Ian Lurie is the chief executive officer at Portent, the Internet marketing company he started in 1995. The company’s services include search engine optimization, search engine marketing, and strategic consulting. Ian recently co-published the Web Marketing for Dummies All In One Desk Reference. Ian also has a blog, www.conversationmarketing.com. Here he tells us of the major changes he’s seen in marketing since 1995 and what his biggest struggles were when first starting his business.
I see that you started Internet marketing in 1995. There have obviously been a lot of changes since then and many introductions to new social media platforms. What are some of the largest transitions you’ve had to make or have you seen since you began?
Well, for one thing, I can't do any marketing for clients using Prodigy or CompuServe any more. Some changes are obvious: Everyone's online now; there's a lot more content out there (understatement!); the tools and technology we use to spread content around are infinitely more powerful. If you'd told me in 1995 we'd have millions of hours of video online by 2012, I would've laughed at you and muttered about storage costs. The more subtle changes are the ones that really matter to me though:
- Better analytics. We can now learn a great deal more about how people use our web sites. And, we can layer different tools on top of each other to get an incredibly detailed picture of how social media, search and our web sites interact.
- Better search. A lot of folks outside our community take this for granted. But Google and Yahoo! (and yes, Excite, Alta Vista and other long-dead search tools) made internet marketing possible. Without them, visibility would be nearly impossible. Say what you want about brand favoritism and Google becoming evil - Google is the mass transit system that moves people around the web. Yahoo! was, too, and Bing is now part of the mix. Search technology in general remains crucial to the way we make a living, the same way TV and modern printing made the last revolution in marketing possible.
- Commoditization. When I started, building the web site was the big-bucks proposition. Now, you can build a solid site, even for an enterprise, with standard tools. A lot of the services we used to sell at a premium are just commodities. I think this move towards commoditization is terrible for clients, but they've made the decision, so we've had to roll with it. We put a lot more time into consulting, strategy and training than we used to.
These days, marketing on the Internet is very important. How significant is it to know all of the Internet lingo and coding to successful marketing your company?
I think it's more important that you have some common sense. Don't let the phrase "internet marketing" intimidate you into accepting what is obviously a bad plan. I still shake my head when I see perfectly intelligent business owners trust folks who are clearly rip-off artists, or who are making outrageous promises. Use the exclamation point rule: Every exclamation point on a marketer's home page that's attached to a promise or claim should make you trust them 10% less. So "Rank number 1 now!" plus "We'll get you top position!" plus "We're marketing experts!" should mean you run away screaming.
Do you think some media platforms work better than others when marketing? Why?
I actually think every medium has a strength. The Internet is fantastic at fast iteration, data-driven strategies and massive conversion growth. TV will still reach more people than any other medium. Print lends a great deal of credibility if you do it right. Radio is overlooked but can get you great access. Of course, I favor Internet marketing as the first stop, but I'm biased.
You have a post from awhile back about evaluating a social media “expert,” stating that if you have a meeting with someone who has about 6 months experience in the industry, you should forget them, and two years it’s worth a consideration. Do you think businesses/consultants need to wait that long before they really know what they’re doing? And if they don’t get clients, how will they ever gain that experience?
I have a huge problem with people who have been in social media for 6-12 months hanging out shingles and claiming they're consultants. In my mind, a consultant is someone who's developed unparalleled expertise in a field. That means you work for someone else, in-house or at an agency. You get to the point where you know your discipline inside and out. Then you look at becoming a consultant. This isn't just about you. You're going to do a major disservice to your clients, hurt their businesses, and leave them in very difficult spots if you're irresponsible. Guys like Chris Brogan, Scott Stratten and, at the risk of being totally egotistical, me, didn't just "pop up on the scene." We put in thousands of hours of work. I don't know Chris and Scott's histories, but I know I worked as a marketing copywriter and tech writer for 3 years, and then started my company strictly as an online copywriter. Then I studied the emerging search engines for several years before adding that to our list of practices. And so on. I'm not saying new people shouldn't enter our industry. They absolutely should. But they have to learn it, not just show up.
What challenges did you face when you began in 1995?
Eating. Seriously, cash flow was a huge problem. I had two credit cards ($7500 total) and a computer. Oh, and a really fast dial up connection. Getting folks to trust me was the other big challenge. When you're 27 and trying to sell someone who's over 35 on marketing via a channel most people consider a fad, it's a little tricky.Daniel Milstein is the author of The ABC of Sales and the #1 Loan Sales Officer in America.