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Is Metagaming Silently Killing Your Marketing?

"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore." ~ André Gide

Online marketing, a field which benefits greatly from rigorous testing and thoughtful looks into a multitude of data, sometimes has to face the double-edged sword of best practices.

Though they encourage tested tactics, what works for one may not work for all.

Best practices also encourage “prescribed” advice that can stifle innovation at a company that refuses to innovate on its own – imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is not innovation.

That said, in tomorrow's post  +Gregory Ciotti explains why you need to be careful about listening to the "metagame."

Stay tuned. 

Update: post is now live:
http://www.copyblogger.com/metagaming/

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26 comments
 
When copyblogger first stopped taking comments, I wondered why. But I believe it's not that you don't want comments or feedback - it's that you want them to occur here at Google+ instead. Thinking of it like that makes it feel less like a cold shoulder to this reader ;)

I liked the article on metagaming. All of it makes a lot of sense. At my own website I wondered if I'm giving away too much in my free articles on ginseng, wondered why anyone needs to buy the little book I wrote about it if they can hop around from post to post throughout my website and gather pretty much the same information. But there is value in having it all bound together in one place (I think), and I hope that's going to be the sentiment from my readers. I'm still building my online store, so it remains to be seen, but in the meantime I'm seeing an increase in visitors. 

Keep the great articles coming. I have a LOT to learn, and a business to build :) I don't have a lot to lose, so it makes trying new things less intimidating than it might to someone whose career hinges on their successes!
 
+Madison Woods You're correct: we definitely did not want to close all feedback sources. We just shifted them. And while the quantity is not as great as having comments right under the post, the quality remains.

Sounds like you're going about it the right way. Give your best information away for free Madison, especially as you build your audience. And remember that some people don't want to hop around. They'll pay for the convenience of a book to not have to click from post to post to post, and to get the coherent, organized format.
 
You may have a map, even see some signs for speed limits, danger zones etc. But the journey is your own. 
 
I love articles like this from sites that want people to give them money. They pretty much say, 'eh, you know, anything can happen, we don't really know what, but thanks for thinking we do.'
 
+Greg Strandberg Appreciate your consistent contribution to the discussions here, but I fear you missed the point of this article. 

"Online marketing, a field which benefits greatly from rigorous testing and thoughtful looks into a multitude of data, sometimes has to face the double-edged sword of best practices. Though they encourage tested tactics, what works for one may not work for all."

If there were a perfect one-size-fits-all strategy for success in content marketing or any field, we'd all be doing it. It just so happens that a smart best practice is to make it a habit to challenge the best practices you've adopted. Are they working as intended? It will be different for every business. 
 
I really liked this post, because it's the kind of track I'm on myself. Copyblogger isn't a place to "copy" anything but to be inspired to find models that work for your own business. Companies and websites are organic things that grow out of their founder's ideas, personalities, goals and mindset and their own audience's relationship to those factors. You can't just copy that. It's like trying to copy a great novel and expecting the same success. It just doesn't work that way.  
 
+Greg Strandberg we don't want people to give us money. We want to give people products that will improve their businesses so when they do give us their money they feel like it is well spent. 
 
Question to the author and/or readers of the Metagaming post:

In Brian Balfour's quote:

"Don’t take anything you read on growth (including my material) as prescription. Always, and I mean always, view it from a lens of inspiration."

Does anybody know what he was referring to by "a lens of inspiration"?
 
Very thought provoking article.

I understand now why Copyblogger moved comments to Google Plus. Removing spam comments can take all your time. They are also running a certification class, AND developing New Rainmaker in real time as they listen to feedback from people who are using Rainmaker. They are also posting excellent new articles to their blog nearly every day, and steadily adding very helpful and informative seminars and webinars to their Authority course and adding coaching sessions to their TeachingSells course as well.

Those are all good business reasons to move comments.

Even though I don't personally like the moving of Copyblogger's comments to Google Plus, I find I still love Copyblogger lol. I simply cannot get enough of copywriting and advertising and blogging. Copyblogger is an excellent resource, as is the Authority course.

