Warning: Your internet marketing system will fail

Ian Lurie

internet marketing isnt about psychic powers

All internet marketing systems fail. Choke. Bite the big one. Every last one.

They fail because they attempt to invent and impose a new system from the top down. If you want to succeed, you need to build a strategy around behavior that’s been observed and clarified.

The big lie of internet marketing systems

All of those marketing systems that tell you to be a shark or a big shoe or some other weird object make the same mistake. They go the invent-and-impose route, instead of the observe-and-clarify.
Here’s how your average salesman hatches an internet marketing system:

  1. Figure out how to gather lots of people together via e-mail, Twitter, search or something else.
  2. Go out and gather the mob.
  3. Start yelling at them.
  4. Repeat until you make money, or until someone firebombs your car.

Examples include Twitter auto-follow software, SEO link spamming networks and more elaborate systems that try to take you ‘step by step’, from no customers to lots of customers, regardless of your product or service.
All of these systems fail in the long run. They fail because they’re invented and imposed on people who have no intention whatsoever of playing along. Or they fail because they’re intended to be technical advice, and business owners use them as marketing strategies.

Principles that fit, succeed: Observe and clarify

Stepping waaaay outside of the marketing world for a second: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity works. You don’t even have to understand it. Einstein figured how energy and mass have always interacted. He observed and clarified an existing principle. That enabled a lot of other scientists to apply it, make more discoveries and do other cool stuff.

Any Physics smartasses who are about to say “not always!” or “what about unified field theory?”, well, I just said it for you.

Ideals fail: Why invent and impose won’t work

Communism flopped. It’s an imposed system, based on a few people’s idea of what an ideal world would look like. Not only did Communism ignore basic principles of human behavior, it depended on people changing some of those behaviors. Any parent of a teenager could’ve told Lenin that wasn’t going to work.

Examples from marketing

I’ve gotten lots of e-mails from agencies telling me they have a ‘green marketing strategy’ that will help me get more customers. Apparently, it’s a system they’ve used for everyone from computer manufacturers to Joe Schlabotnick’s House of Hot Dogs.

But marketing a product as ‘green’ typically fails. Why? Because most people don’t care. A product’s green-ness is pretty low on most folks’ priority list. Saving money? Good. A quality product? Better. Safe? Fantastic. Green? Er, only if I can get the other three. Green marketing campaigns typically try to impose the greener-is-better ideal on the larger marketplace. Fail.


Hyundai used to get laughed at. People saw their cars as cheap, junky and embarrassing. They were the butt of jokes for years. But consumers bought them anyway. That’s because Hyundai understood a basic principle: The average driver wants a car that’s reliable and inexpensive. So Hyundai provided both (plus an amazing warranty from day 1), crushed what was left of US auto makers and gave Japanese car makers a headache, too. And you know what? They don’t make a single hybrid.

I drive a Prius, by the way, and not under any assumption that it saves me money. I’m a tree hugger. I wish the green message worked in the mass market. But it doesn’t.

Be like Albert

If you want your internet marketing strategy to work, look for the motivations that have always driven your audience: That squishy stuff that’s really hard to put into a checklist.

Also, use your intelligence. Don’t expect that what worked for soccer balls will work for bicycles. Don’t even assume that what worked for your competitors will work for you. Hopefully, you’re different enough that you can use a better strategy.

Most important, research your audience, a lot. Don’t research them using dated systems like focus groups and surveys. Instead, put your stuff out there, in front of the audience, and see how they respond. Test. Use analytics. Then adjust.

Observe what works. Clarify it. Repeat.

You’ll unearth a continuously improving set of principles that help you market and sell. And the only ‘system’ you’ll develop will be the one your customers tell you to develop.

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  1. You’re right that a system that doesn’t take into account the wants of your market will fail. It’s the old saying of throwing more mud against the wall and seeing what sticks. But systems used as leverage that take into account the wants of people can be very effective. It just comes down to an uneven exchange of value. You give them what they want and them some.
    Insightful post…thanks!

  2. I really like your style of writing, is very refreshing after reading all the technical details from other blogs that give you the impression you read a school book! You have a style of making the reader go until the end although he wasn’t planning to do so. For the SYSTEM you proposed, not just a technique, you really have to learn something before, not just be able to create SEO articles and backlinks. Some learn just the means but they do not have real content on their websites/blogs/emails and they wonder where is the mistake??

  3. I agree that most of the “systems” sold on the internet are a joke. I’ve had the most success building high quality content that people in a given niche want to read, listen to or watch.
    If you do it well, do it consistently and do it long enough the audience will follow.

  4. Great post Ian. What irritates me most about the prevalent internet marketers mindset is the notion that it’s purely a numbers game with such little consideration for quality or value. (As a society we’ve lost our way there.) Because marketers make it a pure numbers game we have twitter autofollow software, autoblogging and a staggering array of stuffing and “spamming” techniques that lower the value of the internet generally. Marketers crap in their own nests!

  5. As Brad says – the only sure fire way is to find something people want, or need to know and write/create something compelling that answers their questions or fulfills their need (and that you can somehow monetize of course!)
    Or invent your own ludicrous system, sell it to your list and then vanish…

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