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How to approach online marketing best practices

1.

Ever since the 1990s finding and buying stuff online wasn’t dictated by the quality of products and content. Rather the decisions were influenced by marketing techniques that some people used better than the others.

Internet used to be a really bad place. Everyone lied and no one brought value to their users/readers/customers.

The demand was huge and supply was little so producers and content makers didn’t have to put in much effort to get clients.

Obviously, the industry made a huge leap since then.

But marketers and developers aren’t the ones to thank.

It’s the competition that drives improvements. Marketers who fight each other and content platforms that fight for users accidentally made those users smarter.

Search engines have to compete and improve algorithms, marketers have to compete to trick the algorithms, marketing software companies have to compete to help marketers lie better.

2.

Over the last couple of years, marketing niche got very saturated with newcomers.

Like yours truly.

The rule of thumb is that in order to get clients, you need to become an “authority”.

And for that, you need to publish guest posts, build your personal brand and in general, do what you can to stay in the news feeds and on SERPs.

But as I was saying, the new influencers don’t know anything about anything. Most of them have just read Moz’s beginners guide to SEO and a couple of posts on Ahrefs’ and Brian Dean’s blogs.

These accomplishments make them feel like they have to start writing about what they learned straight away.

Because of this if you look at the part of the web devoted to marketing, it consists of the same advice told over and over by thousands of people.

And that’s probably fine.

The problem is that while the majority of marketers repeat what someone else said, they actually never applied it in practice.

And I’ve faced that myself.

3.

When you’re entrusted with the first commercial project where you get to call the shots, you freeze.

It’s easy to start thinking that marketing is as easy as we’re led to believe online. That there is a ready-made plan you can just implement and live happily ever after.

Pretty much any online marketing resource and all the self-proclaimed gurus who produce content die to tell you 3-5-10 simple steps you’ll need to take to rank high/convert users/engage audiences.

What they don’t tell you is that the more generic their advice and the easier it is to implement, the higher the chances that everyone in your niche is already doing it.

So to outperform rivals you need to either do more of the same things everyone does, do them more creatively or do something original.

And there’s no recipe for that. You just need to come up with this stuff yourself.

4.

But there are still dark areas of marketing where you don’t need creativity and you really need to follow a set of simple steps. In these areas of marketing, you sell scammy/dangerous/useless/cheap products to uneducated audiences.

For example:

I’m an agency. I get a client who works with forex or binary options. Reasonably, they want to show their ads to people who don’t know that forex is a scam.

We agree with them that I, the agency, will bring them paying clients.

And for each person my ads bring them, I get theoretical $10.

The minimum amount the client will make on each paying user I bring them is a theoretical $100.  So even if out of 10 registered users only 5 become paying customers, the client is happy.

To get customers this cheaply ($10), I’ll get in touch with special networks or with shitty news/sports/gaming/celebrity gossip websites directly.

The worse the media, the lower content quality the better.

Bad content with a ton of traffic means that I’ve found the perfect target audience for my client’s scammy product.

So I get those websites to place my ads for super low prices. And they will be happy to sell me millions of impressions or clicks because they know that their audience will easily buy my product. And they also know that no self-respecting company or product will ever advertise with them.

All that’s left to me is to write clickbait titles and find stock images for the ads.

It’s always something like “You won’t believe how much money company_name made her” with an image of Julia Roberts.

Or “Oprah lost 50 pounds on this diet” and an image with Oprah’s head badly photoshopped on a slim and young body.

And everyone’s happy. As long as no party in this equation has a soul.

This kind of marketing always works on the people it targets. But as technology advances, fewer people fall for such dumb techniques.

5.

If we’re not talking about this kind of marketing – and I hope we’re not – there’s no single set of best practices and steps you can take to achieve stellar ROI and boost your sales.

You will need to put in work and research.

You will need to try multiple things and fail in most.

You will need to hate yourself for not thinking of the right thing at once.

That’s all okay, I guess.

Best practices are a good thing. Right now they indicate that overall quality of content rises and users get smarter when choosing products.

But best practices don’t cut it anymore. If they ever did. They are just a very low starting point.

No matter what business, no matter how saturated the industry, you need to put in work and you need to find the way to stand out.

