How to Counter the Internet Marketing Horse Race

One of the most interesting things about Internet marketing in 2013 is that just about everyone does it.

The web isn’t just for online stores and virtual companies anymore; even businesses like local florists recognize that it’s important to have a strong web presence, complete with search engine optimization, social media marketing, downloadable offers, and more.

That’s probably a good thing for each of these individual companies, but it also creates a sort of “horse race” between businesses and their competitors. In other words, because they are trying to gain a bit of position in the market – or just maintain that they have – there is a temptation to do “more” of everything. More web pages, more blog posts, more social updates, and so on.

Of course, there are two small problems with the “more” approach: it doesn’t really work (because customers don’t really want more), and it’s as likely to bankrupt you as it is your competitors.

If you don’t think so, just ask an old Soviet or US politician what an ever-expanding arms race did for their country. It might not be an apples-to-apples comparison, but many of the historical lessons from the 80s and 90s apply to marketing today. With that in mind, we encourage our clients to compete online, but not to fall into the trap of trying to out-spend, or just out-do, every other business in the world. Instead, we tell them to put aside the Internet arms race and follow four simple principles:

1. Goals should be tied to outcomes, not activities.

We’ve all heard the advice to “work smarter, not harder” and that certainly applies to online marketing. If you aren’t exactly sure what you’re trying to accomplish, doing more of anything isn’t necessarily going to help you meet your goals. Rather than drop a list of activities, it’s better to think about the bottom-line results you want to create and develop a plan to reach them.

2. Creativity crushes quantity.

The world doesn’t need more blog posts, more social media content, or even more videos. What it needs is better, more insightful, and more engaging bits of each. There is already too much “stuff” on the web for your potential customers to sift through. Instead of looking to give them more of the same, try to think outside the box and show them something they couldn’t find anywhere else.

3. Efficiency has to count.

An Internet marketing plan that seems successful on the outside, but represents a massive percentage of the budget, can beat your profits gradually into the ground. The point is that efficiency has to count for something, if you’re going to avoid spending blindly without any concern for the long-term results. That’s why doing things like studying metrics, split testing, and optimizing your pages for conversions is so crucial to the process.

4. The best plans change over time.

Technology changes, as does the competitive landscape. If you just do the same things again and again, the best you can hope for are the same kinds of results over and over. What’s more likely, though, is that other businesses will catch up to you and you’ll see declining returns from the same activities. The lesson, as always, is that you need to be flexible and adaptable just to keep up, and certainly if you want to have any hope of finding success on the Internet.

It’s easy to think that having “more” of everything will help you bury your competitors on the Internet, but that’s not always the case.

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