model of measuring audience reach going strong, but still under strain. That spending is getting pushed into other channels that are measured in different ways.

“It’s complicated to navigate, but it’s also a huge opportunity for marketers who are willing to roll up their sleeves and push themselves to truly, deeply understand the mechanics of their channels and their internal analytics teams, marrying that information with the dynamics of their business,” Webb says.

Opportunity is especially available with platforms that have developed fairly robust advertising tools over the past two or three years, such as Reddit. This is especially important against the backdrop of growing subscription models which have disrupted the TV and streaming world with services like Hulu and YouTube Premium. That model is even moving now into podcasts, with Wondery, and it is inevitable that this continues, Webb says, and it’s something that digital marketers need to keep a sharp eye on.

“I don’t think subscription models are a blip,” he explains. “As a digital marketer thinking about what other properties we use that rely on the ad media model, which ones of those might actually flip into a subscription, non-ad-supported model — would Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so on? Why not? After everything that Facebook’s going through, I’m sure they’ve at least modeled it out.”

Another interesting trend Webb notes is with Google Shopping and how that impacts paid search. While it’s clear that Google is investing heavily in Google Shopping, it provides far less control for marketers.

“How to harness Google Shopping and get those rich results, but also extracting the data you need to send traffic, even just to the right landing page based on consumer behavior — that’s quite difficult,” Webb says. “We’re focusing on those two heavily right now.”

SEO itself is an ever-evolving landscape that marketers have always needed to stay on top of. But advancements in AI are accelerating and making Google’s algorithm increasingly more dynamic and sophisticated – and only serving up links to sites that can provide the value and quality experiences searchers are looking for. According to Ren Lacerda, Head of SEO at the digital auto shopping company CarMax, this moves SEO even more into product management.

“Marketers must dedicate time, technology, and effort in understanding and monitoring what Google believes their searchers want for all topics relevant to their business,” he says. “And this means expanding the scope of what unique value we can bring to Google searchers by designing, creating, and delivering top-quality experiences.”

Lacerda also points to advancements in NLP (natural language processing) and its impact on SEO. “As advancements in AI speed up exponentially in the next 5-10 years,” he explains, “if your SEO team is not following up on the advancements in NLP, you may be missing the train soon.”

The changes in privacy 2021 ushered in will only increase. Webb warns that we have to expect a convergence of privacy and consumer choice both continuing to escalate, while ad platform algorithms will get more sophisticated.

“There’s an interesting tension between those two, and frankly that’s where the mega-tech platforms are actually battling each other’s models with privacy enhancements and algorithms,” he says. “It’s the marketer’s job to figure out how they can tap into success for their own business while that drama unfolds in parallel.”

And while all these trends are important to integrate into your 2022 strategy, it’s essential to avoid the temptation of creating a siloed strategy for different digital marketing channels.

As Lacerda explains, “Consumers’ awareness and perception of their online experience tend to be seamless. Think about identifying passing-the-baton moments between all your channels. Identify synergies to explore and friction points to iron out, so that no matter where they jump in, the value you are bringing is always there, congruent and compatible, independent of the path consumers choose to explore the online universe.”

To learn more about the marketing and advertising trends on the rise, plus insight into how marketers can turn challenges into opportunities, strategies, and best practices, don’t miss this VB Live event!

Register for free here.

Attendees will learn:

  • The latest ad bidding strategies
  • Strategies to strengthen SEO in spite of Google’s most recent algorithm changes
  • How to amplify sales by leveraging shopping features on multiple platforms
  • The latest trends in D2C/DTC ecommerce


  • Gretchen Saegh-Fleming, Chief Commercial Officer, Hydrow
  • Rob Webb, SVP, Growth, Tonal
  • Ren Lacerda, Head of SEO, CarMax
  • Gal Bar, Co-Founder & CEO, yellowHEAD
  • Franco Folini (moderator), Digital Marketing Instructor, UC Berkeley Extension

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