Because if online marketing was as easy as following this season’s best practices, everyone would have the same equally effective brand.

But that’s not the case. Only those who stand out and do original work, make it.

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The rise of a bullshit marketer

The online marketing niche is crawling with new “influencers”.  They don’t have much relevant experience. But they are all very active on social media and write at least several guest posts a month, they take parts in roundups and are very open about their opinions.

I totally get why they do it – the more presence they have online, the easier it is to convert new clients. And I’m not judging. But I do feel very sorry for those clients.

The problem is that for this kind of marketers it’s easier to get clients through quantity of content, not quality. So they got into a loop of Infinite Content (Arcade Fire reference). They need to create more content to stay relevant and that’s why it is and will be so basic and unoriginal.

Don’t know about you, but as an online marketer, I’m constantly bombarded with content about marketing.  On social media, via email, on websites I follow, etc.

I can judge this content based on some practical experience I have. And I can tell you one thing – be very careful with online marketing advice you read or listen to.  Because most of it is written without any evidence, research, and experience.

What’s worse, usually it’s not written to solve a need or to answer your question. They say that that’s their sole goal, but it’s not. This content is written to trick you into thinking you need some particular marketing software or services of the author or their company.

The amount of marketing content published every day could be hundreds of times smaller and no one in the world would bat an eye. There are literally thousands of posts on the same topics that bring nothing new to the table.

In my opinion, the online marketers who really know what they are doing and could share some valuable insights usually remain silent. Because, honestly, there’s nothing noble in sharing your tips and tricks with the “community”.

And the pros who find time and motivation to share, do it rarely because they have better things to do.

So the majority of marketing content isn’t written by professionals. And the majority of so-called “marketing influencers” are just people who either write obvious things or rewrite what someone smart wrote before them.

But how do these people get all those shares and links to their websites, you might ask.

That’s a valid question, thanks!

All of those shares and links are:

  • from other bullshit marketers who share and link to stuff just for the sake of networking;
  • from regular people who believed these influencers are real;
  • from a new batch of marketers who also still believe in influencers.

Developers, QAs, engineers, devops or HR specialists – they don’t have this compulsive urge to write, record videos and create infographics. If someday they feel like they have something to contribute to their field, they will put together a research or a post and publish it somewhere.

And it will be good because it will be dictated by an honest will to help and say something new.

But that isn’t the case for us, the egocentric marketers. Since many of us exist in this constant need to process and create information, it becomes a habit.

And since we work with other marketers, we start to think similarly and feel like each of us should have a platform to share our thoughts (oh so few).

Additionally, when you see that someone a lot dumber than you gets praise in your field, you get jealous and want to put yourself on the map too.

In reality, you can count the people who add value to the conversation about online marketing on one hand. Yet almost every marketer feels like they need to have their say.

We call it creating a personal brand. You get a website, you get more followers in social media, you start selling stuff.

I even fell for that motivation myself a while back. But the things I write about don’t really make up for a good personal brand, so I’m clean.

Nevertheless, there are good websites that try to bring value to this market. But they too get caught up in the never-ending stream of updates and recurring topics.

There are a lot of smart people in the field, but the niche works like this for a while now and there’s no changing it in the foreseeable future.

Anyhow.

I can rant about it for a really long time.

What I wanted to say is that when it comes to marketing content, you can’t blindly trust the first link Google spits at you. Use your critical thinking.

But then again, that advice is true for pretty much any situation.

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Why I quit 3 times in the last year and a half and what I learned

I’ve been doing different kinds of sports ever since I was 5. And when I was little I had my own cherished understanding and respect for loyalty.

For some reason I really hated people who often switched from one sport to another rather than sticking to something.

Hard to tell, where I got this notion from. Probably one of my first coaches told me that you can only achieve success in sport(and life) through dedication.  And I took it as an absolute truth.

For a while, that was the way I felt about commitment and loyalty. Yet, every so often I had to go on and do a different sport. Because my family moved, because swimming fitted me better than acrobatics, because I didn’t like the thing I did before anymore.

Yet, I kept on thinking that loyalty and commitment are extremely important and those who switch sports often and leave my team or group are traitors. But at some point I started to develop critical thinking and understood that I myself wasn’t really an example of loyalty.

