Bad Advice Yelled Loudly Is Still Bad Advice


Earlier this week Forrester and AdAge combined to give you some really bad advice. I’m here to make sure you don’t listen. And to encourage you to do the opposite.

On Monday AdAge commented on the recent Forrester survey that found just 4 percent of US online adults have used location based mobile applications, with 84 percent of respondents saying they were unaware such apps ever existed. Forrester analyst Melissa Parrish declared (and followed up) that, unless you’re targeting affluent men between the ages of 19 and 35, you don’t belong on FourSquare. You should forgo all testing on location-based marketing applications and wait for them to gain more share. Now, please take your club and head back into your cave.

If it’s okay with the kind folks at Forrester and AdAge, I’ll stay exactly where I am. Thanks.

The numbers behind Forrester’s study aren’t particularly shocking. Yes, they’re currently very low. I’d expect them to be low. We’re talking about new platforms that marketers aren’t sure how to use just yet. But as a marketer you should be able to cut through the hype to find the potential opportunity. Right now is your chance to get into the location-based marketing game before it becomes overcrowded and filled with elbows.

Because it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about – if you sit back early on and wait for the ship to fill up, don’t be surprised when that ship leaves your ass at the dock.

I’m not going to lie, it seems absolutely ridiculous to me that anyone in this space would advise marketers take a “sit and wait” approach to any new marketing application. It ludicrous that an analyst at a respected company would decide to ignore an area being populated by vocal trendsetters. Wasn’t it the same early adopter demographic that started using Twitter 3-4 years ago? Hell, wasn’t that the same demographic that was first on the Web? How much would you pay to go back and have hopped on those services earlier?

Where would you be now if you could have experimented with Twitter before it became overcrowded and a sea of noise? What kinds of chances could you have taken?

The fast and unexpected nature of the Web is why we so often encourage clients to secure their brand on new sites NOW. You never know what’s going to be the next Twitter. You never know what’s going to pop. The only defense you have is to claim your space and figure out the game before everyone else does.

No one would advise moving your entire budget over to location-based apps like FourSquare, but if you plan on competing tomorrow, you have to start training today. That means trying them out so you can decide if they’re worth it and trim down to your fighting weight.

Find out:

  • What opportunities are available to your brand RIGHT NOW with location-based marketing?
  • What opportunities could be available in 3 months time? 6 months?
  • How are other brands trying to find success…how could that be applicable to what you do?
  • What is the cost of waiting? Why are you waiting? [Fear of ‘doing it wrong’ is not a reason]

It’s completely possible that location-based applications are worthless to your brand. But that’s something you should find out now while the cost of experimenting is minimal. One thing I’m always trying to become better at is failing early. I’d rather fail early with a small group then sit back for three months to fail with more eyes watching me. At least with the first method, you have time to tweak and get back in the game. If you wait, you may miss your chance altogether.

What bothered me about the AdAge article wasn’t that they were encouraging marketers to hold back on location-based marketing. It was that it reemphasizes the mindset that it’s okay to sit on your hands and wait.

  • You can wait to start that blog.
  • You can wait to create your Web site.
  • You can wait to get involved in social media, to build that email campaign, to start your business.

No, you can’t. Not if you’re trying to be successful.

Sitting back and waiting is rarely the right approach to anything, regardless of whether we’re talking about business, finding a spouse or losing weight. The earlier you get in, the more opportunity you have to succeed and to make something happen.

There’s a difference between hopping in haphazardly and waiting for permission to enter or for someone to give you a rulebook. If you wait for the numbers to be “just right”, you’ll never do or accomplish anything. It’s always too soon to know for sure and not even the most respected analysts can feed you the right answers. You have to do your research and decide when it’s time to jump by yourself.

What do you want to do that you’re waiting on? What are you waiting for?

Your Comments

  • Jill Whalen

    It certainly goes along with the mindset we see so often in this space of people wanting to be told exactly what to do, rather than trying to figure out something for themselves by just rolling up their sleeves and doing it!

  • Rob Woods

    Two years ago probably 84% of people didn’t know Twitter existed. Three years ago the numbers were probably similar for Facebook. Get on emerging trends or watch them pass you by as your competitors establish a toehold before you. Nuff said.

      • Tyler Adams

        But how many people marketing on twitter or foursquare or whatever are making money off of that marketing? Are getting a tangible ROI? That’s a serious question; i really don’t know. I’m not saying that we as marketers shouldn’t explore these options but there are many, many options that probably aren’t being explored, not just social media ones. Some of those unexplored options probably might make more sense for a lot of companies than being on Twitter. When do you stop trying to make something work that may never work?

        • Lisa Barone

          There’s a difference between trying and stopping and not trying at all. I can’t speak for FourSquare, but I know that our clients (and Outspoken itself) do continue to see a real ROI from Twitter. And that’s why we continue to use it. If we didn’t see an return from it, we’d stop. But at least we’d be stopping based off what we’ve seen, not because a study told us to avoid it altogether.

          • Tyler Adams

            This, I completely agree with. Sometimes knowing when to abandon something is as important as knowing when to start something. Always try to find new sources and explore new opportunities, and if you can’t find a way to make it work, well, that’s ok.

