Piecing Together Your Online Marketing Puzzle

image of puzzle pieces on board

My grandma, Nana, loved putting together puzzles. I remember visiting her on the weekends and spending hours putting together 500- and 1000-piece puzzles.

During this time, my grandma would share bits of wisdom. She would encourage me to “stick with it” when I became frustrated. She celebrated every victory no matter how small. I still remember our banter back and forth as we competed to find a hidden piece.

Thirty years later, Nana’s lessons still guide me.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that our puzzle adventures actually offer an incredibly precise blueprint for marketing your business online.

So grab a puzzle and your marketing plan, and let’s see what grandma would say.

Start with the corners

What are the fundamental principles underpinning any marketing? (Online or otherwise …)

We can pinpoint four:

  • Unique Value Proposition (What’s different about you?)
  • Existing Customers (Who do you serve today?)
  • Company Resources (What assets do you have?)
  • Acquiring Customers (How will you bring new customers in?)

We’ll review each to understand how they anchor the frame of your marketing plan.

Corner one: Your unique value proposition

The first corner, your unique value proposition, defines what makes your product/service different.

It’s the spark of innovation, common sense, or beauty that makes your competitors say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

It’s what you do that no one else can.

You won’t have a successful business until you have a good answer to the question, “Why should I do business with you instead of choosing one of the alternatives?”

In online marketing, your Unique Value Proposition is woven into compelling benefits-focused copy. Excellent content, social media updates, video, and landing pages all work together to turn your Unique Value Proposition into experiences that occupy a position in your customer’s mind.

For example, Toyota’s marketing establishes and reinforces its death grip on the word quality. Others have tried to topple Toyota; none has succeeded.

Corner two: Your existing customers

In-depth and continuous customer research is the hallmark of successful online marketing.

Successful business owners love their customers and rarely miss an opportunity to learn more about them. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s gregarious CEO, often brings an empty chair into important in-house meetings. The empty chair represents the customer, and everyone works to serve the person sitting in that chair.

Tell me, when was the last time you asked your existing customers why they care about you and what you offer? What you learn could be the key to the success of your business.

Corner three: Your company’s resources

Here, you take stock of your people, your processes, and your company’s personality. (You need to think about this even if your business is a one-person show right now.)

You work hard to create a culture of excellence and accountability. You clarify goals and incentivize people to give their best. Most of all, you create the nimble, open-minded culture required to deploy and leverage every marketing opportunity.

Many companies, including its competitors, respect Apple’s business acumen. None can replicate its creative culture and mandate to change the world. Apple has aligned its personality with its marketing, making it virtually unstoppable.

You have the same opportunity.

Corner four: Acquiring new customers

It’s simple. Without a steady supply of customers, you don’t have a business.

Start by attracting new faces with relevant, compelling content.

Then use smart copywriting, well-crafted landing pages, clear calls to action, and irresistible offers to translate that attention into what every business needs — satisfied paying customers.

The techniques and tools you get from Copyblogger will help you understand and implement a plan for attracting prospects and converting them to customers.

Building the frame of your online marketing plan

Other than placing that last piece, building the frame of the puzzle is one of the most satisfying moments.

Online marketers build the “frame” of their marketing puzzle by connecting the dots between the four corners: the unique value proposition, existing customers, company assets, and new customer acquisition.

Business frame-building comes down to asking and answering important questions. These questions outline your vision, principles, and strategy.

These questions include:

  1. What is troubling my customers, and how can we offer the best solution?
  2. What do we believe in?
  3. What will we NOT do? Or better, when will we say No?
  4. What are our core marketing strategies?
  5. How does our day-to-day marketing reinforce and enhance our value proposition?


The answers to these questions require leadership, vision … and mischief. It’s easy to pretend to be a market leader, but customers will always sniff out impostors.

“Find the colors, grandson”

Whenever I was stuck on a puzzle, grandma would pick up the box, point at a purple flower, a yellow shutter, or other distinctive feature, and say, “Find the colors, Grandson.”

The same applies to your online marketing.

Sometimes we get so close to our businesses that we miss the little things that make our customers and us special. Your colors start with your value proposition, but they also include case studies and testimonials.

Your colors can be the care your builders take in leaving a work site cleaner than when they arrived. Your colors could be stocking Sippy cups for restaurant patrons that have children. Your colors can just be the respectful, thoughtful way you treat people.

These colors are hidden by broad terms like customer service. Unearth them, collect them, and add them to the overall marketing of your business.

Try something until it fits

Have you ever tried to force fit a puzzle piece?

Many times, I would jam a piece into place and move on, mightily trying to ignore the ill-fitting piece. My grandma would see the piece instantly, quietly remove it, and lightly scold, “Try something until it fits.”

She would then methodically try piece after piece until one settled into the spot with a satisfying click against the tabletop.

Testing and optimization is how you and I “try something until it fits.” Using smart tools like Premise to split-test your landing pages, setting up AdWords A/B tests, even tweaking headlines creates “luck” and success.

Unfortunately, most online marketers dismiss testing or list it on a forgotten to-do list. This is a mistake.

“Always Be Testing” is the war cry of serious marketers who quickly grow their audiences, customer base, and reputation with spectacular marketing. They know that if you are not testing, you’re guessing — and guessing is a costly and stupid way to run a business.

Finishing the puzzle

Online marketing can seem confusing.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by complexity — just like when you dump out the pieces of your first 1,000-piece puzzle.

