4 Ways to Use Dark Marketing — And Why You Should

Jennifer Tomlinson and Alon Leibovich

The word “dark” has nefarious connotations, but when it comes to the internet and social media, dark really just means private or anonymous. Dark web and dark social are fairly common, easy-to-understand terms, but what about dark marketing? Have you heard of it? What does it mean? And what impact can it have on your business?

To start, dark marketing is hyper-tailored to the individual. It’s the process of gathering all the information that people openly share on the internet – from demographics (age, race, gender, etc.) to favorite color and dream vacation – and using that information to drive internet marketing that is unique to the individual’s online experience.

So why is this type of marketing called “dark” if it’s really shining light on all the information consumers share? Well, dark marketing still has that level of anonymity that the dark web and dark social share – anonymous to the competition.

Companies can run mega digital campaigns without their competitors being aware of them because the process of gathering and acting on publicly shared consumer information isn’t easily traceable. Granted, this has started to change to some degree on Facebook, which has recently implemented a new “Info and Ads” tab so you can see what ads any page is currently running – but it’s still difficult to understand the entire strategy by looking at just one page, and the other major social networks haven’t implemented anything like this yet.

What Dark Marketing Means for Your Business

The most prevalent and successful form of dark marketing is called dark posts, and we’ve all seen them. These are the tailored ads that pop up in your feed, your sidebar, your search results, etc. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve been planning a summer trip, and now every web page you visit has ads for sunblock and flip-flops and fun things to do in Barbados. It’s like the internet is stalking you. The kicker? These personalized ads are about twice as effective as less all-up-in-your-business ads.

The reality is that dark marketing is happening, whether your company is on board or not. What shows up in a browser is targeted toward the main user. Businesses that don’t participate in the trend are losing (and will continue to lose) market share.

No business can afford to ignore dark marketing. To keep up, and certainly to get ahead, you need to incorporate dark marketing into your digital campaigns as soon as possible. Dark marketing can have an immediate impact on your business’s revenue.

How to Effectively Use Dark Marketing

You get it. Dark marketing is important. But how do you use it?

1. Be speedy.

The No. 1 secret weapon in a dark marketer’s arsenal is speed. In this convenient, immediate digital age, you can’t afford to take months planning out marketing campaigns. If you think of an idea in the morning, you need to be able to execute on it in the afternoon. That’s the reality we’re living in. Your marketing team needs to be made up of segmentation, personalization, and retargeting whizzes who can dream up and execute in no time flat. They also need to be well-versed in today’s fragmented marketing channels.

2. Respect privacy.

The elephant in the room here is the idea of privacy. Data breaches and the rollout of the European Union’s GDPR are hot issues these days, and everyone is concerned about how their information is being mined and shared. As your business explores dark marketing, you need be careful to gather the needed information in a way that ensures privacy. For example, consider not collecting personally identifiable information and simply sticking to general interests and search traffic.

3. Keep your tech on the cutting edge.

In addition to being quick on the trigger and respectful of your prospects’ privacy, you need to keep up with marketing technology. This seems like an obvious point, but it’s so important that it’s worth stressing anyway. If you’re using outdated tools, you’re behind the curve. We’re talking about digital marketing here, so advanced technology is key.

4. Track your success.

Some other considerations to keep in mind when exploring dark marketing are using dark social tools and shortened URLs for advanced engagement tracking, and keeping an eye out for engagement spikes from certain channels.

Now that you’ve seen the light and know what dark marketing is, why it matters to your business, and how you can use it effectively, you’re no longer in the dark. It’s time to roll up your sleeves, dig in your heels, and get dark. Your business can’t afford not to.

Jennifer Tomlinson is Senior Manager of Channel Marketing at Microsoft. She leads partner marketing efforts to help companies manage their current customers and grow their customer base. Jennifer has more than 20 years of experience in implementing successful, scalable marketing.

Alon Leibovich is the CEO and co-founder of BrandTotal, a platform that empowers marketers to discover threats and opportunities in real time. He founded BrandTotal based on his experience as an organizational psychologist and then lead strategist at McCann, where he developed marketing and communication strategies for household brands in the FMCG, auto, telecom, and retail segments.