Using Your Worst Nightmare To Fuel Growth

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There’s a scene in The Sopranos where an up-and-coming rap artist, named Marvin, makes one of the strangest marketing decisions in TV history. He decides to spend $7,000 to get shot.

Yes, $7,000 not on social media or a radio spot but on one bullet to the “fleshy part of the thigh.”

After seeing fellow rapper Da Lux’s album fly of the shelves following a shooting, he decided to reverse engineer his success and earn “street cred,” which would lead to more album sales hopefully.

The show never shows the viewers if this morbid marketing tactic worked, but several high profile rappers have benefited from their brushes with death.

Most famously, 50 Cent was shot 9 times. But lists of hip-hop artists who survived shootings read like a “Who’s Who” of successful rappers.

Da Lux’s posse in The Sopranos reminds him of the potential bright side to his situation:

“There’s an upside to everything….[your] CD is now charting number five…Frankly, the shooting couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Humans Intrinsically Drawn Toward Titillating News

Marketers can learn an important lesson by revisiting this scene, arguably one of the greatest TV dramas of all time.

I know what you’re thinking. Am I really comparing the goings on of a fictitious HBO drama to the daily grind of online marketing? Yes, that is exactly what I’m doing.

Getting shot in the fleshy part of the thigh is much different than the cost of doing business most online marketers experience (no disrespect to those who write 1000s of product descriptions though — the struggle is real).

What ties these two disparate worlds together is our intrinsic nature to be drawn toward shock and awe.

Having more street cred is a good thing for somebody’s career. When you strive to become famous, bad news is good news.

It’s likely that most marketers won’t be featured in The New York Times. But, they can still earn credibility (and notoriety) by being transparent about the less than rosy things that happen in your career: site penalties, embarrassing failures, black hat tactics and anything that produces shock and awe.

Even with the massive amounts of marketing content that gets produced every day, you can still stand out easily when writing about something that produces these two emotions.

You’d think marketers who spend their days begging for links and reading link-building guides would be averse to even the best executed link bait, but that’s not the case. The 21st century human’s deep need to explore the bizarre can’t be tamed no matter how often one reads Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. For example,

Common Online Marketing Themes Driving Reader Interest

Whether you are looking to make the most of out of a bad situation or you draw as much inspiration from late 2000s HBO drama as I do, here are a few common themes that earned a ton of eyeballs recently.

Get your site penalized by Google

One of the biggest link generating topics of late has been sites going public with their Google penalty.

I’ve written at length about how Rap Genius being penalized from Google was the best marketing campaign that they will ever run.

Other SEO agencies and websites have seen similar success in traffic and earned links from “We got penalized” blog posts. Your site getting penalized is no fun, but you might be better off in the long term from the links, brand awareness and press mentions that you are sure to earn.

Penalties get lifted or expire, but links from thousands of newspapers, magazines and blogs last forever.

Seer Interactive, Portent and iAcquire have all had viral posts on penalties from Google. Getting penalized is no fun but those sites have all recovered and are powerhouses in the SERPs once again. Going public with their penalties was a smart business move

Get attacked or threatened with negative SEO

No emotion causes more action in the marketing world than fear. When people are afraid, they tweet, link and share like crazy. Is Google killing off SEO? Is Penguin 3.0 going to wreck my site? Does negative SEO exist or is it made up? Thousands of posts have been written on these topics and more over the years. Fear-mongering works.

Recently, a few negative SEO blog posts have made major waves around the Internet. DejanSEO raked in the links when they shared a negative SEO extortion email they received. It’s one of the most successful blog posts they had written to date.

I joked at the time that an enterprising intern probably wrote the email. If that was true, it has to be one of the highest ROI blog posts of all time 😀

Going public with any whiff of negative SEO will elicit a deeply emotional and fearful reaction from the masses. We SEOs spend most of our days reading about stuff like URL structure and keyword research, so when the industry starts talking about extortion, ransom and threats in the SEO community, you better believe I’m tweeting about it.

Abandon your Facebook page

Scenario 1: You aren’t good at marketing at Facebook. You abandon your page. Nobody cares.

Scenario 2: You aren’t good at marketing on Facebook. You abandon your page. You write a blog post about it. Everybody cares.

There have been a rash of “Why we stopped using X” posts that went viral in late 2014. One of the more recent topic du jours has been companies deleting their Facebook page, such as

Copyblogger – Bye Facebook

GrooveHQ – We Deleted Our Facebook Page

Eat24 – A Breakup Letter To Facebook

There’s no use speculating why Facebook wasn’t a good fit for these companies. Stopping spending in a marketing channel isn’t revolutionary. Many companies abandon ship on SEO, display advertising, newspaper ads, telemarketing and 1000s of other marketing efforts every year.

What makes these three special is that they told the story of their abandonment. They used what would be seen as a failure and turned it into something valuable.

“There’s an upside to everything….[your] web page is now ranking position five…Frankly, the negative SEO extortion threat couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Marketers’ Silver Linings Playbook

Good marketers don’t lose site of their overall goal during dark days.

They find advantages and unique angles in every situation. Your site gets penalized. Crap. It might be tough sledding for a while, but you have an opportunity to make that penalty into a unique linkable asset. Businesses have different linkable assets during every phase of growth and decline.

Enterprising marketers can identify “pain points” companies are earning links from and reverse engineer it.

Copyblogger is a good example. If Facebook wasn’t performing well for them, what has more long term value: a dying Facebook page you are bored with or a viral news story that generates mentions and links on over 300 domains?