As a medium, the web offers more chance for experimentation than ever before. It’s easy to update. It’s instant. It has zero-cost of production. Yet I find it highly ironic that marketers create web content at such a plodding pace. I too have been paralyzed by the prospect of putting words, images and video on a company website, despite how easy it is to change anything at anytime. It not only robs us of the opportunity that new content could have provided us, and it doesn’t allow us to develop capabilities in experimenting and optimizing our marketing.

One remedy that has helped me lose my fear is having a sandbox. What is a sandbox? I define sandboxes as learning environments that aren’t directly associated with your company’s brand or anything that you hinge your career’s future on. Here are some examples…

20 Ways to Sandbox a Marketing Tactic

  • Do pro bono work for a charity; such as a PPC awareness-raising campaign, using Google grants
  • Take on a Freelance gig, via elance.com, odesk.com or freelancer.com
  • Online activities to share with relatives, like an upcoming reunion or a family tree
  • Promotion for the philanthropic work your company does
  • Helping your kid’s sports team get corporate sponsors
  • Lending your company’s social club some help (really a form of internal communications)
  • Acting as social media lead for your adult softball league
  • Helping your Condominium Association put their bylaws and meeting minutes online
  • Mentor a startup by advising them on their strategic marketing plan
  • Take an active role running the site/Facebook page for your alumni association
  • Help with media relations for a local candidate running for political office
  • Organize a community garage sale, give geographic coordinates for listing on location-based services/maps
  • Approach local sales/marketing college instructors, see about guest speaking to their students
  • If your city is hosting a large conference/sporting event, help author a guide for out-of towners
  • Assist the local arts, itemize local websites/directories they should list their events on
  • Setup a page on about.me or similar service, summing up the professional, community and personal sides of you
  • Support a local author; point them to where their reviews appear, put them in touch with fans
  • Start curating articles about some hobby or person/organization you like, post them in your social stream
  • Record your thoughts on something you are passionate about, create a podcast around it
  • Set up a bulletin board display about marketing at a local library

As you see, sandboxes can be temporary, you can try things in a sandbox while telling yourself that you can abandon them at any time. Psychologically, this takes away the baggage that something permanent like a corporate website has. Its usually this weighty sense of permanence that prevents us from being experimental with our main website. If you’re like me you’ll be liberated by how experimental you can be in a sandbox. Unlike your corporate properties you can safely make mistakes in a sandbox. Your corporate site will benefit from the lessons you learned from the pilot work you did in a sandbox.

Some Rules to Help you Play Nicely in a Sandbox

– You don’t have to be anonymous about it, but you can be anonymous if it makes you more comfortable.
– Don’t think of sandbox activities as being ‘free labour.’ You can make money from some, while others simply give you tuition-free learning.
– Note that no two sites are the same, so be aware that not everything you try and a sandbox will be applicable to your main site.
– Think of how experimental you can be in your sandbox. You can learn if your hunch is wrong in a nearly risk-free environment, and on the other hand, you can be highly innovative and see payoffs that apply to your work. A sandbox experiment could ultimately reward you with a career-changing win.

Go get your Hands Dirty

If you want to become more confident prototyping and experimenting on your corporate website in the future, start a sandbox activity today. I’ve had several sandboxes over the past 15 years, including some that are listed above. They’ve all taught me valuable lessons. I’m sure I’ll have more in the future for the same reason. Besides, as long as I have sandboxes, I don’t have to officially grow up!