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The world's worst digital marketing advice

The world's worst digital marketing advice Jonathan Richman

Over the years, I've gotten a lot of bad advice about a lot of different things. Sometimes I was wise enough to ignore this advice, and other times I've spent considerable effort digging out from the aftermath of bad advice I've followed. I don't want that to happen to you.

While I can't help you avoid bad advice about what car to buy, whether or not seafood is fresh, or what the best salons are in Paris, I can help you with digital marketing. I'm hoping this article will allow you to avoid some of the worst marketing advice that I've seen spread around at conferences, in blog posts, and spewed at various meetings. By no means is this an exhaustive list, so you'll have to stay on your toes to avoid all the bad advice out there, but this should help you steer clear of some of worst.

The basics

You've probably heard these next few pieces of bad advice before, as they are the most common bits of awful digital marketing advice I've come across. So, let's start here. If you can avoid these, you're well on your way.

"We just have to make a really cool site, and it'll bring in the traffic."

Ah, the old "If you build it, they will come" philosophy. I've heard this one a lot before. The simplest reason why this is bad advice is because, well, it's not true. In fact, most likely no one is going to come to your site. There are billions of sites out there, so why would they come to yours? Even if the site is "really cool," how will anyone know it exists? If you don't do some work (or spend some money) to get people to make that first visit to your site, you don't have a website, but rather an expensive billboard in the middle of the woods.

"Let's just send it to everyone."

I know that we all love to get an email from a company about a subject that's completely irrelevant to us. One of my male colleagues is constantly annoyed by a well-known clothing company that sends him emails all the time about women's boots.

Don't just send whatever you have to everyone on your list. There's a name for this: spam. Sure, the people on your list "opted in" to getting stuff from you, but if they knew that you'd be sending them irrelevant garbage, they probably wouldn't have been so willing to sign up. Do your homework and send relevant messages to your customers. Just because you can do something (and that it's cheap) doesn't mean you should.

"You should make a viral video."

This is one of my giant pet peeves. Maybe I can stop people from saying this once and for all right now. Here goes: You don't make a viral video. A video can become viral or "go viral." But it's not up to you whether or not a video you create becomes viral; it's up to us.

A video (or anything else) only becomes viral if people share it with others and those people do the same. There are ways you can increase the likelihood that your content goes viral, which I won't cover here. However, the No. 1 thing is to make content that's really good. Be honest: Would you share the video your marketing team just whipped up with your friends? No? Then why should I share it with mine?

These next few bits of advice are a little less common, but they can be a lot more damaging. I'm being kind to those who do give this advice by categorizing these under "bad judgment," as I could have been much harsher. Avoid anyone giving you this advice about your digital marketing.

"Don't worry. No one will ever find out."

This sounds like advice that is given to a naïve kid in an after school special, but it's advice that I've heard a time or two before regarding digital marketing. Keep your distance from people who talk like this. Besides the moral issues that might come with taking this advice, rest assured that someone will always find out. What sorts of things am I referring to? I wrote about 10 of them in another iMedia Connection article while back ("10 sneaky marketing tactics you need to avoid"). These questionable tactics include everything from "astroturfing" to making it impossible for people to cancel their accounts. If you think that the short-term pop you might get from any of these stunts is worth the risk, ask any of your fellow marketers who have been caught in the act. Again -- someone will always find out.

"We need to dump more money into digital."

As someone who is employed by a digital marketing agency, you might think that I love to both hear and dole out this advice. Yet, you won't ever hear me say it. Why? First, "dump" is the key word here. "Dumping" more money into anything isn't the answer. You might be able to buy more impressions and "eyeballs," but little else.

This isn't to say that many brands couldn't benefit from a greater investment in digital marketing. However, figuring out what makes sense for the brand should be the critical step instead of figuring out who has excess ad inventory. When I hear about a brand "dumping" more into digital, it usually means they want to buy more display ads. That's rarely the answer. Don't "dump," but rather "strategically place" your digital marketing dollars.

"Our site should have a massive Flash intro video and music -- loud music."

This one isn't just about Flash intro landing pages or music per se, but I'm using these as proxies for some of the other spectacular lapses in judgment that lead to some of the most frustrating user experiences on the internet. Take the Flash intro video. You know, it's that video or animation that you're forced to watch before you can even enter a site. It almost always involves floating shapes miraculously coming together to show some type of "synergy." Yes, we love this. We love having to wait to get into your site or having to search for the "skip" button before we get to the content we're looking for. This is doubly annoying if you throw in some music that automatically starts playing. Not everyone loves Fat Boy Slim as much as you do.

