An Internet Marketing Strategy That Works
What's the catch? Right now that's what you're asking yourself. You're eyeing the screen suspiciously, wondering why you get to read a book about internet marketing, online, for free, without registering or doing anything else.
There is no catch. I believe in this concept, and the book, and I want folks to read it. That's it.
If you have ideas for how I can improve it, please e-mail me at ian AT portentinteractive.com
And, of course, if you want a print copy, you can purchase it here.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.
And did we mention you can buy this in a nifty printed version?
Internet marketing. Did your nose just wrinkle when you read those two words? Just a little? Something smells bad, the same way you feel just a little guilty grabbing all the free stuff at a trade show, or snitching a french fry from your kid’s plate.
Internet marketing feels just a little, well, dirty. Why? Because most internet marketing is greedy, not smart, and it leaves the agencies that practice it, and their clients, tarnished.
Typical internet marketing revolves around a drive to get more traffic, no matter what. Viral marketing, search marketing, e-mail marketing (not spam), spam, banner ads, pay-per-click marketing — name the method, and 98 percent of marketers use them as blunt instruments in a get-all-the-traffic-and-let-God-sort-it-out kind of way. Never mind whether that traffic represents truly qualified potential customers. Never mind the cost of driving useless traffic. Just keep ’em coming!
Everyone — clients and marketing professionals alike — is to blame for this. We’ve all said “More traffic!” at least once in our careers. In traditional media — print, television, and such — it made sense to start off with this approach. But internet marketing is different, and much more powerful. It’s a two-way street. That means you can converse with your users, and select traffic rather than accumulate it. That’s what this book is about. It’s my attempt to demonstrate how you take advantage of the two-way street and start a real conversation with potential internet customers. But first, a brief story about lettuce....
Some folks have told me this bit is entertaining and educational. Others have told me it’s totally off the subject. If you’re a cut-to-the chase kind of person, you can skip ahead to chapter 1, “What Is Conversation Marketing? In a Nutshell?”
The concept of “Select, don’t accumulate” is the foundation of Conversation Marketing.
Here’s my parable that helps explain it: Let’s imagine there are two farmers’ markets, right next door to each other, and you’re shopping for a head of lettuce.
You see a sign, yes, we have leafy green vegetables, and head into that market. It’s huge, and really quite striking. You can enter this market through forty or fifty doorways. Once inside, there are thousands of stalls, neatly side by side, all clamoring for attention. Fruits, vegetables, and foodstuffs of every kind, all perfectly formed, brightly colored, ready-for-the-film-shoot little packages of nutritional goodness. Next to each stall are lists of the awards this market has won for design and layout. It’s like walking through a food museum. It’s great.
But you can’t find the damned lettuce. And neither can anyone else. In fact, they’re not even sure they have lettuce in there. They have cabbage, kale, and some spinach that would make a rabbit swoon, but no lettuce. You’re walking around with thousands of other people, trying to find what you need, but no dice. Even worse for the business owners, there are thousands more people outside, trying to get in to buy spinach and cabbage and kale, but they can’t, because all the lost lettuce-seekers have filled up the store. You finally fight your way out, exasperated.
As you leave, you see a new sign outside, yes, we have lettuce. You follow the arrows, warily, into a different market. This market doesn’t gleam quite like the other one. It all looks edible, delicious, even, but the stalls aren’t shiny, and the products aren’t quite as platonically perfect.
But guess what? You see lettuce. Right in front of you. All kinds of lettuce. Big lettuce, small lettuce, lettuce that looks like famous people. You find what you want, buy it, and you’re done.
What just happened? The first market was gleaming, perfect in every way. But you didn’t stick around, and you didn’t buy anything. Instead, you bought from the other, perfectly functional but infinitely less glamorous market.
It’s obvious: The Decent Market’s farmers told you they had what you needed, showed it to you, and then you bought it. They conducted very efficient marketing based on what you, the consumer, want. The Gorgeous Market sucked you in, then disappointed you.
Put another way, the Decent Market selected you as a good potential customer, and understood what you really wanted. The farmers of the Gorgeous Market are simply accumulating as many passersby as they can in the hopes of getting lucky.
Internet marketing seems stuck in hey-want-a-cheap-watch mode: Get people to your site, then worry about whether they really want to be there, or whether they’ll buy, or vote, or inquire, or anything else. And accumulation marketing doesn’t have to be in-your-face. It takes many other, more subtle forms, too:
Campaigns that over generalize. I’ve had clients ask me to build “feminine” web sites because women will be their primary audience. Clearly that doesn’t work. What if 75 percent of the women coming to the site don’t like feminine design (whatever that means)? And what if they’re wrong, and half the visitors are men? Or what if they’re right, but they still alienate the 25 percent of their audience who are men? The resulting site would draw visitors because of the product, then lose them because of ill-matched content and a design that makes incorrect assumptions. A campaign built this way will accumulate lots of traffic but fail to select the best potential customers.
Campaigns that are ego-driven. A major manufacturer just revamped their web site. The old site, while not all that attractive, provided clear, fast access to all of their products. The new site, though, opens with a huge Flash animation that takes you on a tour of their facility. It actually shows you what kind of car the CEO drives (and no, they don’t make cars). If you wait for the Flash animation to load, and then really examine the home page, you can find your way to their products. Frankly, I don’t care about their facility. I want to see the goods. So do the thousands of others who search for and find this manufacturer’s site, every day. I’m sure the CEO is very proud of his web site. So is the design firm that built it. But as a communications tool, it’s an accumulation-marketing tactic. People come to the site expecting one thing, and they see another.
Accumulation marketing is not based on selection of potential customers. It’s relatively indiscriminate, leaving businesses and consumers frustrated. It grows out of broad assumptions about audience and strategy that are both unsubstantiated and inaccurate. Because of that, accumulation marketing can rack up serious traffic numbers and fail utterly to generate any useful business.
Accumulation marketing is bad, and it’s common. But you can fix it by practicing good Conversation Marketing. So repeat after me:
I will Select. I will Converse. I will no longer Accumulate.
Say it again:
I will Select. I will Converse. I will no longer Accumulate.
The rest of this book will walk you through one strategy to select your audience and make the most of their attention. I call that strategy Conversation Marketing. Conversation Marketing ensures that you know your audience, target them with an appropriate message, and then observe their response and adjust that message accordingly. It can do this because of the two-way nature of the internet.