3 Marketing Lessons Learned From a 2,181 Mile Hike

July 8, 2011

2:00 pm

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Zach Davis on his iPhone while hiking the Appalachian Trail (he started in March) from Georgia to Maine. Follow Zach’s progress via the Zach-Track-O-Matic or on Twitter @zrdavis.

How would you like to double the traffic to your website with only 1/4 the effort?

Piqued your interest? It can happen – it has for me. So, how can this be done?  It’s easy – go on a 2,181 mile hike.

Okay, maybe there’s nothing easy about that. With that said, however, this is exactly the situation with my personal site.

To be clear, exactly zero percent of my decision to embark on such a journey was for the increased visitors to my site (now an Appalachian Trail Blog), but nonetheless, this has been a byproduct.

And as with anything else in life, there are learning lessons to be had:

1.) A Whole New Approach
The reaction I got from people once I embarked on a 2,181 mile backpacking trip was nothing short of staggering. Not only were people excited, they wanted to live vicariously through my very strange, albeit adventurous, lifestyle.

You can spend all hours of the week communicating with your following through Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, etc., but unless you’re getting stellar results, perhaps it’s time to brainstorm a new, exciting marketing plan. Oftentimes we get stale, either lost in the repetition of previous efforts, or when we do look for a new idea, we consult the same “how to” articles that our competition is, too. We then get frustrated that our increased efforts do not yield a corresponding output in results.

Those who stand above the rest, from Steve Jobs to Charlie Sheen, are willing to take a chance with a truly innovative approach toward garnering attention.

Separate yourself from your normal routine to get a fresh perspective and let your creativity run wild. See what new ideas you can come up with to get your following/customer base excited. Shy away from simply repurposing others’ ideas.

2.) Be True to Yourself
In the process of hiking the trail, I’ve met many people who are not only familiar with my site, but have been highly complimentary. The one piece of positive feedback I receive most often is that they enjoy how authentic my writing feels. Many other “adventure blogs” fall victim to a fear of saying the wrong thing. The result is a watered down list of facts about their day. This might work if you’re a firefighter, or Batman, but for us, most days don’t involve bear sightings and hail storms. Adding personality to your content is what builds a following.

Conversely, if you were to sit this same blogger down in private and talk about their adventures over a beer, his/her passion would be nothing short of effervescent. Write like you’re drinking beer and conversing in private (unless you’re from Boston – then you need a filter).

Note: This doesn’t apply only to blogging. In this day and age, company culture is as big a differentiating factor as any. Be true to yourself, and like-minded customers will find you.

3.) Low-Tech, High Metrics
Prior to leaving for the trail, my site was heavy on creative videos (if I do say so myself), targeted social media efforts, and a lot of formatting and design work. Now, since most of my posts are written from my iPhone (this one included), formatting is synonymous with headache. Needless to say, I keep things as simple as possible.

Many marketing strategies fall victim to investing too much energy on the latest niche social networking fad. This comes from a fear of not wanting to fall behind the times; however, for every Twitter, there are 5 Google Buzzes. If (wo)man power is limited, and if you’re not a Fortune 500 company, this is likely the case.  Focus on mastering the basics. For me, this meant focusing on writing, not social media, not videos, but simply working on expressing my experiences/thoughts as clearly as possible.

Similarly, your Analytics will tell you what avenues are working and what are not. Become the best in class at that, and stop worrying so much about “the next big thing”.

So take a few minutes and consider if a new marketing plan is in order. What will your following react to? What’s your original idea?

What is your Appalachian Trail?

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When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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