When you watch the story of Pinocchio, it's easy to get caught up in the drama of the moment. Whether he's skipping school and getting captured by a man who wants to put him in a sideshow, running off to Pleasure Island or getting swallowed by a whale...everything about Pinocchio screams "get me out of this jam right now." It's easy enough to get in the same cycle with your web site; facing down each individual area of marketing without seeing the bigger picture.

That brings me to the fifth lesson in this series: The Conversion is the Goal.

In this six part series, I'll be exploring six valuable lessons you can learn from the classic story of Pinocchio and offering up some input on how to apply it to your own marketing plans. If you are just joining the series, catch up on past articles:

Six Lessons from a Wooden Boy: Part One: Search Engines Want to be Real Boys

Six Lessons from a Wooden Boy: Part Two: Online Reputation Means Straight Talk
Six Lessons from a Wooden Boy: Part Three: Don't be a Social Media Jackass
Six Lessons from a Wooden Boy: Lesson Four: Listen to Trusted Advice

Focus on Your End Goal and Work Backwards...

When the blue fairy comes along early in the story to turn Pinocchio from an inanimate wooden puppet into a living (but still wooden) puppet, she tells him that if he's a good boy, she'll return someday to turn him into a "real, live boy.' To guide him along the way, she sends him Jiminy Cricket. It's Jiminy's job to keep Pinocchio on the right path and to help him remember what type of boy he should be.

pinocchiofairy.gifIn general, this is how small businesses start off with web sites. They hire someone internally or contract with a company to have a web site built. They begin with grand goals of all the things they'll do just right and all the ways they'll entice new customers in to buy from them. They're focused and motivated and they know their goal.

Then life happens.

All it took was something to sidetrack Pinocchio on his way to school that first day to lead him down a path of mistakes and bad choices. The same thing tends to happen to small businesses with their web sites. Something goes wrong or someone gets sidetracked and pretty soon the entire project is veering off course. Someone starts focusing on buying as much PPC traffic as possible or running to set up accounts on every single social media network and everyone forgets about the end goal; conversion.

Pinocchio was supposed to be working toward becoming a real boy. If he'd remembered this, he could have asked himself before each and every choice: is this going to help me reach my goal? Companies are supposed to use their web sites to boost business; whether by increasing brand exposure, building relationships with their target audience, or making direct sales. When it comes to a small business's online efforts, these companies also need to regularly ask themselves: is this going to help us reach our goal?

Don't Go Chasing After Every New Thing

A big part of Pinocchio's problem was his thirst for adventure. If he'd stayed on the path to school that first day instead of letting his curiosity get the better of him, the story might have turned out quite differently. This is what small businesses need to do as well. Unfortunately what tends to happen is this: a small businesses starts building a solid online marketing plan and then reads a post somewhere about a single, amazing example of someone using technology X to make oodles of sales online.

wheelfortune.gifGuess what happens?

The small business gets sucked into what David Armano refers to as the "Marketing Wheel of Misfortune." They spin the wheel, pick the latest buzz word and start directing all their efforts towards figuring this new idea out. They do this without guidance, the effort fails and they either walk away from the web in bitter defeat, or move on to the next big thing, repeating the entire process.

What small businesses need to do is take a step back from the bleeding edge and focus on building plans that work. I explained it this way in an article last year:

It is simply not practical for most small businesses to be on the bleeding edge of social media adoption.

They call it the "bleeding edge" for a reason, you know.

In fact, that bastion of collective knowledge known as Wikipedia defines the bleeding edge like this:

"...technology that is so new (and thus, presumably, not perfected) that the user is required to risk reductions in stability and productivity in order to use it."

Now, let's consider the last part of the definition again, shall we?

"...risk reductions in stability and productivity in order to use it."

The majority of small businesses I've dealt with do not have the ability to risk reductions in stability or productivity. They're generally all working their tails off to build their companies and meet payroll.

As tempting as it may be to play on the bleeding edge of marketing, remind yourself what happened to Pinocchio when he stepped off the path to chase down every new adventure without a single thought to his end goal. There's nothing wrong with taking chances and exploring new ideas, just make sure you ask yourself how it will impact your conversion to do so.

Learn Your Lessons, Even If You Have To Do It The Hard Way

Of course I'd be remiss if I piled on warning after warning about heading down the wrong path without also reminding you everything turned out ok in the end for Pinocchio. Ultimately, Pinocchio proved his worth by saving Gepetto's life and the blue fairy rewarded him with the ultimate conversion: she turned him into a real boy.

Like Pinocchio, we sometimes have to learn our lessons the hard way. That's why it's important to find the balance between taking calculated risks and taking dangerous risks. Pinocchio learned valuable lessons from each of his mishaps and your company will too. In fact, learning how to embrace the failure metric can go a long way toward helping you come up with newer and better marketing ideas.

Coming Up

In the next installment in the series we'll wrap things up by taking a look at the great equalizer of online marketing: your attitude.

January 12, 2009

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


Good advice but I thought conversion was about taking website traffic and converting them to sales. I didn't see any mention of how to do that in the article.


I see your point, but what I'm talking about here is the more general conversion of traffic from different sources or marketing methods.

A few years back when social bookmarking sites were all the rage, I heard tons of SEOs touting how awesome these sites were because of the immense traffic they delivered. While it's true they sent traffic, it was generally one off traffic that left as quickly as they came.

If you start digging, you'll often find that different social networks and even different types of online marketing deliver astonishingly different qualities of traffic. Thus, when you're putting your marketing plan together, you need to consider these things.

Conversion isn't just about getting the sale once people get to your site...it starts with how you get them there in the first place.

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Six Lessons from a Wooden Boy: Lesson Five: The Conversion is the Goal