Relax. Start with the corners and follow the process. It works. And if you’re smart about it, it can work a lot faster.

I have the finished puzzles to prove it.

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Reader Comments (30)

  1. says

    You’d be amazed at how many site owners forget to start with the corners. Everyone is so focused on the next big thing they forget about the basics. A good base is necessary for success because it guides and supports everything else that you do.

  2. says

    The absolute most important thing in this list is your UVP. Everything else is contingent upon it.

    If you can define this in a way that serves a need in the market, and you’re passionate/knowledgeable about, the rest is cake.

  3. says

    I love this metaphor… at first, I wasn’t sure how you were going to pull it off, but you managed to do it.

    It’s interesting you used Toyota as an example of a company that stands for quality. About a year and a half ago, they had a bit of a rough time with their “sudden acceleration” problem, but they managed to get past it pretty well. I would be interested to see what customer surveys say about Toyota today compared to, say, four years ago. I would venture to bet that they still get high marks for quality, in spite of that little controversy a couple of years ago.

    • says

      Yep, John – the post was a bit of a high-wire act there!
      I thought about the Toyota issue while writing. The thing is that Toyota still occupies the “quality” position in everyone’s mind. They’ve been able to reinforce that positioning for decades allowing them to weather periodic hiccups.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. says

    People won’t find their correct parts of lives until they try various ways :) Life is a puzzle. Marketing is also a puzzle. Solving it the right way or not, it depends on you and your skill

  5. says

    This is an AWESOME analogy!

    It’s true that so too many entrepreneurs get so caught up in jumping on the ubiquitous bandwagons and forget about the fundamentals. Those are the ones who are focused on the short-term and probably make up a good chunk of those who fail within 5 years.

    After all, if you want a house to stand for decades, you’d better lay a damn solid foundation, right?

  6. says

    Great article – neatly packaged. The structure could be applied – perfectly – to any proposition, off or on-line.
    Thanks for sharing!

  7. says

    Just did some puzzles with my kids yesterday. Amazing now much better they did when I showed them the corner/color concept. I’d say this is your best CB Post.

    Design, Traffic, Conversion, Hosting — The four corner pieces of copyblogger

  8. says

    Love this article! The whole metaphor is made so much more vivid by the fact that we do puzzles in our office ALL THE TIME. SO much of this marketing world is like that puzzle. Thanks for the great insight, Stan!

  9. JM says

    Starting strong by piecing together the foundation is so important! I’ve been able to piece my puzzle together successfully by using marketing automation software (Office Autopilot). Especially with corners 2 and 4, the software has been a game-changer for my own small business. Before, I would never have been able to nurture my leads and customers so efficiently while continuing to innovate my product, there just aren’t enough hours in the day! I highly recommend getting a good software to help you put the pieces together the right way.

  10. says

    I love the missing piece analogy! All marketers should test their headlines, their keywords, their social media updates, everything. If you are not testing, you have no way of knowing what worked and what flopped.

  11. says

    I put together puzzles with my “nana” (yes, I called her that too) over 45 years ago and this brought back great memories. It’s funny – I never would have imagined that this simple activity taught me how to create order out of chaos in so many areas of my life. I’ll need to thank her when I see her in heaven.

  12. says

    I love this analogy! This is how my mom taught me how to do puzzle. She always told me to start with the corners and work my way into the puzzle. I never thought about using it to build my online marketing platform.

    I agree that successful business owners LOVE their customers and learn about them. Furthermore, the “empty chair” technique is brilliant. It serves as a great reminder that “the customer” is important and a company and its employees are to serve them. Since I’m a freelance writer and work from home, I’ll visualize “my customers” on my computer screen because I use email and Skype to communicate with them, and they find me by visiting my website. Thanks for the great idea!

  13. says

    Thank you, Stan. What I love about your apporach is that you present it to us as a game – child’s play even. This immediately gets me into the mindset that writing this plan will be fun – something to be enjoyed. Yes, their will be challenges, as in any good game, but ultimately, if I pay attention to the rules of the game and put all the pieces in place, I will be rewarded with a wonderful picture.

    Best to you,
    Cheeky toonist and hard-nut business facilitator 😉

  14. says

    I love the way you have put this together. I love jigsaw puzzles so I can immediately relate to your metaphor. Thanks for the tips.

  15. says

    Certainly its been great way of giving tips that how business owners can make up their business plans and execute them to their beneficial way.

    Learned new aspects from your article and its been worth reading the post, thanks for sharing :-)

  16. says

    Hey Stan,

    I love the jigsaw analogy – plus we just had visitors to our little cottage in the countryside and recently completed a 1000 piece jigsaw after too much rain on our walk made us seek shelter, a warm fire and something to do inside with some nice cups of tea. Perfect. Then this evening I just caught up with a few emails and read your article… even more perfect. Great stuff, thanks for sharing!!


  17. says

    This is good guidance to devise your own unique path to developing your website marketing plan. Use your own unique strengths and client successes to build an online marketing plan that works best for your business.

  18. says

    Thank you for this insightful post. I believe putting the “corners” in place is what makes our efforts a”business” and not a “hobby”. I think it is also worth noting that when it comes to Internet Marketing and all the complexities it involves it can seem like a jumbled up puzzle with pieces all over the floor until we start putting it all together see it evolve “one piece at a time.” In other words it takes patience and persistence.

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