            And you made a very good point when you said, “What bothered me about the AdAge article wasn’t that they were encouraging marketers to hold back on location-based marketing. It was that it reemphasizes the mindset that it’s okay to sit on your hands and wait.”

            …What bothers me about many, many blog posts and articles I’ve read on this subject (I’m not talking about this post) is that they seem to be saying that marketers should be involved in social media at all costs, no matter what. That’s just stupid. Yes, try for yourself to make something work but it’s fine if it doesn’t. Hell, many, if not most, new marketing efforts fail. There’s always something else to be tried.

          • Jen Grant

            I agree Lisa – our clients are also still seeing value and ROI from Twitter. Social Media is what you make it. Period. It’s a blank canvas.

            At first I was shocked, and quite frankly disappointed by how short sighted AdAge was in their interpretation and POV in that article. But then again, considering it’s coming from a brand who’s Facebook Page has 1 photo and a Wall filled with an auto-import of their Twitter stream, I’m not really surprised. Rob said it best: Nuff said.

            oh and hey – anyone ever heard of a little think called SEO and Link Building?? #justsayin

  • Marjorie Clayman (@RLMadMan)

    Hmm. Between Mad Men and this, Ad Age is having an interesting week.

    I’m surprised that Ad Age would use the Forrester data in that way. As you say, hiding one’s head in the sand and hoping the new hot thing goes away hasn’t been very effective. I also agree with you that experimenting before a site takes off makes much more sense than waiting until everyone is on the bandwagon. That approach *might* work out for you, but you’re depending on luck instead of action.

    However, I will throw out one thought. While it’s irresponsible to say, “This is a fluke” during these days of change, I also think it can be risky to say that the new thing will work for everyone. Location-based marketing is extremely exciting and is already proving to be extremely powerful. However, as the old adage goes, with great power comes great responsibility. If a company jumps into this without a structured plan, without careful planning or consideration, the results could be disastrous. So yes, experiment, jump in, but make sure there’s water in the pool first, especially at the deep end.

    • Lisa Barone

      It definitely won’t work for everyone, but you don’t know that until you try. And as you mentioned, I’d prefer to try while there’s still room and not til after everyone’s already hopped on. Before we deem the pool unsafe to swim in, someone should at least test the water. :)

  • Stephen Eugene Adams

    I’ve always been in awe of those who have thousands of friends and followers. I then come to realize that these people were the early adopters of FaceBook, Twitter and LinkedIn and because of this, they are deemed to be the experts. I can see that Foursquare and other location-based applications will be beneficial to my retail and service clients and early adopters will have the most and best ratings.

    • Lisa Barone

      It definitely helps when you’re there first, but I think those Early Adopter Gurus tend to fall off when the real swarm hits if they can’t back up the hype. I think we’ve seen a bit of that with Twitter and some of the social media channels. Just because you were first doesnt mean you know what the heck you’re talking about.

  • yankeerudy

    I blame the Mad Men show – it encourages advertising people to live in the 1950s.

  • Victoria

    Thanks you for this post Lisa as I hear lots of people tell me, ‘Oh that’s a waste of time!’ No, you cold calling me and sticking things in my spam folder is a waste of my time. Will be sharing this one!

  • Alysson

    I’d expect this to be the advice given by one big business to other big businesses. That’s corporate SOP and a perfect example of how the corporate mindset differs from a successful small business approach to new challenges and opportunities.

    Just look how long it took big businesses to hop on the Twitter and Facebook bandwagons. For the most part, it was only after they saw small businesses having success on those platforms that they decided the potential ROI outweighed the potential to crash & burn. And, more importantly, were feeling forced to jump in the pool out of a fear of appearing too old school.

    The entrepreneurial spirit demands that things be done differently. It is inherently bound to the desire to be first, to be an early adopter, to learn, to grow and to anticipate & adapt to changing markets and technologies.

    Let big business follow the advice of Forrester and Adage. Let them use those studies, those statistics and that advice to justify their fears and remain in their comfort zone. Let them disregard the lessons learned by the naysayers in print media who were so sure that digital media could never pose a real threat.

    New technology, no matter what it is, continues to help level the playing field for small businesses. Like never before, small businesses are able to compete with big money corporations. Dumping hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars into traditional advertising isn’t the only option anymore. Small businesses are learning how to leverage new media and connect with their markets in ways that big brands can’t wrap their heads around.

    So, big brands…stay in your boxes. Small businesses will be the ones dancing a jig outside it when your closed minds finally succumb to curiosity and you’re compelled to peek your heads out.

  • Rebecca

    My response to the AdAge article was confusion. I just don’t understand what you really have to lose by trying something new and potentially huge.

  • Eric Melin

    Lisa- I love this post! If marketers just sit around and wait for this crazy thing called the Internet and this new social media “fad” to become one, easy consolidated formula or rulebook, it will be waaaaaaaaay too late. The ones who aren’t afraid to jump in with both feet will lead the way.

  • john andrews

    Who reads Ad Age?

    Jumping in has it’s price. Staying put brings a comfort zone. To each hir own.

