The Limits of “E Marketing”

“Technology is a queer thing. It brings you gifts with one hand, and stabs you in the back with the other.”

C.P. Snow

Emarketing consultants have raked in billions by promising potential clients dramatic increases in visibility and sales, but some businesses have spent large amounts of money only to be disappointed with the results. Technology can be a great tool, but only if it is part of an otherwise sound business strategy. Failures of emarketing (and the current “Obamacare” fiasco) are making this plain.  

No matter what business you happen to be in, it’s more competitive than ever. For that reason entrepreneurs cannot overlook the increasingly important role that digital technology plays in our lives. I attended my first Internet based marketing seminar nine or 10 years ago and knew immediately that the world of business that I had grown up with was a thing of the past.

Since that time there’s been a virtual explosion in the array of options for doing marketing and sales through digital technology and many businesses have benefitted enormously. Many others however, have sunk big bucks into “emarketing;” only to lose them— for the simple reason that it was never thought out exactly how it would generate revenues.

The rise of emarketing

The Internet has changed human life in ways too profound to quantify, affecting everything from people’s modes of worship to their sex lives. There is simply no way to ignore it completely and expect to thrive in business. The old “mom & pop” retail business has become all but a thing of the past, as “local” has been replaced by “global.”

Websites and email were among the first harbingers of the coming revolution in business, with blogs, eBay, Amazon, and a host of other web based tools for business following close on their heels. Any entrepreneur who hasn’t looked into the potentials of social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and others too numerous to mention is aiding and abetting their competitors who have.

The advent of cyberspace opened the door for a new kind of peddler— the “techie,” whose fixation on digital technology made him or her knowledgeable about the continuous emergence of innovations as they became available. Seminars and consulting services regarding Internet applications for businesses became common, and “emarketing” went from being a business tool to being a business in its own right.

True lies and false promises

The problem with emarketing however, is that it’s a tool in the negative sense— if you’re not using it, you’re sure to suffer in some fashion or other. But using it by no means guarantees success. Myriads of business owners have spent large amounts of money on it and gotten little to no ROI. One CEO I worked with referred to it as a financial “black hole” into which money disappears never to return.

The reason for so much disappointment is that many entrepreneurs have been hoodwinked into expecting that a prominent presence in cyberspace alone could solve their problems. While this seems simple and obvious, innumerable businesspeople have fallen prey to this kind of thinking.

The “pay per click” trap

The earliest social media marketing seminars I attended were those offering strategies for guaranteeing that your name and website would figure prominently in any search results related to the business you’re in. Usually accompanying this with this would be a discussion of tactics for getting users to your website regardless of what kind of Internet activity they were engaged in.

Such presentations almost invariably guarantee increments in sales as a function of using these tactics, and there are some grains of truth in some of what is said. But an Internet presence per se cannot replace good business sense of the common sort. If you have a lousy business model, offer little of value, and have an awful sense of what makes people buy, all a prominent Internet presence does is make people aware of those facts. 

Most unfortunate were those who bought “pay per click” services, which charged them for each and every visit to their websites regardless of the outcome. Such services guarantee lots of visitors, but if no sales ensue, the investment is a complete washout.  There are very few businesses for which such a service could be anything other than a severe financial liability. I’ve heard more horror stories than I’d care to recount. 

Emarketing “experts” abound

If you’re familiar with social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook, you’ve got to be aware that cyberspace is now overrun by would be social media marketing “experts.” Many of these people have few skills beyond those that are now commonplace, have little or no real business expertise, and some of them can’t even spell, judging by many of the discussions I’ve seen in LinkedIn groups.

Of those that are more tech savvy than the rest of us, many have serious problems in the area of social intelligence (also often referred to as “emotional intelligence”). Business is all about people and relationships, and if you have problems relating to the perspectives and needs of others, these will limit your ability to succeed regardless of what you’re trying to sell.

Tech based businesses frequently fail

Technology-based businesses are failing at an exceedingly high rate, as many “techies” are technology smart but socially impaired. Successful marketing based on technological knowhow sans social intelligence is a formula for business failure. Some of the social media marketing seminars I’ve attended were run by characters who were clearly not with it in the “people department.” That fact was clearly evident in their presentations, especially in the ways that they handled questions from those not well versed in digital technology.

Social intelligence trumps technical knowledge

NY Times bestselling author and business guru John C. Maxwell, in his book How Successful People Think, emphasizes that good sound social intelligence is just as important as technical knowledge and the ability to focus on the bottom line. A lack in either department can be very destructive to your ability to succeed, and both are required for the development of successful business strategies.

Digital technology offers a wonderful array of options to entrepreneurs, but successful business strategizing often boils down to two essential components: (1) Finding a genuine need, and (2) filling that need in a cost-effective fashion. Complications lie within each of these, but the overarching logic is somewhat simple. Many people however, have trouble staying in touch with it.

Remembering the “DOTCOM bubble” 

Far too many entrepreneurs have been blinded by the sheer number of options available through technology and have overlooked the more commonsense considerations in their planning. The market crash in early 2000 (now known as the “DOTCOM bubble”) was one of the best examples of what happens when a myopic focus on technology runs amok and displaces realities that would be quite obvious otherwise.

Myriads of would be entrepreneurs created Internet based “businesses” that were based solely on the promises of what technology could do— without thinking the “business basics” through. There was little regard for the issues of when (or even if) these businesses would yield profits, but the rush to get in on the ground floor suckered thousands of greedy investors right in— until the bubble burst. The old adage, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t,” completely escaped people who placed their hard earned money at risk in bad investments.

Repeating past mistakes

Businesses that waste money on fruitless emarketing efforts fall prey to some of the very same things as those who lost out in the DOTCOM bubble: Promises of quick returns laced with techno-jargon (“search engines,” “digital footprint,” “Internet presence,” etc.). Most of all however, they fell prey to a naive belief that there are substitutes for clear thinking and careful strategizing. Technology can be part of a carefully worked out business strategy, but cannot be a substitute for one.

Obamacare Chaos

At the time of this writing (mid November, 2013), our country is in the throes of a technology-based fiasco associated with the rollout of President Obama’s vaunted “Affordable Care Act.” As is so often the case, the chaos can be traced to technology deployed independently of the clear and careful thinking that underlies sound business strategy. In this case it’s a severely malfunctioning website.

Innumerable people are again paying a stiff price because of a poorly thought out strategy and an overreliance on technology. When the history of this age is written, it wouldn’t surprise me if it revolves around a battle between wisdom and technology, with technology the winner, and both wisdom and humanity the losers.

Technology cannot replace wisdom

We’ve entered an age in which people seem to have simply abandoned the concept of wisdom. If you’ll notice, you’ll see that the term rarely appears these days. We hear of “information” and “data” all the time. “Knowledge” is referred to somewhat less frequently, but of “wisdom” we hear almost nothing. Without it, all the knowledge and information in the universe are of little value. That’s probably one reason why so many things seem to be going wrong and so many businesses are failing.

If one thing should be evident, it should be that technology cannot solve all of our problems. Our economic future may depend less on technology and more on the rediscovery of the importance of wisdom. It’s not an easy thing to define, but it becomes very conspicuous when absent. Technology can give us options, but it’s up to us to use those options wisely. Those that do so in business will thrive, and those that do not will continue to fall by the wayside. The annals of business history are littered with the remains of the “did nots.”