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Do you give new ideas a tough time?

In the last two days, I’ve written about how to approach digital marketing in different ways. On Monday, I talked about how to go after digital marketing without having to put together a business case first. Yesterday, I talked about how persistence is the big thing that people need to succeed in digital marketing–never give up. But I got some feedback that people are still holding themselves back. And I think I know why. It is our natural human tendency to treat new ideas with skepticism. This is an instinct that has served us humans well, but it is exactly the wrong impulse for success in online marketing. Let’s figure out what’s going on.

When we lived in caves, it was a great survival skill to be skeptical. Being the second person to try a new food likely saved you a few poisonings. And we’ve learned as marketers that new marketing ideas are risky. It’s always easier to follow a tail lights strategy where you don’t try anything until you see it work for someone else.

But that is not usually the route to success in digital marketing, because what works for someone else might not work for us, and because the way you do something matters just as much as what you do. So, it is imperative that we give new ideas a try and do it all the time.

But we still resist, a lot of us. We ask questions such as, “What is the ROI of social media?” when we would never ask the same question for public relations. Why do we subject new ideas to tougher tests than old ones?

  • Natural skepticism. Let someone else be the guinea pig, right? You’ve seen lots of dumb ideas and you don’t want to be the victim of the next one. Unfortunately, that means you’ve never been first with the next good idea, either.
  • Comfort. We are creatures of habit that are comfortable with what we already know and are accustomed to. We’ve been doing PR since the year 3, so why should I question it? But this new thing, well…that’s different. You might remind yourself that we are being paid to do a job and that being comfortable isn’t in the job description. Doing the right thing for our company and its customers is. That doesn’t mean we should automatically accept every new idea, but it does mean that someone saying “I’m not comfortable with that” is no reason to stop.
  • Denial. Perhaps all these questions are just a facade to stop you from having to confront something you don’t feel ready for. If you can ask lots of intelligent-sounding questions and play the role of smart business person who is protecting the company’s time and treasure, perhaps you can get this thing to go away without having to actually deal with it. (“I’m 55–I can probably string out what I am doing for a few more years until I can retire, right?”) It takes some self-awareness and some bravery to be willing to be a rookie when you are accustomed to being the expert.

What’s your reason for questioning new ideas more than old ones? Do you really think it is true that we waste more money and resources on new ideas than on old ones? I rather doubt it. I’ve seen so many crazy and inefficient processes that use enormous resources that I can’t believe that the few new ideas that best the corporate immune system are that big of a drain. Bad ideas die a quick death most of the time. But those ones that succeed can change the game. And they grow up to be the old ideas that we don’t question. Every old idea that you take for granted was once a new idea that no one wanted to give a try. Think about that the next time you give a new idea a hard time.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, a leading digital media marketing consultancy based in New York City. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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  1. Avatar jelly roll fabric

    The toughest part about attempting new concepts is the fear of not knowing whether they will yield actual results. At least that’s been my biggest hurdle.

  2. Inspiring post. This is a great reminder to continually seek innovation and originality. Things that are new are sometimes scary, but its true that we can be stuck in old ways of thinking.

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