Internet Marketing is About The Narrative

Ian Lurie
cheetah rejects marketing reality

“OK, but how do we know what you did helped our business? Maybe it was a coincidence.”

Just writing that caused me to hurt my head pounding it against the bulkhead of this airplane. I’m currently on an Alaska Airlines 737, en route back to Seattle after a travel week that felt like someone was repeatedly kicking me in the tenders. Once the nice flight attendant determined I hadn’t gone insane and was about to start belting out Stevie Wonder tunes while ripping off my clothing, she cautiously headed up the aisle to resume glaring balefully at anyone who pushed the call flight attendant button.

I’ve been asked that fateful question lots of times. Each time, I grind my teeth and repeat all the stuff we did, the timing, and how A points to B.
It rarely works.

Why? Why oh why can’t anyone get it?

It’s not the clients’ fault. It’s ours, because we frequently fall into the list-and-report mentality. Present a list of things we did this month on one piece of paper, key performance indicators (KPIs) on another, and then start strutting around like a peacock.

That’s a mistake. Internet marketing isn’t about lists of tasks. Nor is it just about KPIs. It’s about the narrative. N-A-R-R-A-T-I-V-E.

The sooner we start communicating that way, the sooner I can stop scaring flight attendants.

Parts is Parts

When you conduct an internet marketing campaign, you’ll probably:

  • Conduct search engine optimization;
  • Run a pay-per-click marketing campaign;
  • Tweak the web site to improve conversions (or stutter in frustration as the dev team refuses to);
  • Start a social media campaign; and
  • Hit the newswire.

That’s the minimum.

Every action you take for each of these tactics is a blip on a narrative timeline for your campaign. Don’t just list each blip, like this (pretend I’m reading in a nasal, annoying voice for this next part):

  1. We modified your title tags.
  2. We removed login from your checkout.
  3. We added 3 new PPC ads.
  4. We…

Right about there the client stops listening and/or reading, and starts playing Solitaire while saying ‘mm-hmmm’ into the phone. Or they start figuring out whether they can outsource all this stuff to underpaid Vietnamese children.

Parts is parts. If you show the client parts, they’ll take ’em at face value, which is nada.

Narrative Internet Marketing Reporting

Disclaimer: My company is about to launch a tool that generates the kind of reporting I’m describing. So yes, I’m biased. But there’s a reason we developed the toolset, and this is it.

Instead, present your data in a narrative. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just tie changes in data to an explanation of what changed:

internet marketing narrative

All I did was explain, in writing, what changed.

Yes, I know you tell the clients all of this. Guess what? They have other stuff on their minds. So you need to report your data as part of a narrative.
Here are the rules for narrative reporting:

  1. Be complete. You must pull in all events – online or off – that could reasonably affect key performance indicators. Otherwise you may miss unexpected revenue generators, or even worse, tell clients to spend more money on something that actually doesn’t work.
  2. Be precise. Get the right numbers.
  3. If you can’t be precise, be consistent. A margin of error is OK if it’s not huge, and if you can keep it consistent.
  4. Be organized. Show events on the same timeline as your data. Put it all in one place. That allows clients to more easily connect the dots.
  5. Write. GASP. You can’t just export data from Google Analytics and forward it, unedited, to the client? Nope. You need to make sense of that data for them.
  6. Be descriptive. Don’t write things like “PR hits PRWEB”. Write “New product press release goes public”.

You’re rolling your eyes. Stop it. These are little things that can completely turn around (or totally sink) a campaign. Yes, it takes a little extra time to prepare a narrative report.

In my experience, that little bit of time changes “OK, but how do we know what you did helped our business? Maybe it was a coincidence.” to “How can we do more of that?”

cheetah lets you live

If you’ve got any narrative reporting tricks, share ’em with the class: Post them below:

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  1. Besides being freakin’ hilarious, this is spot on. It’s also given me a D-Aha! moment. (That’s a Duh! and an Aha! rolled into one.)
    I am constantly preaching to clients that they need to stop talking about what they do and start telling stories. When rewriting a website, I have them start with case studies and build from there.
    I’ll be meeting with a relatively new client after their first round of SEO and they’re not too please that they’re not on the first page of Google for highly competitive legal terms after spending less than half of what their competition spends. Oh yeah, and their competition has been at it for years not months.
    Your post has given me some ideas on how I can show there has been progress (There really has!) and what will happen if we keep at it. Hopefully they’ll let me live…

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