A Classic Case of Sisyphean Marketing Strategy

For starter, I want to acknowledge that this is not “Client-friendly SEO Guidelines – Part 3″. Yes, I had promised that next. However, I decided to push it back a week and slide this one in instead. Call it agile planning, if you will.

As the story goes, I had lunch with a colleague earlier in the week. JK—not his/her real name—is a fairly hardcore SEO aficionado. JK’s motto is:  Tune it. Tweak it. Tighten it. Repeat. JK is also fond of: Mo’ traffic. Mo’ traffic. Mo’ traffic.

We got past the usual formalities, as well as rejoicing over the USA Women’s soccer victory over Brazil and then shifted into talking shop. JK had just started with a new client/project a few weeks back. It was for an e-commerce outfit. I had seen the site and it appeared then that it was going to be quite a challenge. I was curious and asked how it was going.

JK’s quick and boastfully proud reply was:

“Great. Traffic is increasing. Alexa ranking is improving. We’re adding pages to farm in more traffic. And thus far the impact of Google’s Panda update seems to be minimal.”

I wasn’t surprised. JK does good work. We talk SEO all the time. But then again we both knew there are a handful of standard tricks to grab the low hanging fruit. Not that there is anything wrong with that. You’ll understand my positioning here in a moment.

I toasted JK’s accomplishments, paused and then queried, “Mind if I ask some Guest-centric and business fundamentals questions?” JK smiled and firmly nodded affirmative. Here are some of the things that were discussed over the rest of the meal. Mind you for some of these it might be too early to tell. That is, there’s not enough data yet. Also, admittedly not all are JK’s area and/or role. None the less, we needed to discuss  something and JK’s project was this afternoon’s feature.

  • Churn rate: Up? Down? No change? What are the top reasons for churn? Are there particular keywords, PCC campaigns, etc. that are more prone to churn?
  • The marketing sweet spot: Is price the sole driver? Might emphasizing value be a better play? Would value attract a less churn-ful buyer?
  • Conversions: Was increasing traffic also increasing sales? Was the average size of sale increasing? Why? Why not?
  • Cross-selling and up-selling? Does influencing the buyer’s profile of purchases reduce churn and/or increase a Guest’s value over time?
  • The Guest Experience: What was being done to improve the UI, UX, design, service, etc.?
  • Building the brand: Does more traffic, more customers and more sales equate to establishing and building an actual brand?
  • Guest expectations: Were they being addressed? Can you have a brand in 2011 and not address Guest expectations?
  • SE Old: Is the nature of SEO changing? Are not social networks becoming the “search” tool of choice? Then that?
  • Exit Strategy: The ultimate question is, is anyone else willing to pay to acquire this business as it is currently modeled? Is the strategy sustainable?

After numerous volleys the conclusion was simple. It is a classic case of what I’m going to call a Sisyphean marketing strategy. In other words, X amount of traffic is going to convert; Y number are going to churn out; in order to meet growth goals Z, there is a simple minded (if not one dimensional) objective to just keep increasing traffic. The fact that there are quite a few other vectors that all intertwine didn’t matter. The best practices of great brands’ seemed to be nowhere in sight. Or should I said, in site?

Truth be told, JK said the client was comfortable with the Sisyphean marketing strategy. Said formula was what established them and they were convinced the formula was the key to future growth. The fact that just about every other parameter on the pitch had changed in that time frame didn’t seem to be a concern. In terms of doing their best, yes within the narrow context they defined they seemed to be doing their best. While I certainly do appreciate simplicity and focus I would think that those in similar historical circumstances probably have other lessons to teach. JK just mumbled something about mo’ traffic, mo’ traffic, mo’ traffic. The cheque came, we ponied up our credit cards and went back to working.

But there seems to be an alt-moral to this story. Sometimes doing your best isn’t good enough—that is, eventually it can become less and less appropriate. Sometimes doing what’s right, what needs to be done is what’s in order. Granted, that can be difficult because it means letting go of a “sure thing.” I also means taking up a new cause, a new learning curve and that too can be a bit frightening. Or in JK’s case it might actually mean less billable hours.

Being focused is great. However,  it’s not always as simple as running full speed ahead with blinders on in the same direction. This type of determination can be dangerous for a business. Hopefully you’re thinking of the same VW car commercial that I’m thinking of right now. If not, pop over to YouTube and watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-Vdb9yON-E.

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