How Online Marketing Is Like Fine Dining

Online marketing has been all the rage for 15 years now, at least. From the beginning of public adoption of the internet, success measurements have varied. In the early days, it was all about “hits.” Then it was all about site visits (unique visitors). At some point, the more savvy online marketers started worrying about conversions.

And yet, in 2012, I’m often surprised to hear clients coming in saying “we need to do PPC” or “we have to get out there in social media.”

Why is this bad? Because they’ve chosen the tactic before they’ve set goals and mapped out a strategy.

Have you ever been to a really fancy dinner where each place setting has 3 forks, 2 spoons, a couple knives, and a seemingly endless number of plates? And have you sat there at the table wondering which water goblet you should drink from, and worrying about which fork or spoon you should use for the first course?

I’ve been there, too. But what I’ve noticed about these fancy meals is that 9 times out of 10, it becomes plainly obvious which utensil you should use once the first course actually arrives. If it’s soup, you use a soup spoon. If it’s a salad, you grab the outside fork. If it’s seafood in the shell, you’ll pick up the little seafood fork (I don’t eat seafood, so forgive me if I haven’t used the right analogy here!).

The point is, once you know what your goal is (eating soup vs. eating a salad), the right utensil becomes obvious.

Online marketing is the same way. Marketers spend an inordinate amount of time debating which tactic they should start with: PPC, SEO, social media, email, website optimization…. and often they can’t agree on what makes the most sense. In the meantime, their sales are struggling to get past the appetizer course.

A better approach is to think about your goals. Is increasing sales the first order of business? Are you looking for awareness for a new brand or product? Are you selling inexpensive products or services to consumers, or are you an enterprise solution provider selling to CEOs with a 12-month sales cycle? Is your website ready to capture sales or leads, or does it need work?

All of these factors will affect which tactic you choose. Many online marketing tactics work together, and it’s great to integrate as many tactics as you can within an overall strategy. But before you get to that step, it’s critical to establish your goals and determine how those goals will be measured. So even if your goal is clear from the beginning, if you don’t have tracking and analytics in place, how will you know if you’ve achieved it?

So the next time you’re debating a dip in the waters of PPC, SEO, or social media, put down your fork and think about your goals first.

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