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The Counter-Intuitive World of Marketing

5358769937_2254c23037_mAs I was skimming along the Blogosphere the other day, I decided to check in and see what the Copyblogger folks were up to. Copyblogger, if you are not familiar with them, has their hands in a lot of things in the online world. They are behind a lot of the blogging software you see, they’re good at SEO, and their blog is one of the highest trafficked blogs around. Given all of that, you might be surprised, as I was surprised to see, that one of their most recent blog posts was titled “Hey…” How is that good for SEO? What does that even mean? You might be even more surprised to learn that Copyblogger decided to use that title because they were talking in part about a recent Barack Obama email campaign. The title of one of his emails was “Hey…” – and you might have guessed it though you may not believe it, but that email significantly out-performed emails with more conventional subject lines.

Rules? What Rules?

There are many books and many blog posts that cover marketing, and many of those books use the word “rules.” The idea that marketing can be corralled into a few neatly packed boxes is highly attractive, especially given how busy people are these days. It would be truly wonderful if you could read a blog post titled, “The Ten Rules for Tweeting” and then know everything there is to know not just about Twitter, but also about tweeting for business. It would be utterly convenient if you could read a book called “The Five Most Important Rules of PR” and then never again experience confusion while working on a PR campaign.

But if you’ve been in the marketing game for, oh, more than 3 months, you realize the folly in trying to tie marketing down. The “hey” email is just the latest example of something unthinkable actually working better than the tried and true. There is no good explanation for it, although there is plenty of conjecture.

Try Telling That To The Boss

A few years ago, when online advertising was still like the Wild West (some might argue it still is), we recommended an online campaign for one of our clients. The program represented a sizable investment, so naturally our client wanted to know how the program had performed. We asked the publisher to give us lead information and the news was off the charts good, so of course we let our client know.

One of our contacts at the client pulled inbound reporting from their own tracking system, and the numbers were significantly lower than what the publisher had reported. We asked the publisher to add Google Analytics to their site so we could see how many outbound links were being tracked to our client’s website, and that was still a different spectrum of numbers. As you might imagine, this was extremely frustrating to our client. We did a lot of research and learned that there really are no rules necessitating that tracking systems should all report the same numbers. You need to look to see if the reporting shows the same type of trending, and that’s the best you can do.

Needless to say, that answer, even though it was accurate, was not exactly the news our client was hoping for.

When you propose a marketing plan to your boss or to a client (if you’re an agency like we are), you are (one would hope) basing your suggestions on sound logic and what you believe will work best. But the unpredictable nature of online marketing can yield results far better or far worse than what you might expect. If you’re a blogger, you know how frustrating this can be on a personal level. A successful blog post can be followed by weeks of little to no reactions to any of your posts, right? There is no explanation. There is no rhyme or reason. Explaining that to a person you made marketing recommendations to can get hairy, however.

So what do you do?

We have a couple pieces of advice that can help avoid difficult situations as the results of your marketing campaign unwind.

First, do not oversell your recommendations. Clients will press you to see how other companies have performed. Give a range, but emphasize there is no guarantee that your client will be on one end of the spectrum or the other. It’s much easier to get a call from a client who is pleasantly surprised by a campaign’s results versus a call from a client who is bitterly disappointed at how your proposed campaign failed.

Second, make absolutely sure that you do thorough research about every single tactic you propose to a client. Granted the results cannot be guaranteed, but illustrate clearly that you know the range of possibilities tied to the proposed action. Show that you were not recommending it as a silver bullet or based on one other company’s successful use of the opportunity. If you are recommending something as a brand-building tool versus a lead generation tool, make that clear from the beginning. Ensure that all expectations are realistic, and leave room for the unexpected.

Have you ever encountered the counter-intuitive, rule-bending nature of marketing? We’d love to hear your story!

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/foxtongue/5358769937/ via Creative Commons

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One comment on “The Counter-Intuitive World of Marketing

  1. […] her frustration with trying to reconcile various data interpretations. From her post “The Counter-Intuitive World of Marketing,” she […]

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