Before you go for the "wow factor" on your site, make sure the rest of the site is amazing (including the content). If you've got spare time and money after that, then add in all the Flash intros and dancing baby animations you want. We won't judge.

This final category of bad advice represents some of the things that are among the most frustrating to me about our industry. It's what I call "seagull mentality." If you've watched a seagull before at the beach, you know they get distracted pretty easily, especially if they spot something shiny. Evolutionarily speaking, I'm sure this was to help them catch fish, but today it only confuses the little guys when they spot a stray bottle cap. There are some people out there who act a bit like seagulls, as they are attracted to the shiny new thing and also manage to bring others with them. Rather than a bottle cap, they chase the latest "buzzworthy" digital sites and platforms looking for a quick win. Rarely do they find it.

"Let's go out and get more fans (likes, followers, etc.)."

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard this in the past 12 months, I could spend more time on the beach observing seagulls instead of talking people out of ideas like this one. "Getting more fans" by itself is a terrible plan. I'm assuming, of course, that these fans aren't going to magically appear, but that you'll have to do some work and spend some money to get them. If you feel that this is the best use of your time and money, over everything else, then get to it. However, first, here are some things to think about before you expand your kingdom that you might not have considered: What are you going to do with these fans after you get them? How is your investment going to pay off?

There's been plenty of noise out there about how much a Facebook fan is worth. However, you should know that the answer is really zero. They aren't worth anything to your company's bottom line until you convert that fan relationship into an additional sale (yes, above what they would have bought anyway without becoming your fan). If you have no idea how to convert additional sales from your fans, then don't bother trying to get more fans. I'll even be generous with the meaning of "convert additional sales" and let you extend the definition to any sort of meaningful, measurable action related to your brand -- but clicking a thumbs-up button isn't be enough.

"All you need to do is measure impressions."

For this one, feel free to substitute impressions with visitors, page views, and a bunch of other meaningless metrics. If this is all you're planning on measuring for your digital marketing, you've got a problem. These sorts of metrics tell you nothing about the effectiveness and value of your program.

It's really easy to get impressions; you buy them. Just because someone saw (or maybe actually didn't see) your ad doesn't mean that it had any effect. In fact, I'll guarantee that it didn't in 99 out of 100 cases. Dig in deeper. For example, don't just track impressions on Facebook. First, look at things like clicks, shares, comments, and video views. After that, move toward conversions, whether it be a sale on your ecommerce site or even printing a digital coupon. Get as close to the point of purchase with your tracking as you can. Anyone who tells you that impressions are all that they can measure and all that matter should be handed a copy of this article (why not?) and thrown out of your office. Feel free to make an "impression" on them as well.

"You've got to get your brands on Foursquare."

I don't mean to pick on Foursquare here (OK, maybe a little), but since I think it's one of the shiniest objects out there with a ton of proverbial seagulls circling, I'm using it as an example. Of course, you can insert any of the "hot" sites or platforms here. If it's mentioned more than 10,000 times a day on Twitter by anyone or 1,000 times by people on Twitter who self-identify themselves as "social media gurus," then it fits in this category.

Getting your brand onto/into the latest platform is a losing strategy for almost every brand and company out there. But, you say, "Best Buy has been experimenting on [insert your favorite here]." Yes, but you're not Best Buy. If it wants to experiment here, then let it. Most likely, you need to focus on the fundamentals first. For example, before dumping money into a completely unproven platform, how about getting your search optimization right? Do you think more potential customers will find and buy your products based on them being on Foursquare or the first listing on Google for an important keyword? Maybe you should invest in creating some content that people care about and that compels them to not only share it, but also to buy whatever you're selling. When you have that figured out, along with all of the other digital marketing fundamentals, then consider spending on the "latest and greatest." You won't miss anything and probably will save yourself some money.

This is an occasion to be a fast follower. To bring back the seagull analogy, don't be one of the first few that swoop in on a newly discarded gum wrapper. Be one of the brighter ones that learned from those who came before it.

Avoid these bits of digital marketing advice and anyone who offers it up, and you'll find yourself doing the right things, the right way, for your brands instead of following the herd -- er -- flock.

Jonathan Richman is director of strategic planning for Bridge Worldwide and blogs at Dose of Digital. You can follow him on Twitter at @jonmrich, but please keep your advice to yourself.

Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Jonathan Richman is  Vice President, Product Marketing, for Cincinnati-based startup Zipscene. Jonathan Richman is responsible for leading product development and all marketing and thought leadership efforts for Zipscene. Zipscene is a digital...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Blaine Mathieu

2010, December 08

This is right on but I can think of #10: Don't forget about perfecting online marketing 1.0 while working on marketing 2.0. A simple example: while many marketers are working hard on perfecting their twitter and facebook strategies, they aren't even doing basic email marketing best practices such as good list segmentation, A/B testing of all emails, and using dynamic/personalized content. In many cases, doing basic best practices like this will make a real and measurable impact to the bottom line more quickly than building twitter followers.

Having said that, the best approach of all is what I call a Compound Marketing approach. It's about using multiple channels simultaneously in a powerful way. More about compound marketing here: http://compoundmarketing.wordpress.com

Commenter: Michael Vasquez

2010, October 06

Love the article! Especially enjoyed the "seagull " analogy! We have so many clients who are always looking for the shiny new buzz!!! So frustrating when you're trying to discuss strategy!

Commenter: David Greene

2010, October 06

Here's the permalink of the email: http://www.smartbrief.com/servlet/encodeServlet?issueid=AAEABC87-9F2A-4859-86AD-CAA8B8B7077E&sid=72b36f51-eddb-4ee1-87d5-48ce99863600

It arrived to my inbox with the subject heading "9 social-media tips you should ignore at all costs." But to find your article in the email requires some real investigation.

Commenter: Jonathan Richman

2010, October 06

@David. I didn't see the IAB email. Can you send it to me (or a link). You can contact me by clicking on my name in this contact. If it's too much of a pain, no problem. Alternatively, if there's a "view in your browser" link in the email, you can just send that. Thanks.

Commenter: David Greene

2010, October 05

I hate that too, but it's exactly how this article was promoted in today's IAB Smartbrief daily email. I was starting to think it must be ok since IAB does it, even though it bugs the heck outta me.

Commenter: Jonathan Richman

2010, October 05

@shawn Great add. Of course, the opposite is true as well. Beautiful design and bad SEO isn't going to work well either. I usually see this more than the opposite (which you described): good SEO and bad design. I think the reason is that good SEO and bad design is a tough sell. Most clients would rather buy based on the design and we then have to "sell" SEO (of course, the basics should be included in any design and programming).

@Andy Hmmm...I guess my sign off did sound overly conceited if that's what you were implying. By no means do I know it all (who does?). So, if you've got advice, I'll take it and I'll keep the snarky to a minimum.

@David I hate that, but it's very common. I'd add that one into my "10 sneaky marketing tactics you need to avoid" article from a past edition of iMedia Connection (http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/25915.asp). Check out number 9.

Commenter: David Greene

2010, October 05

How do you feel about opt-in emails where the subject line promotes a juicy topic that i want to know more about, but i have to search past a bunch of other topics and ads, down to the bottom of the email to find what the email subject line was promoting? Genius strategy or annoying practice to avoid?

Commenter: Andy Merrett

2010, October 05

"You can follow him on Twitter at @jonmrich, but please keep your advice to yourself."

OK, I will, seeing as you so obviously know it all already.

Commenter: Shawn Yujuico

2010, October 05

Love, love, love this article. You can add this one to it, "Don't worry about the design of your site, SEO is all that matters." I have two clients that have fallen victim to a website design absent a strategy other than SEO. The result? A poorly designed site that, if found via the miraculous SEO efforts, will be promptly ignored.

Commenter: Jonathan Richman

2010, October 04

Of course now I'm disappointed that I didn't think of that analogy for the article, but at least it's captured here in the comments. Thanks Janet.

Commenter: Janet Carlson

2010, October 04

Wow - well done! Thank God I can say (with a straight face) that we've never peddled any of that advice - it's pretty scary what is out there! Although - it is kinda like watching someone else get their ass kicked - not terribly enjoyable to watch, but you're glad it's not you (this time!)

Commenter: Jonathan Richman

2010, October 04

Nice one...well played.

Sorry, I'm just a solo act now.

Commenter: Bob Sacco

2010, October 04

Great headline.

BTW...Are you still touring with the Modern Lovers?

Commenter: Bob Sacco

2010, October 04

Great headline.

BTW...Are you still touring with the Modern Lovers?