First I did acrobatics, then volleyball, then swimming, then high jump.

So I understood that life just happens. You do one thing, then you do something else. And most things don’t last forever.

And that’s okay. I’m happy I didn’t stay in acrobatics for my entire life. I was really bad — I once got a silver medal in a competition where there were just two participants.  So yeah. Switching lanes is okay.

But when I was starting to work, deep in me I still had the same excessive passion for loyalty.

I was thinking that if you stay in a company long enough, they will inevitably start valuing you and you’ll become one of them, and you’ll be really good and you’ll be forever happy.

And there are cases when that’s true. It is possible that you found the perfect company, team and work on first try.

But for most, it isn’t like this. And you owe it to yourself to understand it and to find the courage to move on.

In the last year and a half I changed 4 good companies. Neither of them fired me. I  quit all of those jobs.  And each time it was really emotional and hard. I’m not proud of it and I know that it might look bad on the CV. But if something isn’t right, you got to do everything in your power to feel peace.

So why did I quit those jobs?

Short answer: I didn’t like it there.

Something was always off – attitude of the colleagues, the boss, the salary, the little things.  But one of those things always led to another and what looked like a great opportunity during an interview became a very stressful experience couple of months in.

And in each company there are always employees who have been there for years and those who just love it there.

Good for them.

But you don’t have to adjust and try to fit in just because someone else likes the place you’re uncomfortable in.

Even though I always left having a new offer, leaving was scary every time. Telling your boss you’re leaving is incredibly scary. Waiting for the first day in the new company is scary. Losing everything is scary. Finding out that the new place is worse than the previous is scary. But you got to take the risk if you feel that you’re in the wrong place.

Anyway, here are some of the conclusions I’ve made after working for those 4 companies in a year and a half time span:

  • You need to talk to your superior if you don’t like something. They can’t and won’t read your mind to see how you feel. I wasn’t talking to any of my bosses honestly before. I just bitched about problems with my colleagues and when unhappiness pilled up, I quit. I didn’t talk to my bosses because I was scared they would get angry, I’d lose their graces and get fired. But the result is the same if I don’t talk and quit the job. So why not try talking?
  • You need to quit when the company isn’t giving you anything new. You can get everything from a company in a month, a year, 10 years. But when there’s no way for you to grow in terms of expertise and salary – there’s no point in staying. Unless you’re the CEO, CTO, CMO or other C-suite, when you reached the ceiling in the company, start looking for new opportunities.
  • Don’t feel like you have to tell anyone in the company that you’re looking for a new job. Unless you have real meaningful relations with someone there. Other than that, you don’t have to tell them anything. Considering other options and being open to opportunities is okay.
  • It’s okay to quit when a great opportunity arises. Your boss would do the same, probably did in the past and is likely to do it again in the future.
  • No one can disrespect you and belittle you. No matter who they are in the organization. If the company put a bad person in charge – screw them. Your professional dignity is crucial. If they don’t respect you – they won’t pay you adequately or help you grow. But most importantly – no one can humiliate you.
  • Bosses make mistakes too.  It’s okay to double-check what they say and make sure they didn’t mess up.
  • Wanting a raise isn’t a crime. If you see that your price on the market is higher – make it clear to the management. If they can’t help you – consider other options.
  • Taking sick days is okay. Even more so, it’s obligatory. If you’re sick – you have no right to come and contaminate the whole office.
  • Make sure to use your vacation days every year. Even if you don’t have any big plans.
  • A company needs you just as much, if not more than you need it. You don’t owe a company anything that isn’t specified in the contract.  A company won’t stay loyal to you if you’re not essential. People are viewed as resources by companies. Employees should view companies as tools for achieving goals.
  • Read contracts very carefully. Some companies put really messed up obligations in them.
  • Don’t give too many chances. If a company failed you twice, chances are, it will happen again. Don’t believe in last times.
  • No matter how unhappy I was when quitting, I never messed up my relations with anyone in the companies I was leaving. Some people might still be upset that I left. But I know that I did what I had to do and I didn’t lose face doing so. You will need a professional network later on in your life, so don’t trade it for being emotionally honest in an exit interview.
  • Extra hours cost extra.
  • It takes about half a year to get comfortable in a company. So when you decide to switch jobs, keep in mind that the next 6 months or so might be a little stressful.
  • If you’ve decided to leave, and have an offer pending, don’t take counter offers and just leave. If you stay and everyone knows you’ll leave if you’re given $100 more, that’s not good for your image.
  • Always keep your CV and LinkedIn account up to date and clean.

