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When Is Marketing Not Marketing?

By February 10, 2015November 23rd, 2017Marketing Insights & Strategy, Podcast, Readings
When Is Marketing Not Marketing?

Q: When is a door not a door?

A: When it’s ajar.

That was one of those jokes I loved as a kid because I’ve always loved quirky language, and knowing what the word “ajar” meant made me feel smart.

But lately the idea of something not being itself has been percolating in my head in a whole new way. I’d like to explore a few related conundrums with you today so they might help you gain some clarity on your own business, marketing and goals.

Ready to delve the depths of perplexing paradoxes with me?

Blogging vs. Blogging

Are you a blogger?

Did you answer that by saying “yes” or “no” or did you hem and haw a bit… well, I blog but I’m not exactly “a blogger”…

We touched on this briefly in a recent podcast episode with Triberr founder Dino Dogan when we pondered the popular image of a “blogger” scarfing chips from a dark basement with the sole purpose of trolling the internet and looking for ways to irritate people with comments and opinions.

And yet a smart business knows – or at least has an inkling – that publishing a blog is an important piece of a content marketing strategy.

Thus the divergence of blogging from blogging.

There are two types of bloggers, and no, I’m not counting our chip-munching cousins. I’m talking about bloggers who blog as a business and businesses that publish blogs.

This is no academic distinction. If you’re a blogger – and by blogger I mean someone who maintains one or more blogs with the intent of monetizing them through digital products, affiliate programs or advertising, then your goals and strategy will be worlds different than if you run a landscaping or dental or pool installation business with a blog as a component of your marketing plan.

Bloggers whose blogs are their businesses necessarily spend lots of time networking with other bloggers. Entire economies are built up around commenting on and sharing each other’s posts and promoting each other’s digital products.

Bloggers tend to have advertising on their sites because it can help drive revenue.

Bloggers may review big-brand products – whether as a volunteer or as a paid ambassador – as part of a revenue strategy.

Bloggers live and die by comment counts, social shares and “social proof”.

Bloggers may or may not perform a service (like consulting, coaching or something similar) but they quite often produce, package and sell their own educational and/or digital products. Then other bloggers become affiliates and cross sell those products.

Across the spectrum from these bloggers are businesses that provide a separate service or sell a tangible product, whether they sell it online or through a brick-and-mortar. These are the architects and plumbers, the coffee shops and clothing retailers, the insurance brokers and authors.

These businesses blog to generate leads and make sales, to educate customers and prospects, to show the human side of their brand.

They typically don’t get reams of comments or skads of social shares.

They may have partners but they aren’t usually found promoting anyone else’s product or service unless they have a strategic business alliance in place.

And lest you think I’m speaking in black and white, I’m not suggesting that these are two sides of a coin. They are simply distinctions to be made on a spectrum and those distinctions matter when you’re planning a marketing strategy.

It matters, because the next time you read an article about “how to grow your email list to 10,000 subscribers” you’ll have more context to understand whether that’s even something you want to do.

A blogger with digital products to sell and an affiliate program may very well want 10, 20, 100,000 email subscribers. But if you’re a local electrician, having a small, targeted (and segmented!) list of 100 may be all you really need.

When you read an article about how to monetize your website, consider whether that’s helping you market your business or diverting your attention elsewhere. A blogger may want to monetize her blog but I suspect an accountant may be more interested in monetizing her accounting business.

The next time you read an article about how to get more comments or build your Facebook or Twitter following, consider whether those numbers really matter to your bottom line. Bloggers building a network may care. An IT consultant in Boise, Idaho probably doesn’t.

There isn’t a right way to look at blogging but there are multiple ways. And if you’re a small business out there researching, trying to learn more about how to market your business online, it’s too easy to learn things that may be wonderful tactics and ideas for bloggers – but not as wonderful for you.

It’s too easy to get caught up coveting those big numbers – large followings, serious ad revenue, tremendous “engagement”. So if you’re running a business and you use blogging as part of it, remember to always keep your focus where it belongs – on your business. Blogging, whether you call yourself a “blogger” or not, is still just one part of it.

Online Business vs. Online Business

Are you doing business online?

Not so fast! I bet you don’t quite know what that means.

This ties into the blogger vs blogger discussion because there’s a difference between people who run an online business and people who do business online.

Think I’ve gone crazy?

Well, maybe… but it matters because your approach will be different depending on which applies to you.

Examples of people who run online businesses are the ones who provide the educational products – ebooks, webinars, video and email courses. You won’t be getting anything in the mail from these folks. You won’t be meeting with them over a cup of coffee. Their businesses are, for all intents and purposes, strictly online. If the internet went away, so would their business.

On the other hand are the businesses that could – theoretically – do business without ever touching a computer or having a website.

I’m not saying that’s a wonderful idea. After all, there’s a good chance that at least some of your customers are looking for you online. A phone number, an email address, a review, to find out if you’re actually in business.

But when these types of business do have websites and social accounts and email lists then they’re doing business online.

The key is that they’re doing it both ways. And “online” is just one part of their marketing plan.

Why does this matter? Because online businesses use entirely different marketing tactics. If you want to sell a webinar then you have to conduct a lot of free ones to build authority and trust. The typical “real world” business doesn’t need to invest hours upon hours in providing free webinars to sell plumbing services or car repairs.

For people who run online businesses, their online networks and their numbers matter. You have to – to some extent – become “internet famous” if you want to be successful. That means a lot of fans and followers and being very, very present, at least in your niche.

