A Sheet Isn’t A Parachute: Lessons in Internet Marketing

Ian Lurie

Note: The following story is what we call character development. Feel free to skip to ‘Lessons in Internet Marketing’ if you don’t like hearing about people who did even dumber things than you did as a kid.

When I was 14 or so, I jumped off the roof of my house. Holding a sheet over my head. As a parachute. This proves conclusively that teenagers should be locked up in small cages until their raging hormones allow more oxygen to their brains.
I’d assumed, of course, that the sheet would go FUMP and let me drop gently to the ground, victorious before my friends.
Instead, the sheet went PHHHBBTTTTTT and I crashed into the juniper bushes. I was miraculously uninjured. This proves conclusively that teenagers should have their luck bottled up for use later on in life.
My parents apparently had no idea what’d happened until 2 years ago, when my son tattled on me at Thanksgiving dinner.
I’m going somewhere with this.

Lessons in Internet Marketing

I made two mistakes and learned two important lessons that day:
The Crowd Is Rarely Right. First, just because your equally hormone-addled friends say “Ian, you should jump off the roof! It’ll be so kewl!” doesn’t mean you should. And, just because 400,000 other people think it’s worthwhile to:

  • Spend $10 a click on the word ‘shoes’ so that they can Be Number One On Google;
  • Invest heavily in banner advertising;
  • Buy tons of links;
  • Create web sites that are “eye-catching” instead of “useful” or “helpful”;
  • Spend $4,000,000 on direct mail every year, even though the return is dropping 30% per year;

…doesn’t mean you should do it. Even in marketing, following a lot of smart people doing stupid things doesn’t make you smart. It makes you a smart person doing something stupid.
Things That Look Easy Rarely Are. I was SHOCKED that my Sears Twin Fitted Bedsheet didn’t work as a parachute. What the hell?! The principle looked so easy. Building a website, making it work, building traffic to it and making it perform as a real, profitable business center may look easy. I mean, who can’t buy a copy of Dreamweaver and slap something together? Trust me: You’re using a bedsheet as a parachute. Hire a professional, or at least talk to one, or go to something like the Elite Retreat and learn from the best.

Learn From My Humiliation

As I plummeted earthward, I distinctly heard my friends laughing hysterically. Even as I crunched into the dry and extremely scratchy juniper bushes, I heard the ‘thump’ as they fell over in helpless gales of laughter. Apparently, they’d guessed that gravity would defeat cheap cotton any day of the week, and that the 10-foot drop wasn’t enough time to make the best parachute on earth save you. They were just looking for a laugh. Jerks.
Amateur internet marketers (and pros) do really stupid things all the time. We They always feel better when another marketer does something even more stupid. So yeah, they’ll nudge you towards that $10/click mark, and tell you not to ‘waste money’ on professional internet marketing help.
Go buy a cheap bedsheet. Put it under your desk. Whenever you’re about to spend $10,000 on a banner ad, or invest $10/click to advertise a $5 product, or build a site that ‘attracts eyeballs’, look at that sheet.
Do you want to be as stupid as I was? Didn’t think so.

Did you know I just published an e-book? Well, I did: The Unscary, Real World Guide to SEO Copywriting. Have a look.

Other stuff to do and read

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the 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 Lynda.com, 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 www.ianlurie.com

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  1. Loved the story! Sounds familiar. When I was about 10, my friends told me to jump off the roof of the local community center because I was bragging about how agile I was. Turns out, I wasn’t. I ended up crashing to the CEMENT ground, chipping my two front teeth and bruising many parts of my body. Somehow I survived that one. To this day, my mother still thinks I fell off my bike!
    Anyhow…thanks for the post. As a newbie, I’m learning that gaining expertise comes with a lot of trial and error. I listen to what the pros have to say, but most of the time you just have to find out for yourself and follow your own path. There are so many different opinions out there on how to do everything and I’ve found that It’s best to just do your own thing with that advice in mind.

  2. You got lucky. Imagine if you thought you could fly like Superman.
    Interesting point about some folks in the marketing profession. But you have to admit there are times when some of those other marketing efforts are called for if there is a solid strategy in place. Companies can’t just say “if we build it (website) they will come.”

  3. As a school teacher to many different ages. I totally agree with locking them in cages and beating them into submission or just let them go totally free and let them learn there own lessons. Nice post. As for marketers let them learn from failure like everyone else did.

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