I’m not saying that I stick to all these rules now.  But I really try since I know they make employee’s life better.

I know switching jobs is scary. And it’s not always the right solution. Sometimes you need to solve problems and stay put. But there’s also nothing criminal in looking for new opportunities and taking the ones you think are good for you.  

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Should you pursue a career in marketing

Anywhere you go, you hear about startups and tech companies. And even though the vast majority of them doesn’t make any real product and solves problems that don’t exist, they still get a ton of praise.

These days, everyone is a co-founder, vice president or head of something in a no-name tech company. And if you don’t know how it works, from outside it might look like all these people are achieving something and make the world a better place.

Well, they don’t.

But still, due to extensive media coverage and PR campaigns, most of us got this notion that working in tech is cool. That IT is somehow better than a job in a brick-and-mortar business.

Well, it isn’t.

It’s just apples and oranges. But that’s not my point now. My point is the following.

When a young person after school or uni is inevitably tempted to try and get a job in IT, there are very few options:

  • coder
  • qa
  • manager
  • hr
  • devops
  • support
  • marketer

And if you’re not particularly technical, enjoy creativity and don’t want to go against your nature, the choice really narrows down.

So a lot of people who’re into liberal arts, consider becoming marketers.

Entry level positions are easy to get. And it’s one of those jobs that may even seem fun and fancy at first. And that’s a good thing. The more talented people become marketers the better. And if some less talented or suited for the job will come along, soon they’ll leave.

 

Do I recommend becoming an online marketer?

Not unless you just love to read and write.

There will be fewer meetings than in other IT jobs, there will be more creative freedom and choices. There will be a ton of information processing and thinking.

You won’t be making slogans whole day long. You won’t generally sit around a room in bean bags discussing creative approaches.

You will be analyzing and researching. You will need to master a ton of software and perfectly you’ll need to know some basic coding.

Most importantly, you’ll need to learn to talk passionately about products or services even if you hate and despise them.

That’s just the way it is.

You can’t sell stuff if you can’t convince yourself first that it’s the best on the market.

The thing is that most probably the product you’ll work with won’t be the best on the market. But the client can’t know about that. That’s why a lot of the times you’ll feel like you’re lying and pretending. Because you will be doing exactly that – lying and pretending.

But if you manage to grow fast and strong enough within the organization you’ll get a chance to influence the end product. So that you didn’t have to lie and pretend that much about it.

The important thing about an online marketer’s job is that you will need to know your product or service really good. Better than most in the company. And not only your product or service but also all of your competitors’.

Also, you need to be extra careful when choosing who you work for.

Cause see, no one associates a coder or a tester with the company they work for. But if you’re the guy promoting a business – people will feel like you’re the one responsible for PR fuckups of the CEO, bad product, bad customer service, etc.

And they will be partly correct. Since it was you who convinced them that you’re not selling crap.

I might be a tad too dramatic. But you will feel all these things. A little more or a little less. Depending on the kind of person you are.

Summing up

Marketing isn’t the way you see it in movies. But it is fun. If the company is right. And if you’re right for the job.

So what to do when you want to apply for an entry-level marketing position?

I strongly advise to google around and read about the company you plan to work for. As much as you can. But don’t fall for the cliche stuff like “corporate culture”, “innovative next-gen product”, “family-like atmosphere”. Read real reviews from real employees and clients.

Then read about the position you’re applying for. What these people do, what are the pros and cons. You can even get in touch with me if you really want to 🙂

But in general, try to read a lot of theory on that job first. Chances are, the actual work will be nothing like what it’s supposed to be. But still.

Other than that, if you’re still at the beginning of your career – why not try yourself in marketing.

Honestly, it’s not for everyone. But even if you don’t become the next Ogilvy, it might open some new windows of opportunity for you.