For the guy who sells housewares or personal training services, your tactics will probably include more in-person networking, maybe some print campaigns and yes, an online presence, but with a different audience and different goals.

I may advise my construction contractor client to do some short YouTube videos to get his face and humor and expertise out into the world but I wouldn’t tell him to start running weekly webinars and offering free downloads with the 10 Easy Steps To Installing A Kitchen Sink.

Understanding whether you run an online business or whether you’re simply using the internet to help market it will help you eliminate the noise that can sound like good marketing advice and focus instead on the things that really matter to your growth and revenue.

Marketing vs. Marketing

I don’t know about you, but when I go to my local diner, I end up ordering the same omelet every time.


Because when I look at the menu and there are 27 mix-ins and 8 kinds of cheeses and I’m wondering if mushrooms would be good with onions or clash with American cheese…. I just go for the preconfigured thing I’m familiar with and move on.

The good news for me is that they make a really good omelet.

The bad news for business is that you can’t sustain your business by sticking to the one thing you know, taking no risks and refusing to explore and test. And you certainly can’t grow it by skipping marketing altogether when it starts to sound way too complicated.

What to do?

First, understand the difference between marketing and marketing.

When it comes to marketing there are a lot of ways to do it. And it’s wonderful to have so many opportunities but at the same time it can be so overwhelming that we end up with decision paralysis.

Marketing fundamentals may be the same: provide a good product or service that people need then get them to want it so they’ll buy it. But the mechanics of making that happen – the strategies and tactics that you’ll ultimately employ – will vary greatly.

This may sound complicated. But it actually simplifies your life quite a bit! Imagine how much marketing advice you can ignore once you recognize when good advice isn’t good for you.

Imagine how less stressed you’ll feel the next time you look at the comment count on your blog and it’s still at zero.

Imagine how much more confident you’ll feel about your email marketing even though you don’t have thousands of people on your list.

Imagine all the time you’ll save not chasing down results that don’t really apply to you in the first place and how much more time you’ll have to do the things that really matter with a focus on the results that mean more to your bottom line.

The internet is drowning in information and sometimes it can feel like we are, too. It can be tough to distinguish between marketing ideas that are worth trying vs. marketing ideas that will only distract you.

But if you start with a focus on your business, keep your goals firmly in mind and always ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? Is it contributing to my bottom line?” then you’ll be in a much better position to decide whether or not to follow a particular path.

Still not sure when a door is ajar? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email. I’m happy to talk with you and share my thoughts on whether good marketing is good marketing – for you.

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • “A Door Is Not A Door When It’s Ajar”
    (a.k.a. “The Conundrum of Blogging vs Blogging and Blogger vs Blogger”)

    There are bloggers who blog as a business
    And then businesses who publish a blog
    The marketing tactics are entirely different
    Today Carol Lynn guides you out of the fog

    When good advice isn’t good for you
    And that advice doesn’t really apply
    Forget about hosting free webinars
    If you’re the local roofing repair guy

    Those who run online businesses
    Covet all the metrics and numbers
    No need to tally up Twitter followers
    If you’re an electrician or a plumber

    Your local bakery may be blogging
    As the dough’s getting ready to knead
    Comments and shares is not the goal
    Your bakery wants to generate leads

    This conundrum may call for a nap. Feel free to sleep on it. 😉

    • Krithika Rangarajan says:

      BRILLIANT – hahahahah #HUGSS

    • Wow, Melanie, you’re really starting to outdo yourself on these poems! I don’t know where we can go from here but you are setting the bar mighty high 🙂 This one was like the entire blog post summed up in a lot fewer words and totally to the point. Also I think it definitely requires a nap. I was starting to confuse myself as I wrote it, lol. But I guess if anyone feels confused at the end they can just come read this poem and get the nicely digested version.

      • Yippee! Just the feedback I was hoping for. Thanks. 🙂

        Gotta tell ya, though, this one was a bit of a head spinner. No multitasking during this episode! Careful listening ONLY. But you’ve done a bang up job making the distinctions, which I’m sure will help bloggers and bloggers everywhere. 😉

  • Krithika Rangarajan says:

    I cannot top Melanie’s comment 😉 , so I am just going to commend you for another fabulous article and leave it at that *grinning*

    I am glad that you – yet again – busted a prevalent myth about marketing that ‘every professional needs to utilize the same benchmarks to measure their success’

    *Sigh* When will we stop following rules blindly and respect our distinctiveness? 😉

    Thanks lady #HUGS


    • Ahh … “respect our distinctiveness”. LOVE it! Music (or maybe I should say poetry) to my ears. 😉

    • Rule, rules, rules… That word makes me cringe! I think it’s totally understandable that people are confused about what they should be doing and looking for. And I’m sure the people who give the advice are well-intentioned (well, except the ones who insist on THE RULES…) but once in a while it helps to have someone stand back and look at what you’re doing and say…. um…. why?? Not all advice is created equal. I also like to tell people that just because it worked for me, that doesn’t mean it will work for you. Always got to try, test and try again.

  • lol! I guess not much else was???

  • Linda Aksomitis says:

    Great article! I especially like the distinction between what types of blogs expect/need comments and those where it might but nice, but doesn’t contribute to the judgement of whether the endeavour is successful or not. Thanks!

    • Thanks, glad you enjoyed! It’s true, goals and metrics are different for different businesses so e have to be careful not to take every bit of advice as gospel!