The Good Earth

The Good Earth

Pearl S. Buck wrote of a young man Wang Lung, a pre-revolutionary Chinese farmer.  The story begins on his wedding day, but unlike the opulent weddings that our prosperous culture is accustomed to, he woke in a three room stone house where he lived with his aging father.  A small curtain separated his bed from the rest of the house.  His bride would be a slave girl from the mighty House of Hwang whom he would meet that very day.

As he woke that morning his keen young eyes quickly took in the color of the sky and he thrust his hand through the small square hole in his wall to feel the air outside.  Rain would come soon and allow the ear of the wheat fill out.  He concluded that “it was as if Heaven had chosen this day to wish him well.  Earth would bear fruit.”

Throughout the book Pearl Buck masterfully portrays the value of the land, the soil and the ability it has to give life.  To accomplish this she contrasts the poor farmer Wang Lung to the mighty House of Hwang.  The juxtaposition of wealth and poverty, work and idleness, beauty and strength, is powerful and provides a very poignant perspective on what constitutes real value. The question never asked, but ever present: “Is there more value in the land or in silver?”

The final scenes in the book show a wealthy and old Wang Lung. Through hard work and discipline he had traded places with the House of Hwang. They forgot the value of the land and sold it to him in pieces, until he owned all that they once had. When he was finally too old to work the land, he returned to spend his final days away from the luxurious courts he had acquired. He moved back into the small three room stone house where his life began. He spent his days with bare feet in the soil. He loved to feel the earth.

In the puzzling way that values occasionally get lost before they can pass from one generation to the next, Wang Lung’s sons couldn’t see the real value of the land. Rather than growing up in the fields, working the land, they grew up in schools. They could calculate and barter better than their father, but they didn’t value the land.

In the final agonizing scene he quietly approaches his sons who came to visit him and he overhears them planning to “sell the land” to raise money to pursue other interests.  He chokes and stumbles and his sons catch him to hold him up.  In desperation with tears on his cheeks he tells them:

“It is the end of a family – when they begin to sell the land.  Out of the land we came and into it we must go – and if you will hold your land you can live – no one can rob you of land –

“If you sell the land, it is the end.”

His sons reassure their old dying father that they wont sell the land as they smile at each other over the top of his head.  They had lost track of the value of the land, just as the House of Hwang had done.

Where’s the value in internet marketing?

Wang Lung lived in the soil.  He also knew that he could die by the soil.  He understood the important relationship between the sky and the earth; the rain and the harvest.  He didn’t have the luxury of sitting idle or waiting on someone else to do his work for him.

As internet marketers do we understand the relationship between testing and profit; value and benefits? How many ‘would be’ internet marketers have been raised in schools, rather than in the field of knocking doors and producing content. They know the talk, but haven’t walked the walk.

Amid the din of discussion in the internet marketing space (which in the better circles focuses on time-tested direct response sales techniques), the best copywriters struggle and toil to teach the difference between features and benefits. It’s the tendency of newer marketers to place an emphasis on qualities and structure; features rather than benefits.

As marketers mature (they do this by reading the best books and working the field) their language naturally moves toward the concept of benefit. In the beginning it can sound a bit hollow.  The beginner’s efforts to identify benefits is quite often just a renaming of features or a correlation between features and benefits. This seems a good place to start, but it’s easy to spot, because there are many misses, and it still doesn’t talk to the heart of the consumer.

What are they missing? Could it be that they’ve never put themselves on the other side of the desk to consider life as their consumer? Just like Wang Lung’s sons that had no value for the land because their feet and hands had never worked the soil, many internet marketers have no respect for the consumer and the character of real benefits because they haven’t worked the tests and numbers necessary to find a winning combination that really strikes a chord.

Get your feet dirty

Ed Dale loves comparing internet marketing to farmville on facebook. The people that put in the hours move up in the world. They accumulate both experience, wisdom and, in the end, profit. The marketer that sets himself down to the grind of content creation and then judiciously distributes it in a way that permits proper testing will get the traffic. He’ll then be able to test offers until he finds one that’s a match for the niche or eliminates it as unsuccessful and moves on to the next.

Just as Wang Lung understood about the land, a bad crop doesn’t always mean a bad farmer and the necessity of success for the support of life doesn’t leave any time to sit around and complain. Whether the rain falls and the seeds grow into fruit bearing plants, or whether a drought prevents success one year or in one field, your work is the same.

Along the way you’ll come to appreciate the real value of content and the need to put in your best effort for it. Then the trick will be passing the internal substance of that value assessment on to the next generation of internet marketers so that they can produce for themselves.

I’m still working on the first part.

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One Response to “The Good Earth”

  1. Joe August 30, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    Nice article, Dan. Glad you made the time to return to your blog.

    The metaphor of farming works well for much of life, as well as internet marketing. There’s the point you made above about knowing what’s really important. In addition there is the point that results flow from steady, consistent effort.

    I think Covey stated that on the farm you have to follow the seasons. You need to prepare the soil and plant when the time is right, tend to the crops as they grow, and finally harvest. You can’t slack off and then try to cram in the planting and weeding and tending in late August to try to get a September harvest. You can’t cram for the test on the farm.

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