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Does internet marketing need a business case?

Don’t give me that look. Depending on where you work, that might sound like a silly question. Everything needs a business case in some places. And I understand that. I used to work for IBM, which is one of those places in love with justifications for how you spend money before you drop a dime. And you can put together business cases for Internet marketing projects, but there is another way, too. In fact, I actually started the IBM search marketing program without any business case at all. You might be able to follow my lead where you work, not just with search marketing, but with any kind of digital marketing.

How did I do it? It wasn’t easy, but there are a few things you can do to make it happen for you:

  • Don’t spend any money. At least at first. I know that rules out a lot of marketing ideas, such as paid search, but it still leaves you with plenty of marketing tactics to try, including organic search, social media, and more. Start with one of those.
  • Neutralize your boss. You might be lucky, as I was, and have a boss that you could just tell what you are planning and he would go along. (My boss, John Rosato at IBM, actually thought it was a great idea.) But not everyone is so lucky. Even if you spend no money, you’ll have to spend some time, so you might need to hide this work from your boss, or do it on off-hours. Somehow, some way, you need to be able to do enough of the work required so that you can show some results. In my case, I needed to make a few changes to some critical web pages to improve the search results.
  • Get help. You are unlikely to be able to do everything on your own, so you need co-conspirators. Find some allies who are willing to be equally stealthy as you are and enlist them in the cause. Some people are not the right ones to approach, but you probably know who they are. Find the others that are as excited about this idea as you are and get hem on board. In my case, I needed to find some people who controlled some important web pages at IBM and get them to make some changes so we could see the resulting search ranking improvements.
  • Keep score. Trying out your idea is great, but how will you know if it worked? Choose some tangible measure of success (higher search rankings, more traffic to the site from your social media content, higher conversions from your tactic—pick something) so that you can show the before and after picture. It is OK if it is not earth-shattering. After all, you did this with no money and no assigned resources, so let the powers-that-be think about how big this would be if they actually worked on it for real.

This might seem sneaky to you. It is. But it has a few redeeming qualities. First, it allows you to try a lot of ideas, because some of them won’t work. Second, it helps you make a good idea work that needs a few tries. If no one knows that you are doing it, then if it fails twice before you figure it out, you have the time to make it work. Third, it can change your relationship with your boss.

Why do you think my boss at IBM, John Rosato, allowed me to try these things? One reason is that he is a sharp guy that gives his people freedom to try things. But I think he gave me a bit more freedom than some other people because he had seen this approach work for us before. When your boss sees that you know how to make big improvements by experimenting with no money and little risk, you’ll get treated differently, too.

So, you might not have the kind of boss that I did, but if you succeed at this a couple of times, you might change the way your boss thinks about you. And then you might be able to try a lot of different kinds of Internet marketing with no business case at all. At least it’s worth a try, no?

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital 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, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. 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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