I think I might eventually get sort of accustomed to the comments being at Google Plus, but I continually am concerned that one day Google may decide to delete Google Plus comments, perhaps to save money, and then I will forever lose the valuable Copyblogger comments.
 
To me it means that you need to compare apples to apples. If you're business isn't like Brian's (Balfour's or Clark's), then their numbers may not mean much to your business, because your customers may not respond to the same tactics.

It's also a question of "generic" and "specific." There are so many different ways to produce content, which leads to an infinite variation of how that content can be applied to specific businesses.

For example, in a lot of the Copyblogger course material, there is the idea that if your audience doesn't read blogs, then don't have a blog. Call it something else. Just because Copyblogger is heavy on email doesn't mean that email is for you, because maybe you haven't gotten the hang of it yet or because of myriad other factors.

I found one of the comments above perhaps a bit harsh, because there is no way in a million years that Copyblogger could give specific advice for every single business in existence. You have to be "inspired" to apply knowledge to your specific circumstances. 
 
"A whirlwind of opinions began to flurry around, but I noticed one startling trend: comments were made mostly on the basis of “best practices,” and not on what might be best for Copyblogger."

I'm not sure I completely agree with this statement.  Many of  the comments he was referring to were based on what is best for the reader.  Yes, those comments are self-serving but I would imagine that part of CB's (or any company's) decisions are based on what is good for the company and part is based on what is good for the customer.

As a customer, there are times that a constantly changing and experimenting company makes me grow tired.  I don't like having to shift my habits for a company.  Yes, of course testing is important. And yes, of course change happens. But a company that changes constantly, a company that seeks to experiment just for the sake of experimentation, fails to put my, the customer's, needs first.

+Gregory Ciotti quotes +Brian Clark  "We will share results. If a lack of comments proves to hurt, I’ll add them back and say, ‘Whoops."

But I caution some companies that even if you go back, sometimes the love is lost.  There are lots of companies that diluted their appeal by experimenting too far or too fast.  I don't want to predict what would happen with CB (and I'm a fan so I hope this isn't true), but it's not inconceivable that many of your commenters would have moved on during the big GooglePlus experiment and they won't be back later.

+Gregory Ciotti  I completely agree with your main point that best practices may not be best for everyone. I completely agree that you have to find what works best for you.  And I know that you were not implying that trying something new is always the way to go.  My only point is that experimentation needs to be considered carefully. There needs to be a clear reason to make the consequences of changing your company worth the price to the customers.
 
+Greg Strandberg 

"I love articles like this from sites that want people to give them money."

Ah, so "every business that has ever existed... ever?"

Customers exchange dollars for value. Copyblogger has some of the happiest customers ever and crazy awesome support -- you picked the wrong company to take pot shots at.

"They pretty much say, 'eh, you know, anything can happen, we don't really know what, but thanks for thinking we do.'"

That isn't at all what this article says... not even close. The point was that new ground can't be broken in marketing with best practices.

In order to figure something out you either look to what others have done, or you do it yourself. In doing something new, you have to be willing to test it for yourself. We're a very data-driven company and would never test anything that would negatively impact paying customers: but we will experiment with our marketing to see if something new might get better results than something tried-and-true.
 
+Julia Rymut

"I'm not sure I completely agree with this statement.  Many of  the comments he was referring to were based on what is best for the reader."

Julia no offense, but you are telling me what comments I was referring to... I know exactly which comments I was referring to. :)

It was those comments left by marketers. From people who run their own blogs, making sweeping statements like: "This is such a bad idea, comments increase engagement!"

These people were leaving opinions -- I'm sorry -- parroting opinions that they had never tested. That is who I was referring to.

As a customer, there are times that a constantly changing and experimenting company makes me grow tired.  I don't like having to shift my habits for a company.  Yes, of course testing is important. And yes, of course change happens. But a company that changes constantly, a company that seeks to experiment just for the sake of experimentation, fails to put my, the customer's, needs first.

