Internet Marketing: Tools or Message?

Ian Lurie

What is it about Internet marketing that has everyone so confused? Not the technology – you can always find folks to explain that. Not the creative, either. It’s how you blend them that drives marketers and technologists nuts.

It’s a division between the creative and the technical. Some folks see their web sites as big IT department projects. Others see them as a creative playground. Very few tie the two together.

Cross roads horizon with grass and blue sky showing a  fork in the road or highway business metaphor representing the concept of a strategic dilemma choosing the right direction to go when facing two equal or similar options.

Danah Boyd may have the best quote I’ve read on the subject in months:

“Web2.0 is a socio-technical problem and it cannot be solved in a technodeterminist way. Technology needs to support social and cultural practices rather than determining culture. Technology is architecture and, thus, the design of it is critical because the decisions made will have dramatic effects. Digital architecture is unburdened by atoms but it is not unburdened by human tendencies for control. We’ve already seen plenty of digital architects try to control the flexibility of their artifacts rather than allowing them to morph and evolve.”

In case it’s too early, and you haven’t had your coffee yet, here’s a simplified translation: Successful communications on the current World Wide Web ties together technology and creativity in a flexible, intelligent way. The phrase that caught my eye when first reading this article was ‘socio-technical’. Hopefully I’m not putting words in Danah’s mouth, but I like the balancing act that that phrase implies.

Basically, she’s saying it’s a left-brain, right-brain thing.

Apply that to Internet marketing and communications:
Unsuccessful campaigns wedge a single technology or technological toolset (such as e-commerce) or creative toy (say, Flash) into the message. Or they push a single creative concept, message be damned.

Successful campaigns start with an idea/message. Then they use creativity and technology to get the message out. Then a savvy internet marketer measures the results and starts all over again, adapting the message, technology and strategy accordingly.

Danah’s defined what I call Conversation Marketing, in much more academic terms. It’s about communications, not gadgets. And it’s about communicating in the context of your audience’s perceptions and beliefs, not your ego.

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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