I recently watched the movie "Objectified", a documentary about industrial design, and the notion that stuck was that good design is about clarity of form and function, using as little material as necessary - but no less. As the subjects described their philospophical ideals, I was struck by how remarkably similar good design was to good online marketing. Despite the common cry for "more" (more links, more content, more followers, etc), I see companies burning time, energy and money to accomplish very little. In most cases, the system produces a whole lot of noise for very little signal. One of my least favorite things to do is to help clients to understand they have been largely ineffective in their efforts, or even worse, would have been better off doing nothing.
The inefficiency of most online marketing efforts is astounding. We can usually see the issues resulting from clients leaning hard to one side or the other on a continuum between design and technology.
- On one end are the designers, purely focused on form. They are heavy on the graphics, use lots of fancy effects, they talk about a "visceral user experience". They design to please the client, aren't familiar with compliance, and are offended when it is suggested that they objectively measure the effectiveness of any of their work. They probably use flash WITH sound effects.
- On the other end are the technicians, purely focused on influencing the machine. They prefer raw html, are learning Python in their free time, and refer cryptically to "recent algorithm updates". They honestly think they can outsmart the engines, aren't concerned with asthetics, and know at least 6 ways to use a 'rel=' tag. They make jokes about incomplete PHP expressions.
The problem with either extreme (or any extreme, for that matter) is in it's short-sightedness. A beautiful website is worthless without any impressions (21st century version of the "if a tree falls in the woods..."). A top-ranking site generates nothing if visitors bail as soon as the page loads. On the ends of the spectrum, a tremendous amount of effort produces little to no gain. What seems to work best is a balance of design and technology, a "sweet spot" somewhere between people and robots. As with the psychology 101 conundrum of which is more important, "nature" or "nurture", the correct answer is "both/and". As obvious as a balanced approach to online marketing seems, those that actually adhere to it are by far the minority.
A mature approach to online marketing starts by first seeking leverage in opportunity of context and resources. Its less about doing more, and more about doing well. Our SEO & search marketing campaigns are often designed for a perfect world, then promptly tailored to the one we're working in, for the people we're working with. The first step is help clients develop efficient, effective solutions, but the greater goal is systematic optimization of their online marketing efforts. Done well, its a recipe bordering on alchemy, a complex relationship of ingredients that are far greater than the sum of their parts.