Internet marketing lessons: Select, don't accumulate

Ian Lurie

There’s one concept in Atlas Shrugged that’s always stuck with me: Select, don’t accumulate. Ayn Rand was referring to stuff, of course: Everything from throw rugs to chairs to books. I love the idea in ‘real life.’ But it works awfully well in internet marketing, too.

Accumulation marketing: We all do it

Accumulation marketing is very, very hard to resist: It’s the old principle of ‘eyeballs at any price.’ When you buy impression-based advertising on a major site because you know how many millions of visitors they get, you’re buying into accumulation marketing, just a little bit. If you rent an e-mail list, you’re raising your hands in the Church of Accumulation and shouting “I AM SAVED.”

When we slash someone’s PPC budget, and their site traffic plunges, their palms sweat. So do mine. As long as the sales keep coming, it’s OK. But we’ve had to turn the traffic back up, in spite of solid sales, more than once. It’s just too scary to watch all those visits go away. Accumulation = addictive.

Accumulation marketing isn’t always bad! It helps you find new niches, new customers and new audiences. But if you completely rely on it, things can go really wrong. Microsoft’s recent social media gaffe is an extreme example. They threw a message out there, trolling for attention. They got it. Just not the kind they wanted.

Selection marketing: Happier customers, better efficiency

Selection marketing is harder to do. It requires a carefully-targeted message, and a lot of attention to detail. It means you have to spend $20 on Google Adwords, instead of $2000, and watch what happens, one customer at a time.

But, selection marketing brings you customers right when they’re ready to buy from you. You get there by:

  • Researching, choosing and testing long-tail terms in Adwords;
  • Working your tail off on conversion rate optimization;
  • Analyzing site performance one page at a time;
  • Answering customer questions on sites like Twitter and Quora.

Selection marketing is more sustainable, more efficient, and turns every customer you get into a new salesperson.

Sanity break: Find a balance

Every business needs a balance: Some select, some accumulate, blended together. That lets you build audience with people who aren’t yet prospective customers (accumulate) while bringing in the folks who are ready to buy right now (select). The trick is tuning the dial just right.

A bit of history

Many, many years ago, I wrote about marketing and selection versus accumulation. You can read it here.

OK, done rambling for tonight.

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Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Nice post, Ian.
    I think accumulation marketing is often driven by beliefs that there is one metric that rules all and that everything else is constant. I’ve seen too many people estimate ROI using a conversion rate that isn’t applicable to their new project, since they will be pulling in a totally different type of visitor.

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