The Squares Are Coming! The Squares Are Coming!

Every once in a while, I try to take my own advice.

And lately, I’ve become a little jaded about online marketing… and isolated from the rest of the world.

You see, my closest buddies and favorite phone pals are all very hip to the online world… and most are thriving. We’re all old-hands at discussing the latest and greatest Web technological burps and breakthroughs, like SEO, Adwords, affiliate programs, RSS feeds, whatever.

Ancient news, all of it.

After a few months of hanging around this very successful echo chamber, though, I’m no longer fit company for anyone outside the group.

I forget that most people in the world — including most people in America — are absolutely clueless about the way capitalism works on the Web. They think becoming an entrepreneur maybe means you’re going to travel a bit in France over the summer. (It is a French word, after all.) (Go ahead — ask your know-it-all uncle to define the word, see what he comes up with.)

The advice I’ve been ignoring is something I urge all marketers to do on a regular basis — get outside of your narrow lifestyle box, and stay connected to the “other” people you share Earth-space with. Like the people who populate your customer lists, for example.

In other words… don’t allow yourself to be lulled into thinking that “everyone” thinks the way you and your inner circle do. About anything.

You’ll get a whack view of your market (and every market out there)that way, and be astonished when a product you and your gang loved fails in the “real” world.

You can always tell when a company has lost touch with regular people… it throws the dice on ridiculously bad bets concerning product launches or campaigns based on an utterly wrong and socially-removed attitude about “what people really want”.

It’s very much like fashioning your skills with women by basing everything on what you heard the guys talk about in the locker room in high school.

Closed systems generate bad advice.

It’s a good thing to force yourself out of your routines, and pay attention to how the rest of the world is getting through the day.

Example: My pal Stan Dahl gave me an article from the San Francisco Chronicle recently.

You know — the paper of record for the Silicon Valley. Cisco, Intel, Apple, HP…

Okay… the San Jose Mercury is also in the mix down there. Don’t send any hate mail. My point is that, if ANY newspaper in the country should be hip to what’s happening on the Web… it should be the good ol’ Chron.


This article — in the big-ass Sunday Business section no less — tries to “introduce” local biz to… prepare yourself… pay-per-click advertising.

Like it’s something… new. And very mysterious.

It’s not a bad article. If you read between the lines, you even get the sense some companies are actually using pay-per-click to make money. Still… it notes that “many” small businesses have been scared away because of “click fraud” — based on news reports (which I’ve never seen) that competitors are sabotaging companies by sitting around clicking on their PPC ads, to drive up their costs.

Ewww! Bad, naughty competitors!

Personally, I don’t know of anyone who’s suffered from this. First, your competitors would have to research the bejesus out of your Adwords campaign, figuring out what search terms you’re after, and what you’re bidding, and all sorts of things that only a VERY savvy marketer would know to do.

And once he knew those things… he would be able to follow your progress with PPC, and even let you be the pioneer (if you’re testing) and ride your coattails. Draft your success, in other words.

But to hire someone to sit there and run up a competitor’s bill by clicking on their ad over and over again? The Google cops would have Guido knocking on your door within the hour.

No — I don’t mention this article because it’s good, or insightful, or even that it has any helpful tips. (It doesn’t, much.)

Rather… I mention the article because it reveals just how clueless the mainstream media remains about the online business world. And, by extension, how clueless their readership remains.

If you’re hip to making money online, don’t get smug, though. We’re still in the Gold Rush period of the Internet, and it’s still like the Wild West online in most markets… which is heaven to savvy entrepreneurs… but the rest of the world is cresting the hill.

They smell the success. And once they get over their fear of urban myths like the “click fraud” non-epidemic, they will burst onto the marketing scene like a flood.

Articles like this are fun to read. But more important, they act as harbringers of the very-near future.

Things on the Web have always changed at lightning speed. Seasoned marketers tend to forget it was just a few short years ago that PPC didn’t even exist, and most people were slogging through the Internets using dial-up.

Even now, America lags behind other First World countries in getting broadband to more people. (This is another story, but one that may play out badly for the U.S.) The relatively-few folks who understand how the online world works are having fun and earning big bucks… and many are still enjoying near-monopoly status in certain niches.

But things will continue to change quickly, without much warning. Sort of like a speeding train suddenly taking a sharp left turn and tossing your lunch against the window as you get pancaked under the G-force strain.

The mainstream is coming. They’ll cause havoc, and the “way things are now” will mutate in ways no one can imagine today.

Therefore, it’s critical that you stay loose, and be ready to bounce with the coming changes.

And keep your most trusted sources of good information close by, so you can remain in your cozy position as one of the pioneers of Internet marketing who got it right.

I’ve been around for so long, I would bore you to tears recounting just a few of the technological upheavals I’ve witnessed in my time. All of them affected the entire world, and warped the business world permanently. None were foreseen, and all caused alarm and panic and confusion when they first arrived. (Especially among business owners who hated the idea of having to change to meet new challenges. Most folks are status-quo junkies, aggressively hostile to change. Never forget that.)

It’s a nightmare to be on the outside of change, wondering what the hell is going on.

It’s fun, though, to be on the inside, completely hip to the nuances of this Brave New World online.

Just don’t get too cozy.

The squares are coming to ruin everything, once again…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

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  • John,

    You are so right. In just a blink of an eye I’ve watched
    Google crush a 6 figure business for me.

    But since this is the Wild Wild West, I just hop back onto
    that horse of mine and ride into some new pastures.

    There is so much opportunity of the web it’s sick. New
    stuff pops up every day and there is always a few bucks
    to be made for those that are actually in the game and
    have a few skills.

    But don’t get too content. You never know when someone
    will yank the rug from underneath you. Things change really
    quick and you gotta be ready to roll with the punches at a
    seconds notice.

    Personally I’m looking into markets that I know have longevity.

    I’ve spent a bit too much time with these 1 hit wonders and
    hit or miss campaigns. Sure, the cash has been nice, but it
    seems like a much wiser move to build a brand that will stand
    the test of time, regardless of what Google or any online entity
    has to say.

    Because of the wisdom I’ve learned from you, and a few select
    others, I cherish these Wild times online. It’s quite a blast, and
    there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new
    about people.

    Keep the great stuff coming John. Your words give many of us
    a great perspective as we venture onto the next daily project!



  • Stan says:

    Here’s a link to the SF Chronicle article John’s talking about.

    You might have to register (free).

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