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The Innovator’s Field Guide: In the Market for Some Snake Oil?


by Jeff Standridge

“I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I can never find out which half.” -John Wanamaker

Exactly thirty-seven seconds after an entrepreneur opens a business, solicitations from those representing fuzzy business disciplines—SEO (search engine optimization), social media marketing, online brand consulting, and the like—all of whom attach guru or maven after the discipline name—start rolling in. For every single reputable company that can and will raise your visibility to potential customers, there are fifty companies that will sell you digital-marketing snake oil. There is no such thing as a “surefire” online marketing campaign or “special mojo” that will rocket your company’s website to the top of a search engine’s category results. In coaching my business clients, I tell them that there is no such thing as a bad marketing medium, as long as it puts you in front of your target audience and it generates a measurable return on your investment (ROI).

Irreputable companies bank on the difficulties in results-tracking to sell you their services—hence the reference to “fuzzy” business disciplines. Marketing, in any form, is a necessary part of your business’s success, but how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? One might think of marketing in terms of a baseball player’s at-bat statistics. Even the Babe Ruths of the marketing world are going to strike out occasionally, but their overall percentage of hits is the metric that matters.

When approached by any marketing company, ask how they will measure success. Inquire about the ROI for purchasing their services. Marketing is an investment of capital, and you expect a return above what you invest. Should a marketing service either not understand the concept of ROI or not be able to give you an idea of what results their previous clients realized with their services—walk away. The success of your business is not measured by an increase of hits, followers, or likes. You’re in business to make money. If a marketer doesn’t know how to translate those hits, followers, or likes into dollar signs … find someone who can. Trust me; they’re out there.

In the Market for Some Snake Oil?: Accelerators

  • Take a quick inventory of your marketing spending. How much do you presently spend, and in what categories do you spend it (print advertising, SEO, digital ads, pay-per-click, etc.)?
  • Now identify the actual measurable marketing spending. How much money do you spend on marketing activities for which you know the return on those investments?
  • Examine those other dollars (where you don’t know the return) and consider how you might better spend them to get a measurable return.

READ MORE: The Innovator’s Field Guide: A Future Orientation

Jeff Standridge

Dr. Jeff D. Standridge is the best-selling author ofThe Innovator’s Field GuideandThe Top Performer’s Field Guide.”  He serves as Managing Director for the Conductor, and teaches in the College of Business at the University of Central Arkansas.  Jeff spends the vast majority of his time helping organizations and their leaders generate sustained results in the areas of innovation, strategy, profit growth, organizational effectiveness and leadership. Learn more at

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