A few years ago I went skeet shooting for the first time. Although I had been shooting with my uncles as a kid and at the range before, I had never been skeet shooting. When it was my turn to shoot, the instructor told me to take aim and yell “pull” -- so I grabbed my shotgun, aimed, and yelled.
Two clays flew out across the sky. I looked down my sights and turned my body to get in position to destroy those clays. When I got to what looked like the right spot, the clays approached, and I fired. And I missed both clays. This process repeated a few more times until I finally started hitting a few. After a number of tries, I was able to shoot both clays over 60 percent of the time and at least one clay 100 percent of the time.
As I started to settle in and get an understanding of exactly what I needed to do to blast those targets out of the sky, the instructor changed the rules on me. Now there were four different places the clays could come from. Instead of simply aiming and shooting at two clays, I had to figure out where the clays were coming from, take aim, fire … then find the second clay, rack the shotgun, take aim, and fire again. My success rate of hitting the targets fell dramatically once the rules and complexity of the game changed.
You may be wondering what any of this has to do with marketing. I see many businesses owners who primarily (or only) rely on online marketing as a means of communicating with and acquiring customers. This is a big mistake that has caused more than a few businesses to fail.
The (false) lure of cheap or “free” online advertising over the years has been too much for many to resist. However, as Google’s algorithm and AdWords platform has evolved, we find them changing at an ever-increasing rate. In 2013, the estimated number of rule changes to their SEO algorithm was over 600 -- nearly two changes per day. Granted, most of those are small changes, but a handful of them were major and had a huge impact on marketers’ ability to get their message out and website found.
One recent example of a change is Gmail’s Priority Inbox, which created a “Promotions” tab where most marketing emails inevitably end up. Another example came about a year ago, when Google stopped allowing you to see which keywords people were searching for to find your website. This made it nearly impossible to understand, and potentially target, the keywords that were bringing traffic to your site. As a result, businesses relying solely on the Internet for lead generation are one major rule change away from going out of business.
On the other side of the coin, you have the USPS, which has only a handful of rule changes per year. When you think about it, besides the cost of a stamp, the USPS has been providing the same service for over 150 years. My company mails around three million newsletters per year, and other than price increases, we’ve only had two semi-major rule changes over the past five years.
The first USPS rule change was the need to add two tabs (tabs are clear stickers that seal the newsletter closed for mailing) to the top of a newsletter, instead of just a single tab. The second change was that we had to start printing what is called an “intelligent mail barcode” onto each newsletter in order to maximize our postal discounts. With both changes, we got a few months’ notice as well as help in complying with the new rules. Wouldn’t it be great if Google provided similar assistance?
It's not all or nothing.
Direct mail offers a much more stable platform for building, at a minimum, the foundation of your business. If you are thinking, “Yes, but the USPS will be bankrupt and out of business anytime now,” think again. The USPS is a constitutionally guaranteed service, and if it does go out of business, it is likely the United States government doesn’t exist anymore either -- and my guess is we will all have other issues to worry about if that happens.
My suggestion isn’t to stop using Google or Facebook, but to instead find a way to build a foundation of lead generation and customer communication that doesn’t rely primarily on Google or another online media for the success of your business. The last thing you want is to be caught on the wrong end of a rule change.