Photo by BrianBloom

Photo by BrianBloom

Fans of Seth Godin are no doubt aware that he recently released a new book, The Icarus Deception. Here’s the premise: Industrial society has trained mankind into the safe, the comfortable, the mundane. Study hard, get good grades, and maybe you’ll get into an elite school. Once there, study hard, get good grades, and maybe you’ll get a job at an elite company. Work hard, keep your head down, and you may work your way up to management and retire a little better off than your parents did.

In this book, Godin argues that the comfortable path is no longer safe. He argues that now, conformity and predictability are liabilities, and that we should all be taking the path of the artist, no matter what our vocation. He’s not arguing that we must all paint, sculpt, dance, or create music. Instead, we should approach everything we do with the creativity and courage of an artist.

Sounds great, but what does that really mean for those of us in the corporate world? Here are a few characteristics of the true artist:

  • He ships. Art isn’t art if nobody else sees it.
  • She creates an emotional connection. With human beings. You can’t do that if you don’t ship.
  • He doesn’t pander. Growing and evolving because of feedback is part of being an artist. Selling out to give your audience what they think they want is not.
  • He keeps trying. Great art comes from passion. Passion will not be extinguished by a few failures. The artist learns from those failures and refines his craft.
  • She takes risks. Art worth remembering defies convention and traditional classification. If there’s no risk, she is pandering, imitating, or hiding. Even the best books, movies, restaurants, gadgets, and brands have critics.

Why am I writing about this?

I read this book, as I do most of Godin’s books, looking for new insights or ideas I could bring to the work we do for our clients. I was pleasantly surprised to find that what he describes is what we strive to do every day.

Our industry is hitting an incredible level of saturation.

Web marketers have adopted a formula: write enough blog posts, tweet enough, post to Facebook enough, and you’ll succeed. Comment on enough blogs, exchange enough links, and your search engine rankings will improve. The problem is, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people doing this, and the definition of “enough” keeps growing. Comfortable is no longer safe.

Most of us like to play it safe. We don’t go out on a limb because limbs can break. We can fall. This applies to marketing strategy as well. “Create more content. Good content. But stick to what we know works.” To do otherwise is dangerous. We risk failure, scorn, loss of a client, being fired.

What we’ve found, though, is that some of our biggest successes came from the most risky, creative, unorthodox ideas. Allow me to share a few examples:

The Sweetest Sixteen Recipe Tournament

Web marketing contest

What began as an idea to generate new recipes using pie filling turned into something so much larger and more powerful for the brand. We recruited 16 of the top baking bloggers in North America to participate in our tournament. We mailed care packages of Solo’s products to each one of them. Yes – a web marketing company mailed physical things to real people via the US Postal Service. The outcome?

Web presence statistics

Oh, and we got 16 spectacular recipes out of the bargain, while making friends with some seriously talented bloggers.

To get the most mileage out of this, we’re taking it a step further. We’re compiling all of the recipes from the contest into an e-book. We’re partnering with No Kid Hungry, selling the e-book for $1.99, and donating 100% of proceeds to their mission. Now all of those tasty treats will help feed hungry children!

Devops Application SupportDevOps – A Valentine’s Day Fairy Tale

It started with a conversation that went something like this: “This will either be the dumbest thing we’ve ever written, or it’ll be an amazing story that people will want to share.” It’s a story about two people finding love. It also happens to be an analogy for Development and Operations working better together when it comes to application support and server monitoring. Sounds insane, right?

DevOps and Server Monitoring

This post resulted in a massive traffic spike on Valentine’s Day due to dozens of retweets and enough votes to make it to the front page of HackerNews (a prominent community site in the IT world).

Visualizing Facebook Activity of TV Shows

Ocean Media provides media buying and media planning services for major brands. They’ve recently ventured into social media as well, so they wanted to showcase an expertise at the intersection of TV and social media. So, we created a data visualization tool. Every day, our tool pulls Likes and Talking About numbers for 30 prime-time TV shows that debuted this season. That data is then charted over the course of the season so you can see the popularity of each show on Facebook, color-coded by network:

Media planning for primetime TV shows

To get the full experience, click the image above and try it out for yourself. We’re taking public data, using a free visualization tool from Google, and creating something interesting and unique.

The success or failure of this project has yet to be seen. We’re still building and gathering data. We’ll find out soon whether it resonates with the public or not!

Fortune Favors the Bold

There’s still a place for “safe.” Safe will still generate incremental gains. You might see 1-2% growth in traffic each month by playing it safe. But safe never goes viral. Safe doesn’t get many retweets. Safe is unremarkable. Occasionally, you need to mix it up with the risky, crazy, quirky, weird ideas that will knock people out of the flood of mundane and say “Wow, that’s different.”

To our clients, current and future, we’d like to make a few requests:

With your permission, we’d like to take more risks.

With your permission, we’d like to try things that might fail.

With your permission, we’d like to fly a little closer to the sun.

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8 thoughts on “Web Marketing and the Icarus Deception

  • February 28, 2013 at 12:38 pm
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    Great Post! I’d always rather swing for the fences, than have regrets about playing it safe.

    Reply
  • March 2, 2013 at 5:13 pm
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    Kyle,

    I love the idea of this (as I do with most of Godin’s stuff). Generally I struggle with what that idea might look like in real life for those of us who aren’t artists.

    Thank you for your real life examples – at the end of the day, social media, SEO and content are all about marketing. And if we’ve learned nothing else over the last 30 years, we’ve learned that if your marketing, if your message is just like everyone else’s, then you will be lost in the noise.

    Good stuff – thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • March 2, 2013 at 5:29 pm
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      Thanks Shawn! I agree – it can be difficult to be an “artist” in a traditional business role, depending on how you define it. Sometimes it’s as simple as providing your clients an exceptional level of service.

      Reply
  • March 2, 2013 at 5:52 pm
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    Very refreshing point of view. Our great country was built not by people wanting to play it safe but by those who knew that greatness only comes from those who are willing to risk it all for not only the sake of the reward but because they know that doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. It is easy to conform to normality and blend in with the masses. It is in our DNA to strive to maintain homeostasis. How do we know if we are actually alive though if we never experience any variance?
    Optima’s willingness to be bold and make an impact is one of the many reasons why we have chosen them to do our web site redesign and SEO. You have set the bar pretty high with your past success and can’t wait to see what the results of your continued innovation will have for us.

    Reply
  • March 4, 2013 at 8:22 am
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    Awesome post! This book seems very interesting. I agree playing it “safe” usually does go unnoticed. I think it’s good to take a step back and question why am I really doing the norm? What am I personally getting out of it and is it really benefiting my relationships and success?

    Like you explain, there are so many bloggers posting and people tweeting every day. In order to gain real success I and the company I represent, need to refrain from the normal blogging themes and tweeting messages in order to stand out. Take risks more often.

    I am ready to learn ways to do this! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • March 4, 2013 at 10:02 am
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    Compelling stuff.. I can understand wanting to play it safe. But there are too many possibilities in this world to ever be content not living out your passion.

    Reply
  • March 4, 2013 at 10:22 am
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    I love this. Thanks for the reminder that we should strive for more than just making money or even making our clients happy. When I’m inspired to create something awesome and all the pieces fall into place, it’s so much better than just doing it right.

    Reply
  • July 25, 2013 at 3:01 pm
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    Love this post, the ideas and the work. Pumped that we are going to get to work with you and your team!

    Reply

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