First, I never implied those last few lines. Second, your points make sense, but not in the context of the two examples given.

Opening up our resources cannot be viewed as anything but a positive; having no opt-in has always been in favor of the customer. Having no comments is not the same as making big fundamental changes to a product.

Some readers might have been bummed, but your thoughts aren't fitting for the changes we actually discussed -- both are very small in relation to the business as a whole.

This would be a totally different matter if Copyblogger had changed a core element of one of their flagship products and said, "Lol, we're just testing," but they didn't. They made a strategic decision to simply test removing comments.

Testing your marketing isn't the same as changing the habits of paying customers, and this post was all about marketing. Our eBooks on Help Scout are mostly read by NON-customers, because they are free.

"But I caution some companies that even if you go back, sometimes the love is lost.  There are lots of companies that diluted their appeal by experimenting too far or too fast.  I don't want to predict what would happen with CB (and I'm a fan so I hope this isn't true), but it's not inconceivable that many of your commenters would have moved on during the big GooglePlus experiment and they won't be back later."

Great points! I could not agree more.

And although you may be right about commentors not being excited about the change, what a business really needs to be concerned about is customers, and in another sense, audience.

Sure, readers of Copyblogger are super important; they are truly a key part of the entire company.

But not having the ability to comment isn't the same as "diluting your appeal" to customers of a paying product. I've yet to see any Copyblogger customer say anything like this, and if Brian or the crew caught any whiff of customers leaving due to the lack of comments, well, we'd be having this conversation on Copyblogger.com ;)
 
+Stan Dubin

Always view marketing advice as a form of inspiration, ie "We should try this out" rather than "WE MUST COPY THIS IMMEDIATELY!"
 
+Gregory Ciotti Thank you for your response.

I only have one small additional insight to add.  I'm both a CB customer (I have bought a lot of products) and someone who wishes the comments were back on CB. I realize I'm in the minority but I liked the old way.
 
+Julia Rymut Appreciate you sharing them!

Your point about going back after a big change and finding "the love is lost" would make for a great article in itself. :)
 
+Stan Dubin to me it means to experiment with a sense of adventure and creativity and keeping in mind what you think will work for your own business - using their suggestions as springboards to your own innovations.
 
Umm, I am new to the concept of "metagaming". So, feel free to prove me wrong, but doesn't it mean "transcending game rules" as in "not following the game plan"? I'm asking cause the article seems to suggests that metagaming is "sticking to the rules" and "not willing to think independently". Another reason this appeared strange to me is that, in Greek "meta" means "beyond".
Confused
 
I haven't heard of the concept either, but the idea of understanding "why" as well as "how" behind strategic marketing decisions makes sense.

If you're writing a follow on article, I'd like to read more about how to swing (intelligently) for the fences when the charts are all pointing downwards.
 
+Alesia Krush

Hey Alesia, you're correct in that the term basically means "the game beyond the game." When competitive players refer to the 'current metagame' they mean the strategies that work the best, or are the most popular in the game at the moment. Those things outside of the game itself that are affecting the gameplay among competitors.

So if chess had a currently aggressive metagame, it would mean most top players are playing aggressively right now. Or in a funnier example, if a certain character in Super Smash Brothers was dominating, they would be considered of great importance to the metagame.

It's a fluid term, but I use it here to simply mean that marketers often assess the current marketing metagame ("What are the pros doing right now?") and they copy it without understanding the why. They are also usually a step behind, because they focus only on copying and never on trying new things; trying to find the next breakthrough that affects the metagame.

Hope that helps explain my perspective a little better on the term's use.
 
+Gregory Ciotti I see, thanks for explaining this. It kind of means unspoken rules and trends then. By the way, a great article and a great reminder that so-called best practices are not always the best thing to do.
 
+Copyblogger studies show that anytime you have provided someone with something of value first that when you ask for something in return few will say no. Just found you guys today in a tweet somewhere, glad I did. Thank you.
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