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5 things Gilligan’s Island can teach you about Internet marketing

From rock and roll to classic TV, no metaphor is too strong for Ray Welling. Today, marketing on the Internet, Gilligan's-style.

  • Ray Welling
    Dr. Ray Welling is the principal of Welling Digital, a strategic content consultancy. He also manages a small digital content agency and is an adjunct lecturer in marketing at Macquarie University.

Hands up – who’s excited by the expansion of commercial television into new digital TV stations? Hmmm, as I suspected, not many hands….

I’m still struggling to understand the business model behind digital TV: It seems to be cannibalising your own audience and that of your direct competitors by broadcasting long-forgotten or obscure TV shows. 

However, there is one good thing about digital TV; It’s introduced a whole new generation to the shows their parents wasted their time on when they were young.

One of my favourite shows growing up was Gilligan’s Island, the tale of a fateful group of castaways whose three-hour boat tour around Honolulu turned into a shipwrecked adventure that lasted for what seemed decades but was, in fact, three seasons.

Although the plotlines were as shallow as the island’s lagoon, when I watch the old episodes again after all these years, I can see some parallels, strangely enough, to modern-day business. For example, here are five lessons from Gilligan’s Island that can be applied to Internet marketing.

1. Be distinct, and be consistent.

Gilligan’s Island is full of archetypes – the gruff but lovable captain, his bumbling but well-meaning first mate, the unreconstructed capitalist couple, the geek, the glamourous woman and the girl next door.

You might love them or you might hate them, but you know what to expect from each of the archetypal characters in every episode. Gilligan is not going to behave like an intellectual, and Thurston Howell III is not going to become a tree-hugger; they all act in a way every week that matches their distinct character.

Online, as well as in traditional marketing, you need to differentiate yourself from your competitors, by presenting your own distinct proposition to customers. And you need to consistently deliver that proposition, whether it’s your focus on customer service, your playful humour, or even the style and colour of your logo.

2. Embrace technological change

Just as the Professor improved the lives of people on the island by developing coconut telephones, a bicycle-powered radio and a hot water system, you need to be prepared to continually seek out new ways of doing things. Today, that means making sure everything you do is mobile-optimised; think of how your customers want to interact with your business out of home and develop your online offering accordingly.

3. Everyone has a need that needs to be met

On Gilligan’s Island, the unmet need is obvious – they all need to be rescued and get off the island. In business, your customers’ needs might not be so obvious. But a key to success online is to work out what need your customers are looking to have met, and structure your offering so that it clearly meets that need.

4. Both style and substance have their place

Consider Ginger and Mary Ann: the girl you want to sleep with vs. the one you want to marry. They represent the classic style vs. substance argument. Well, I would argue it doesn’t have to be one or the other. You may want to engage in a bit of Ginger action to get customers’ attention online, but it will be the Mary Ann reliability of your offering that will keep them coming back.

5. You need to work at it if you want to be found

If the cast of Gilligan’s Island was a website, they’d be suffering from a lousy search strategy. If you want customers to find you, you need to work out what terms they use to search for your type of product or service, and use them in your headings, metatags and copy. You need to constantly update your content to keep it high in the search results. Otherwise your business could end up shipwrecked.

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