Henk Wolbers

Learnings in Digital Marketing

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oktober 2022
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oktober 2022
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Towards a more “chainified” world and web

Last week we ended up in sandstorm as we drove out of Death Valley on the last day of our US road trip. We were hungry and so we decided to drive off the road into an industrial area. It turned out to be a town called Trona. The town seemed quite desolate and well past its heydays. The industrial plant looked rusty and falling apart. To our surprise we saw a small diner appearing from the dust; Esparza restaurant.

Esparza is a pleasant place with high quality food at a reasonable price and a great owner. They are making fresh salsas and having amazing burritos. The owner of the place told us that Trona used to be a growing town. At it’s peak there were many more people living there than there are now. “The plant”, as they call it , is the main source of income in Trona.

In the nineties the plant changed hands three times and is currently owned by Indian Private Equity firm Sun Capital Partners. All those changes influenced the company and the jobs in the town. Incidentally giving some hope, but bottom line, as the owner of the place said: “people get fired”.

If I look at it, it seems that this place will be faded away by the sand in the coming 10 years. My prediction is that the plant will prove to be unprofitable in the coming 4 years. The acquiring company takes over the accounts and will continue to produce in “more cost effective” and “more favourly regulated” areas. The plant slowly breaks down while the people flee from the town to more profitable areas.

The whole situation made me wonder, why is there such a nice restaurant in Trona with such helpful and open people? And why is that so hard to find a personal and high quality place in larger towns?

This is my take on it.

Trona has 1800 inhabitants, which makes it too small for the large chains to enter town. There is no McDonalds, SubWay and Burger King. This gives soul to the town as it comes more down to the individual contribution of people and the community they have. While speaking to the other guests in the diner that came dropping in slowly, they are explicitly happy they aren’t McDonaldized. 

To put it in perspective we visited Farmington, New Mexico, with 45000 inhabitants which just had the standard selection of fast food chains. There are 10’s of them, Subway, McDonalds, Burger King. But no “Esparza” to be found.

My take on this is that small entrepreneurs get pushed out of the market by the large chains. Why? Margins are low in fresh food restaurants like Esparza. Margins are high in fast food. Small margins and high energy input of owners, means you make little money. 50K is Farmington means you live in a shit hole house, 50K in Trona buys you a 300 sq. feet house, as the owner of Esparza did.

Next to that barriers to entry are higher in Farmington as there are already 12 (fast food) places to eat and real estate prices are higher. Mistakes are expensive, chances of success minimal and big chains are always there to help you set up “your own” McDonalds or Burger King to minimize your risk as an entrepreneur.

So it’s understandable that the things happen the way they do. From a perspective of large chemical corporations, from large restaurant chains, from individuals and from the entrepreneur it’s a logical flow.

The result is that many of the larger small towns are losing identity and become more and more chainified. I see that in the US and also back home in the Netherlands.

I am though happy to see that there are places, where prices are reasonable, people are open and the creativity of the individual can still make a difference. I find it most wondrous to find it in places where I least expect it like in Trona. 

Maybe I romanticize these kind of towns as it reminds me of my home town. But I see true value in these kind of places and hope they will continue to exist in a more and more chainified and standardized society.

Though I didn’t write this post thinking of marketing, it makes me wonder, don’t we see the same trend online? Isn’t this trend in cities metaphoric for online? 

Websites are also becoming more chainified, as we see in the current light of take-overs. People are spending more and more time in Apple, Facebook and Google ecosystems. Though a small site is only a click away, it might be hard for small players to stay unique while not being taken over or starving because of lacking income. Positive about the web though is that it’s easier than ever to start a website and that anybody in the world can access it 1 second afterwards. 

Testing at the core of your organization; not a “button color department”

2 weeks ago I joined the Optimizely AB-testing conference in San Francisco and hearing the passion, the quality of analysis and most important the impact of the results it strengthened the idea that website optimization and testing should be at the core of any company.

