A lot can happen in 25 years

Yes, we’re going to have a System Seminar reunion.

It was twenty-five years ago today…

Twenty-five years ago (August 1993), Dan Kennedy invited me to come to Phoenix and share my research and experience in the then highly “fringe” world of online marketing at a gathering of some of his top clients.

A year later, I organized and sponsored the world’s first conference to ever try to answer the question: “Can the World Wide Web be successfully commercialized and if so how?”

My personal answer was “yes, very probably” and my projection of how it would unfold had five parts:

1. Successful web sites and services will be direct response driven

2. The web will eventually be multimedia with audio and video playing a huge role

3. The key innovations and breakthroughs will come from small companies, not giants like Time Warner which at the time was building an interactive home video service

4. One of the biggest opportunities for someone with grand ambition will be to recreate the original Sears Catalog of the 19th century, and build a similar “everything store” online.

5. The web will not only join other mass mediums like newspapers and television in power and influence, it could eventually assume a role where we’ll have trouble imagining how we ever lived without it.

Fortunately for me, my comments – made in November 1994 – were captured on video tape.

These predictions might seem obvious now, but  I assure you that in 1994, they most definitely were not.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were openly hostile to the web back then, calling it a fad with no commercial potential.

Those who were enthusiastic about the web thought that applying a direct response model to it was cheap and crass.

Even the head of San Francisco Bay Area’s Digital Video Special Internet Group (SIG) thought that the idea that video would ever routinely be available on the Internet was lunatic and almost turned down a commission to write an article for me on the subject.

Fast forward to 2018

It’s 25 years later.

I’m definitely older and hopefully a little wiser.

From that first talk in 1993 straight through to 2011, I was engaged in a non-stop program of educating the world of bootstrap entrepreneurs on how to use the Internet effectively to market, sell promote, and build huge followings.

1. In 1994, I wrote the first article on how to use email marketing – and why marketers should – to appear in a marketing industry publication (DM News)

2. Starting in February of 1994, I mentored and advised Hal Riney & Partners ad exec Rick Boyce on the potential of Internet advertising as an ad channel and introduced him to the concept of the “billboard” ad. He went on to become the first person ever to sell banner ads in volume to major advertisers for the start up hotwired.com (the first commercially supported web publication)

3. In 1994, according to Time Magazine, I was the first person to identiy the importance of the click through rate (CTR) and a key metric in Internet advertising.

4. In 1996, I started experimenting with the idea of a sequential auto-responder, a program that would automatically send follow up emails at specifically timed intervals

5. In 1997, I started experimenting with a journal-like web publishing format. Others were doing similar things and this format became known as a “blog.”

6. In late 1998, I declared that the Internet industry had lost its collective mind, sold my dotcom stocks, sold my company e-media, and moved back east. (The dotcom crash took place a year and a half later.)

7. In early 2000, at a talk at the Wharton Business School, I made the following statement: “If you really, really, really want to own Internet stocks, hang on. You’ll be able to get all you want for pennies on the dollar soon.” Amazon was available for $12.52 two years later

8. In late 2000, I saw great promise in the new pay-per-click PPC model pioneered by a company called GoTo and started building a marketing model around it that involved using PPC ads to test headlines, offers and prices as well as drive traffic.

9. In 2001, I offered the first fully integrated model for Internet marketing that involved PPC to test ideas and build initial traffic, aggressive opt-in tactics, aggressive follow up tactics, conversion tracking, and A/B split testing.

10. In 2002, I named this approach “The System” and started a seminar and conference series with the same name. In the depths of the dotcom disaster, I predicted a rebirth of business on the Internet and backed that prediction by being one of the only companies investing in growing market share in the education and conference space at the time. (For context, at the same time AdTech was on the verge of bankruptcy and its survival was far from certain.)

11. In 2002, working with a student, Mike Stewart, I introduced the first “push-button” audio advertising model for the web. Instead of depending on the unwieldy audio players of the time, we packed the audio into Flash making instant audio available to all web users and the advertisers who wanted to reach them with audio messages.

12. In 2002, I strongly encouraged my student Perry Marshall to make a serious research investment in the new Google AdWords ad platform which had caught his imagination. In 2003, at a System Seminar, Perry offered the first serious, comprehensive guide to how to use AdWords profitably. He went on to write the first book on the subject which went on to becoming one of the best selling books on practical Internet tactics of all time.

13. In 2005, I declared that “Internet video has finally arrived” and started teaching how to use online video to sell. http://systemvideoblog.com

14. In 2007, I created a much-copied publishing format that featured video content. Though operated as a very part-time sideline business, these experiments have netted me the proverbial million dollars (verifiable by my AdSense account.) Beyond thought and effort, I never invested one penny into the business. One of these experiments has grown into one of the most visited web sites in the field of jazz: JazzontheTube.com

15. In 2008, I strongly encouraged my student Kim Dushinki to write a book on her research into mobile marketing and the resulting product “The Mobile Marketing Handbook” was the first book ever published on the subject.

16. In 2009, I invited veteran web designer, Ben Hunt, to be a guest speaker at an event I hosted in London. He was so taken with what he learned at the event that he completely changed his approach to web design and published the first, and still the best, book on direct response-oriented web design “Convert!”

17. In 2010 and 2011, Google sent executives to the System Seminar to introduce and explain their Web Site Optimizer. We were the first and one of the only organizations they worked with in the Internet marketing for small business space on this initiative.

18. In 2011, I hosted the last System Seminar with the promise that when and if the “next big thing” came along, I’d let the System Seminar community know. I will be talking about the next big thing – as important as the original commercialization of the web itself – in Chicago this November.

– Ken McCarthy

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P.S. For over 25 years I’ve been sharing the simple but powerful things that matter in business with my clients.

If you’d like direction for your business that will work today, tomorrow and twenty years from now, visit us at the System Club.

Remembering James Martell
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