Monday, December 1, 2008

Search Insider: Jettison The Ballast

Jettison The Ballast

YOU'VE HEARD THE NEWS AND know the drill: in lean times, marketers must jettison any extra ballast that adds weight to the balloon. What this means depends on what your marketing mix is, what your competitors are doing, and the degree to which you can get more done for less. But there are certain principles that apply to any kind of business doing online marketing: here they are.

1. Outsource where possible. "Loyalty is dead," said Intel's Andy Grove years ago -- and while this idea might be morally repugnant, it's one of those talismanic business truths that I'm sure you'd rather live with than die by. In flush times, marketing staffs tend to grow organically -- like barnacles on the hull of a ship -- but at the cost of efficiency and flexibility. For the past two years, SEM has been increasingly insourced for a range of reasons that might have made sense when times were good. Today, this trend is impossible to justify, except for businesses that are merely dabbling in search (which is never a good idea).

2. Tear up the old plan. These wrenching times provide an opportunity to institute some radical changes in your media mix. That crowd of senior managers who've been holding back the tsunami of digital change are likely on the way to the career guillotine, and once they've been purged you may have a chance to finally implement your way-new plan. Don't expect much of a budget to play with, however: you'll need to justify every penny of it in terms of ROI, market share growth, or maybe even just holding your own in a marketplace that will become more, not less competitive. Set expectations modestly, exceed them, and remember: this isn't the time to be asking for any more for yourself (even if everybody knows you deserve it). Your goal right now is survival -- for your organization and for yourself. It's far too early for any accolades, even well-earned ones.

3. Cut the fat and the fluff. I've ranted and raved so many times in this column about how poorly SEM is implemented that I won't bore you with another recital. For now, I'll say only that if you're spending upwards of $50k per month on keywords and using Excel to manage it, you're on that famous road to Perdition. Unless you're relentlessly testing every element in your campaign and continually refining the combinations with conversions in mind, you're flying blind and will soon meet a mountain. If you haven't squeezed the maximum of actual usability -- not fluffy image-promoting Flash -- out of your Web site, you're doomed. Unless you can tell someone in 25 words or less what your outfit's unique selling proposition is, you're... well, I could go on and on. The point is that there's always waste, even in the most ostensibly waste-free environment, if you have access to the eyes that are trained to find it. If you can't perform this task by yourself, hire a third-party auditor to see whether your firm really abides by best digital marketing practices.

4. Stay flexible. We're going to see a lot of retrenchment, consolidation, and outright failure in the so-called "interactive space" in the next year. Nobody, not Google, not even Microsoft, and certainly not you or me, is safe. A few weeks ago, I suggested that you need to think of your own role in this complicated e-marketing field as one more akin to a Swiss army knife than a single-purpose scalpel (even though wielding a scalpel may be ultimately more lucrative). The idea here is to know enough about a field you're not working in now to make a switch if one becomes necessary. One of the best things about working in marketing is the range of personalities and professional disciplines (both left- and right-brained) that constitute it. Stay flexible, don't price yourself out of the market, keep learning for tomorrow, and you'll be OK.


Steve Baldwin is editor-in-chief at Didit, an agency for search engine marketing and auctioned media management based in New York. You can reach Steve at

Search Insider for Monday, December 1, 2008:

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