I have often seen that website testing and optimizing is done by a small part of the web development team by a few junior guys that want to move up or out as soon as possible.  Next to that within the company these guys are seen as the “button color department”.

Which has a disastrous effect on optimizing and testing impact:

First of all the quality of hypotheses that are being tested: The quality of tests is influenced by anyone in the organization. It becomes a modern day “idea box” (one of those overhyped 80’s initiatives). Anybody can submit a test and more important, can get it tested, so the queue for new tests is typically a few months. The guys are trying hard to make everyone happy and working to get rid of the queue, where they already have given up on.

Which has a disastrous effect on doing impactful tests.

For example: Junior analyst Benny who is still ignorant to office politics suggests to optimize the check-out process as it doesn’t work on a mobile phone and you have to fill 30 fields in 4 steps. Boss tells him that that system is far too complex too change: “It would take a consulting firm at least 1 year to do it.” Boss suggests to do a button color test, as he read on a blog that it improved web performance for company X with 20% and it’s far easier to do. Benny agrees.

I think this is a typical situation where the initial direction is great. Though “forces” keep the testing team from doing the tests that really matter. A testing team should have te power and state of mind to pick up those difficult challenges and therefore the top of organizations need to be involved.

In real successful organizations testing is valued and the team would rather be called “ the core performance team” as is it does more right to the impact it can and will have on the business.

So far for my negative raving on the current testing status quo.

My message is actually a positive one. Effectively this is a great opportunity for you to blow your competition away because there are not too many companies out there who are great at this. If you want to be a successful digital company: Invest in a strong testing team, work with a big part of the team on high impact tests and get the top of the organization on board to make it all happen.

Why attribution isn’t the holy grail.

I think  attribution is being overvalued. It’s the buzzword that keeps coming back and that nobody seems to be able to crack. And most probably nobody will ever will as it isn’t the only answer to the allocation on marketing resources.


I see attribution as a pair of glasses that you put on. And by looking at the world only from a “contact” and “traffic” channel perspective, the rest is automatically out of scope. By putting on this pair of glasses we should realize what we are missing out on. Our view on marketing becomes far to limited.

1. We miss out on the essence of communication
The story you are telling on the different channels  is not at all taken into account. Performance of traffic drivers differs so much based on the content of the message. A compelling message can be 10 times more effective than a non-compelling message. Your affiliate and display ads can be shit, while search ads are spot on. Does that means you should invest in more in Search? Could be, but more probably the learning should be that we should create more compelling display ads. Ask ourself the question: Why that channel isn’t working for us? But working for competitors.

2. We don’t look at the rest of the sales process
In many cases we can’t measure the current flow of sales processes coming from traffic drivers. How are the flows on the website? and offline? How does the advertising correspond to the on-site messaging? If that isn’t inline with Radio, TV or Online messaging measuring the outcomes will be skewed.

3. The basis, the product
Do people really like it? Main attributes and value it has for certain audiences will influence performance in a major way.

Treat attribution as a pair of glasses; as one view at your business. Don’t be a blind believer, be skeptical and most important go for compelling messaging.

This is why I start blogging.

Always felt that writing blogs is for people that love hear themselves talking, more for the honor and glory of themselves than for the people they write for. Think I was wrong about that.

The last 2 weeks I 2 persons gave me insights that made me realize I was wrong.

A colleague of mine told me: Henk it’s “not social, not to to share” the things you know. If you don’t share , nobody will know and you can’t help out anyone. True as can be.

Next to that I was in a Training by Avinash Kaushik, who shared his blogging experience and the following 3 lessons were very insightful to me, in my own words:

  1. Writing forces you to think well, you will challenge your thoughts before you put them online and by that you will grow continuously.
  2. Committing to writing a post every week, will make that you are constantly reflecting on the things you see and learn.
  3. One post is nothing, but a continuous stream of 100 weekly posts makes you grow. Helps you realize what you have learned and what other people value and makes you see the shortcomings in your own thinking by using the feedback people give you.

So here I am starting to write about online marketing & communication.  Looking forward.

© 2022 Henk Wolbers

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