In some ways, digital marketing gives you less control, not more – it’s ok, embrace it

We all want control, to a certain degree. In our day to day lives we can feel the slow creep of death, some of us more urgently than others, and this sometimes propels within us an urge to grab hold of the things in our life and try to stabilize them, make them fixed and under our control.

Digital marketing sacrifices control
In many areas of life, we want control, but can’t have it. Embracing this can be a positive force. In digital marketing, it is no different.

(Wow, this is a marketing blog, didn’t think I was ever going to get that deep, but there it is.)

This is no different when it comes to marketers. Replace the fear of death with a fear of not succeeding, and you have in some an urgent pull to be in complete control of every marketing initiative, on every scale from the macro to the most granular.

This translates into things as marketers we see every day. Let me know if you’ve heard yourself or another marketing pro uttering any of the following:

Can you move that line of text 3 pixels to the left?

Can we edit what that email said after it was sent?

That comment on our YouTube video is ridiculous!

Why is that page showing up as the first result in Google instead of the one we want to?

I don’t want to open up my blog for comments.

Let’s not set up a Yelp or Google Places listing; I don’t want our reputation getting hurt by bad reviews.

Why didn’t client X see our tweet? He’s following us!

These are all examples of wanting to make things perfectly under our control. The problem is marketing in the digital era takes away a lot of control.

The benefits, though, far outweigh the downsides of not having things exactly the way we want them. From free platforms, to responsive layouts and increased user engagement, digital marketing offers a world of benefits to the entrepreneur and small business, and we need to embrace it, and lean into this lack of control with full speed.

Here are just a few ways in which we lose control in digital marketing, and why that’s OK.

Rendering on responsive websites

Responsive web design used to be controversial back in the web 2.0 days, but as the proliferation of smart phone usage has exploded, it has been accepted as standard practice throughout the industry.

I’m old enough to remember when half the websites I viewed on my phone were almost illegible. You had to pinch and expand portions of the screen in order to read any text, because it has the same exact layout on a phone as it did on a desktop.

responsive design
Here’s the title on a desktop width screen. I like it.
Responsive design
Here’s how the headline breaks on a phone. Ehhhh, I am less than thrilled. But I deal with it because I have a free responsive website theme.

Enter responsive design, which makes the site change layout – font sizes, column width, and image size – to look good and easy to read on any screen size.

Non-responsive unthinkable when launching a new website now. And it’s hard to imagine even finding a theme you could install on a website now that isn’t responsive.

But here’s the downside: line breaks on responsive websites are inconsistent and unfixable. If you want a certain phrase to end on the first line and not continue to the next, you’re kind of out of luck – unless you want to start writing a boatload of css media queries to give specific instructions about where a given headline breaks at different screen sizes. And who wants to do that? No one.  Why? Because it’s super inefficient.

This means we have to take the good with bad, and accept that where we might want to control the break of a line of text – in the grand scheme, the competitive necessity of having a website that looks good on a phone, and the need to not spend all your time on one line break, means that we have to take the good with bad.

Marketing emails – you can’t take them back

I’m not sure how much longer email marketing is going to be around. On one hand I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re still sending html emails to promote our brands in 75 years. On the other hand, this generation of communication platforms and project management tools seems to indicate businesses are moving away from email.

In any case, email marketing still remains a viable form of communication at the time of this writing. And the most cost-effective method of direct marketing in most cases. (Especially if you’re using an open source tool such as Mautic.)

Now especially dynamic with the level of personalization that can be added to marketing emails, this medium is another must-have that used to a nice-to-have.

The problem? That send button is oh-so-permanent.

Once you deploy a marketing email, en masse or a one-off autoresponder, that thing is gone, and the recipient can see it, in all it’s typo-ridden, mistake filled glory.

And who hasn’t experienced the remorse of hitting send on a marketing email with a mistake?  It is an awful feeling, to be sure.

But does that mean we should abandon email marketing? Of course not. It’s too cost effective, and too ubiquitous for us to ignore. We have to embrace it, and proof the heck out of everything, knowing that we’re not perfect and bound to make a mistake at some point. You know, being human beings and all.

Social media posts: The dangers of commenting and reputation management

Reputation management is a tricky beast, especially if your business has an active presence on social media. When you put your brand out there, there are going to be some doubters and haters, most certainly.

As a digital marketer and a person, I have seen and read my fare share of negative comments on social media about a product, service, or company. It’s just part of it.

This makes it tempting to take down posts, stop posting about certain topics that get bad comments, or just withdraw from social media all together.  But, as is the case with email marketing, do you really want to jettison an entire medium that is so cost-effective (or in this case, free) just because there are risks.

The platforms offered by Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN and Instagram are too powerful to turn down, even if there are some morons out there who don’t want to take the time to understand your message, or who want to judge you too harshly.

Solution? Embrace it. Ever heard the saying “All press is good press”? Sometimes we need to accept that our most compelling messages might also carry a certain polarized charge to them. This is OK. We can harness the energy to our benefit, know that we’re not going to convert every soul in the world.

Organic search results don’t seek our approval

Organic search results are in some ways the Mecca of digital marketing. If you can rank high on Google, the idea goes, you have found the holy grail and the path toward revenue nirvana.

To a degree this is true. And to a degree we are right to pour so much time and effort into SEO. It is just a simple fact that search is going to be a significant source of growth for businesses with a strong online presence.

Unfortunately, that also means that a good deal of your marketing efforts are going to be rendered and delivered by a different platform – most cases, Google – and this platform does not ask for your approval.

The result is that we often will have a few different pages about a topic – and Google will index the one we least like, while burying our favorite page in the fifth page of search results, a fate we know will relegate it by and large to organic search obscurity.

Also, have you ever updated a page that does well in Google, to find that Google has not reflected those updates, and your title or meta description remains unchanged on their results page?

You can submit your URL to be crawled and indexed by Google, but you have no control over how long this will take and if Google will process your updates the way you want them to.

That’s OK though. You still need to worry more about the space your competitors are taking up on this page than Google’s short comings when it comes to rendering the page to your specifications.

Oh, and definitely keep adhering to SEO best practices. That is just a given.

Got any blog comments?

If you have a WordPress blog, as I do, you have the option to very easily allow comments.  Pro tip: allow them.

It’s that simple. Comments on you blog add to your site’s authority, because it is obvious that other users are out there engaging with your content and finding it to be of value.

There are definitely going to be some side-effects to this. For one thing (and this is true especially if your blog is just starting out), you’re going to get a lot of spam comments.

Similarly to the problem above with social media, you’re going to also be dealing with some challenging or negative comments. This is all part of it.

Not to fear, though, WordPress, and likely ever other blogging platform, allows for comment moderation, where you can choose which ones actually get published on your site. This solves the problem, even though it does give you more work to do, going through and approving or denying comments.

The end result, again, is a net benefit.  More user engagement is just good when it comes to digital and website marketing.

Hopefully these are some examples that show how we as marketers can let go when we need to.  I know there are more, can you think of any?

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