Going to school: Learning online marketing

Can an old copywriter learn new tricks? One way or another, I’m going to apply what I know about traditional marketing to the fast-changing world of online marketing.

I’m a product of traditional advertising, from when the print ad meant everything. I was lucky enough to get hooked on personal computing early, when I was given my first Mac in 1985. In my mind, I was always ahead of the curve, if ever so slightly. Lately I realized I had fallen behind. 

I knew from the time I received my first personal email (remember Compuserve?) and joined my first discussion board that this was going to be bigger and more important than anyone could guess. There was a thrill from the immediacy and the “interactivity”, though I didn’t know the word yet. TV just didn’t hold a candle to it.

Fast forward…

At this point I’ve helped develop about 15 web sites but I’m not an interactive expert by any means. And that’s a problem, because today brands live and grow in an interactive world. 

So I’m making it my business to learn the finer points of email marketing. Yesterday I visited the Range office in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Range has produced some fantastic print, TV and identity work. But partners Adam Graves and Eden Moreland impressed me most in the least likely way: Range has developed its own email marketing platform for its customers. I don’t know how they did it, or how it stacks up to other systems, but it sure looked good. If a small shop can do this for its clients, what are other agencies doing, besides slipping into irrelevance? 

I’m going to learn about affiliate programs, where e-commerce companies offer their partners a commission for each sale from an ad on the partner site. Retailers that once were bound by physical barriers are now smashing their sales records via affiliates, providing a win-win-win situation for themselves, the affiliates and end-users. Why haven’t I’ve ever done this for my clients? 

I’m wondering how the heck I’ll ever learn enough about search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) to be able to speak competently about them and lead projects. I was told today that SEO used to be all about metatags. Then the search engines devalued metatags. Now they’re important again. Who can keep up?

Then there’s social media. If social media is growing as fast as they say, does it mean I have to actually learn how to use Facebook? (Lord, save me from MySpace.)

Now I read that the future is widgets. Why not?

Is it really so different?

To me, the question has always been “How do we make a connection?” Products and services must fill practical and emotional needs. Communications still must make an emotional connection. We still need to build brands, to differentiate and to communicate value. These days, all this has to be done in an interactive context, but I go forward knowing the basics still apply.

So while I may be late to the party, I’m pretty sure the party’s just starting. And I plan to stay late. 

Just don’t ask me to push unwanted ads onto cell phones. 


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