• Testing the water of digital marketing

Stephanie McLaughlin Written by  | Thursday, 30 June 2016

Living in the Northeast, you don’t spend much time in the ocean – or at least I don’t. Even at the height of summer, the water has a bite and you get pins and needles from the cold. If it’s over 90 degrees and sunny and there’s no wind, and you’ve already been at the beach for a few hours, then maybe you run in and run out, just to cool off – more by necessity than by choice. (Unless you’re younger than about 13. For some reason, the cold doesn’t seem to bother most kids.)

I recently had the great fortune to visit the Caribbean and really experience the ocean – warm as bathwater, clear and calm. Just being able to spend time in the water was a treat, but I also did some snorkeling, which – for better or for worse – got me thinking about work.

As I was lolling about in the water, face-down dead-man’s float, my flippers propelling me lazily, and nothing but the sound of water in my ears, I realized that making my way along the water had a lot of similarities to modern online marketing.

You’ve come to a certain strait or harbor with the intention of seeing certain things. But even if there’s a well-traveled shipwreck, or a coral reef in the cove, the specifics won’t be revealed until you wade in. And, even if you’ve been here before, the tides and ocean life will ensure that it’s not exactly the same.

When you put your face in the water, there’s a certain area that you can see clearly. Based on what you’re looking for, you pick a direction and start swimming. As you make progress, things in the distance start out murky and dark, then loom cloudy, and then come into focus as you get closer. This is a lot like the marketplace you compete in.

While there’s much you know about your business and its history, what’s in front of you is still unknown – and you can’t know it until you’re underway.

Consider your presence online. You probably have a website. You may have a blog or some social media profiles. But there’s no way to predict exactly what will happen when you really put them to work. Will Google rank your website for the keywords you want? Will your blog be syndicated to an industry website that will increase its audience? Will your social media posts get shared beyond your known network? Will visitors to your website find something interesting and of value to them? Will your website become a destination, like some underwater treasure that lots of people want to see?

There’s no way to know the answers to these questions until you’re underway. Then, like when I was snorkeling, things will come into view.

While you’re swimming along (online or under water, depending on which of these stories you’re following), you continue to make progress by making decisions based on what you see. Or, in the online version, you make decisions based on the results that you see. The area you’re in now is a result of the decisions you’ve just made. Is it where you want to be? Or should you change direction, modify your course?

Whether you’re in the water looking for conch shells, or online looking for more leads, there’s a clear path to success. Regardless of whether you’re getting guidance from a pro, or you’re making your own way, there will be clear signs along the way that will point you in the right direction.

Are you looking for more conch? Then you should follow the grassy field. Are you in search of sponges that look like brains? Then continue along the reef. By all accounts, you want to stay away from the fire coral.

The same is true with digital marketing. As you go, you will need to keep making adjustments as new information becomes clear – information that you couldn’t have known when you first tested the water. Social media isn't effective for all companies, something you won’t necessarily know until you test it. Some companies can’t rely on email to stay in front of their leads. Paid media isn’t for all companies. Understanding your direction, and making adjustments as new information becomes clear, is what’s going to help you find success online.

If you have guidance, you can go quite a bit further than if you try to find your way on your own. I wouldn’t have known to stay away from the fire coral without the guidance of someone local. Digital marketing works remarkably similarly: the better guidance you’re provided, the faster you’ll achieve success.

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