New Rules of Engagement

Marketing Insights from the High Seas

It’s October, 2008, I am officially on vacation. Ten exclusive nights on a cruise ship bound for the Mexican Riviera with nothing much to do other than catch the warm Pacific Ocean breezes, swim, eat, read, relax… and …somehow figure out a way to save my client base from an ill-fated economic collapse.

There was never a better week to unplug. After two years without vacation, I knew I had earned this precious time away, and nothing was going to ruin it!

The week of my holiday departure was unique in that the economic sky was falling on both Main Street & Wall Street. The news was ablaze with global business turmoil and a determined downward spiraling DOW.

The majority of my clients were in the throes of drastically declining sales and interest generated from search engines. Nothing could have shielded them from this meltdown. Retailers, e-commerce companies, home builders, financial companies, health beauty & lifestyle services, were all being decimated by a sharp decline in historic and valuable search productivity. I saw it coming like a landslide, I had no choice but to face it head on – my clients were expecting a remedy.

I needed to enjoy my vacation; I had worked far too hard, for far too long to not soak up every minute. This time off did not however, exonerate me from having to find the answers to my clients’ woes once I stepped back onto land – they were all expecting new action plans, strategy, answers, and most importantly… business. And they needed answers fast.

I had no choice but to accept the fact that that the best thing I could do was to use this time to unplug, regenerate, and to gain a different perspective on the problem.  I needed a global remedy that could be plugged into my entire client base equally. Increasing pay per click, re-tooling print ads, or deploying hasty site changes was not going to solve anything.

For the next eight days and nights, I blissfully unplugged, no laptop, no cell phone, no newspapers, no e-mail. In my 13-year career working online, I had never completely unplugged like this – the best I’d been able to do was escape for a few days.

It was impossible to avoid what was happening in the news from passing TV screens in on-ship bars and through the rumblings of people talking pool-side, but I just couldn’t muster the energy to apply the bad news to my business or clients.  A weird form of “business paralysis” came over me; I could not even muster a cohesive business thought for eight days. When I tried to dedicate time in my mind, I couldn’t hold onto a thought for more than a few seconds before I moved onto something more pleasurable. Mai Tai’s and the pool-side BBQ, sandwiched between napping was roughly the extent of my focus for nine blissful days.

It was on the very last night of this cruise that I had to emotionally ready myself for stepping back into the real world. It was 7:30 PM and in approximately 12 hours, my real life would begin again.

My wife and I were just sitting down to our final cruise dinner when she asked me “have you had any thoughts about how you are going to help all of our clients?” I simply replied “no, but let me think on that for a minute.”

I remember putting down my fork. I had to concentrate in order to wrap my head around the enormity. How was I going to solve everybody’s problems after being completely void of thought for nearly 10 straight days?  Was it avoidance, was it fear, was it insurmountable?

At that moment the most amazing thing happened. As I sat staring blankly into my plate, in the blink of an eye, data came streaming into my head. It poured in faster than I could process, gigabytes of information, strategy, concepts, imagery, and answers to questions that had not even been asked yet. Like a film reel unraveling in a breeze, the answers to my clients’ woes had been downloaded into my head. Download complete, files sorted, marketing machine gun locked and loaded.

I looked at my wife and said “I think I just figured it out. The answer is simply & universally – engage the reader and develop a deeper connection – or die trying.”  Somehow the answers to all of our clients’ needs were right in front of me. The solution now relied on my firm’s ability to help them do a better job of engaging their site prospects, developing a stronger and more succinct connection than their competitors.

As I thought to myself about each of my clients and their individuality within their industries, I knew that they all have one thing in common – each of them are special, and no other competitor can emulate them. If we can get our clients to show their site visitors/prospects that they are different and do so in the first 15 seconds of a person entering their site, their essence and distinct message will be delivered effectively regardless of industry.

It has been six months since my cruise holiday. I leaned many valuable lessons on that trip that have since helped my clients stabilize their businesses. This is what I learned:

  1. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Sometimes it is necessary to entirely pull oneself from the game to get a new perspective. We live and market in a world where we seldom unplug entirely and that can be a detriment.
  2. In times when the economic going is rough, one can never go wrong with using our client’s individual character, personality and attributes to help foster a strong personal connection. People buy from people.
  3. Mai Tai’s may have medicinal marketing properties.


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