    MANY of the “old school magazines” that have jumped into the digital marketing world produced crap, especially in the SEO info space. That cost them credibility. Some of your friends are in that group… amateur writers covering SEO under a famous editorial brand. They find friends because everyone needs friends in social media (and links from established brands, of course). Over time, they get better, and eventually may get experienced enough to potentially rock in the space as non-amateurs. But the truth is, just trying is not always enough. Sometimes it’s embarrassing, and sometimes it should even be shameful (if shame still existed in our society).

    I think the really cool issue is how these old-school brands might be granted enough of a honeymoon period to actually catch up; the costs/benefits of the various ways to do attempt that; how they might get destroyed, or perhaps how society will just continue to listen and be misled because, well, they are trusted brands, right? AT&T is the phone company, right? It’s not just a brand name purchased by Southwestern Bell a few years ago.

    Oh and for even more fun, take a look at how many old school ad agencies are now calling themselves branding specialists. Branding is the new black. It doesn’t clash with anything. Everyone can wear it. It’s timeless.

    • Alan Bleiweiss


      That’s an issue of who you get your advice from. If a business owner just jumps in, both feet, without getting sound guidance, of course they’re more likely to screw it up. And this is a great example of why business owners who listen to 20th century giants like Forrester and ADAge when it comes to 21st century marketing are more likely to screw up even worse.

  • Sully

    I wish I could start an epic slow clap with your posts. The piece about waiting, or just keeping the status quo makes me #facepalm more than you can believe. Did you know that phone book ads (e.g. the Yellowpages, etc) still accounts for $13B/year?

    A marketer won’t get fired for $3,000/mo on a Yellowpages ad, but fear getting canned for doing SEO, because their employer doesn’t understand it.

    But, I guess it’s okay, because their competitors will.


  • Patrick Sexton

    Jumping in is good.
    It may not be marketing gold, but when you jump into anything, you get a fab view of the layout of the land. Good for adage to put out reports, but it is really just a movie review….
    “Here is my observation on this.”

    If you read movie reviews, you prob are missing some great movie u will love. Jump in. See what is there and how it can be useful for you.
    Catch amnesia (phrase courtesy of the Pepsi refresh campaign)
    It is good to forget all you know and try and discover.

  • Chris Miller

    Let’s say your a construction company. Your primary business is picking up Government bids, and other low-ball bids that other construction companies won’t touch. You don’t have a marketing person.

    If anyone within the company takes time to learn how Foursquare could work for them, they risk loosing those low-ball bids that actually drive their business. They will either spend thousands of dollars in lost business, or thousands hiring a marketer to make a marketing / local search marketing plan.

    … Does this post apply to everyone? Or are you just talking about the marketing/internet-inclined companies who only need to have the college intern spend an hour setting one up (which they already know how to do, because they happen to be a super-duper mayor?

  • Colin Gilchrist

    Dare I suggest as a marketing / advertising business you rush into these new technologies, location based or otherwise and as Simon Francis (CEO Saatchi & Saatchi) has said try lots of little test campaigns to assess what works using traditional and new community driven actions rather than sit on your ass and do nothing.
    Being early in the curve has previously been found to lose out to those that sit back – the major reason is “all your eggs in one basket” Simon’s business hasn’t employed a traditional advertising person in 2 years and the business is still growing, why is that? They push the boundaries and make you take notice without pushing it down your throat.
    Use it and abuse it – you’ll make it work, just spread your bets.

  • Megan

    Not only do my personal experiences with FourSquare contradict the original article altogether, but I too cannot believe that anyone would suggest “waiting” is a good strategy when it comes to social media. Everyone else has already addressed the many points I would make/agree with, so I just want to say THANK YOU for bringing it up!

  • Mike Redbord

    Thank goodness for AdAge. If we didnlt have an outdated, monolithic industry voice to turn the tide against, where would we be? Seriously – if every marketer out there blogged twice a week with good content, it’d be a LOT harder to get a sizeable share of voice ourselves. Let’s all give AdAge and it’s ilk a high five for making our lives as marketers that much easier. Maybe some day they’l learn.

  • Rufus Dogg

    Julien Smith @julien writes:
    In your business, you must find out what the inevitable is and act on it today. Place your outpost there when there’s no competition, because you’ll want it when it becomes obvious to everyone in your industry.

    Read the whole thing here:

    Where business will be tomorrow is geo-location. Or not, but if you wait until everyone else is there, you;re just going to be one more carnival barker in a very loud circus.

  • Mike Stewart

    Wow. You guys are outspoken and I love it. Great advice Lisa. Keep up the good work. Webmarketers, “social media gurus” (tongue in cheek about this as I don’t have that much respect for those that claim guru or ninja status after 1 year in the industry), and those in and around the internet advertising community are usually the first to adapt to new technologies and applications. It is only smart business to stay ahead of the curve. If the application is viable it sooner or later trickles down. Just thing about Facebook, MySpace, and geo-location… even YouTube is only 5 years old… but hey, let’s all wait until the bus has passed vs getting on, checking out the scenery and seeing what the latest and greatest has to offer…

    Am I right?