Marketing Lessons from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West

What do blazing guns, bucking horses and covered wagons have to do with your website? A lot.

In fact, one could argue that cyberspace offers much of what our young country did just before the turn of the 20th century—new opportunity, innovation and excitement. Just like miners used to examine mountain shafts and riverbeds for nuggets of gold, today people comb through social media to find new bands or artists. Likewise, finding new ways to edge out your competition online is like striking oil. The rugged, unknown path to glory on the Internet is free for anyone to traverse down just like the journey out West.

The thing is, it took a lot for people to pack up and leave home—which is where people like William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody came in. Cody was a master marketer, whose traveling caravan of “Rough Riders of the World” catered to the imagination of settlers to be. The show would rope people into buying a carefully constructed image of the great American West through his circus-like exhibitions. It was a place where citizens could come face to face with danger, without getting killed. And as it turns out, May 19th marks the 130th anniversary of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.


So, think of your customers as Buffalo Bill’s settlers-to be. It’s your job to promote the landscape of your website, like Buffalo Bill did over a century ago. Your customers have heard the stories around the campfire about your company, or maybe they haven’t yet. They need to be corralled into becoming brand proponents, and ultimately finding a new home on your website.

Let’s take a look at some ways that you can use his techniques to draw people to your website, and keep them there.

  • Start a movement towards your website.

If you want people to get excited about what you do, they have to know about it.

Search engine optimization is the most important navigational tool you have for directing people to your website. Make sure you fill your website with terms that can be picked up by search engine “spiders.” For example, if you sell toothpaste, phrases such as “whiter teeth” or “cavity prevention” are crucial. Put these terms in your tagline, or navigational bar. And make sure that your SEO feels organic, and not forced—or your website will be blacklisted by search engines.

In regards to social media, businesses often struggle with questions such as what to tweet or blog about, or what to post on Facebook. It’s important to remember that social media outlets such as Twitter are not just free advertising circuits. Use these tools to inform your audience and start conversations. For instance, don’t write a blog post talking about the latest 3D printer your company is releasing—nobody will read it. Instead, tweet about how it will improve individual lives, and society as a whole.  Buffalo Bill didn’t sit around and tell people about the wonders of the West—he let them hear hoof beats and smell the gun powder of rifles.

  • Build your own frontier.

Think of the amount of content that is already on the Internet. With so many options, how are you going to stand out? Don’t be afraid to take a creative leap to get noticed. Experiment with a different style layout, or color scheme. It doesn’t take much to stand out and remove yourself from the multitude of cookie cutter sites that already exist. Make your website interactive. Use avatars that walk across your screen, banner ads and live polls. Challenge your customers by calling them to arms. Create contests and message boards, or a scrolling image carousel.

  • Create practices for getting people there, and keeping them there.

While your customers might be attracted to your site, getting them there is only half the battle—it’s about you keep them that really matters. Otherwise, they are going to jump on their horse and ride off into the sunset, never to be seen again.

Is your website like a grand hotel or a rough and tumble saloon? Who will be stopping in? Know your customer demographics and market accordingly. Otherwise, it will be hard to cater to their needs. Make sure you adjust your layout and content accordingly. To get a better idea of the type of language you should use, try visiting the websites of your competitors. Find out what works and what doesn’t. Take notes and use that as a base to build off of.