How Catching Sand-Crabs Taught Me To Cast The Right Net

One of my favorite memories from childhood is going to the beach with my family. We usually went to a pretty mild bay beach in Brooklyn where the waves were gentle and frothy and the sand was warm and clean. I loved combing through it to find little creatures, and sand-crabs were the most fun. A memory of this experience recently came back to me as I picked up a piece of red and white bakery string from my table. When I was around 4 years old, I would create “sand-crab traps” using paper towel rolls and bakery string. I’d thread the string through the roll, creating a sort of net-like structure inside of it, with a long length of string hanging from the end.

My parents, seeing me busy inventing, would ask me what I was doing. “Making a sand-crab trap,” I’d reply, matter-of-factly. Along with us I’d bring the trap to the beach and full of excitement, I’d toss it into the tide, holding the end of the string, fully expecting to pull it out full of sand-crabs. Of course what really happened is that the cardboard paper towel roll got all soggy and flimsy and came out empty. After a few throws, it fell apart. I did this a few times, each time expecting that simply because I had intended for it to be a sand-crab trap and had named it accordingly, that it would catch sand-crabs.

Now, maybe I wasn’t the brightest 4-year-old, but don’t we make similar mistakes even as adults?

You may have been told that, these days, in order to get customers, you need a website. So, maybe you tried to make one yourself or hired a firm to do it for you. You put some text and some pictures together, using the materials and resources you had on hand, you made it somewhat resemble other websites that you’ve seen out there, and then you cast it out into the web and waited for the sand-crabs to arrive. Every once in a while you pulled it in and rarely did it contain any bounty. What’s worse, each time you looked at it, it seemed to be looking worse; flimsy, breaking, old.

What is the meaning of this?

Whether your website, or any other marketing material, for that matter, generates business or not, has everything to do with purpose. At 4 years old, I did not analyze what kind of catch I was going for; what were their interests, their capabilities, their habits, their needs. I didn’t think about what would attract them and hold them. I just made a thing, with parts. I could explain what those parts were for, but they were not appropriate for their intended use. I was thinking too much about the thing and not enough about what I was attempting to catch.

What’s the “bait” that’s going to attract your audience? In what environments do they live, work and play? (Sand-crabs live under the sand, so any kind of water net is really quite useless.) What will engage them and hold them once you’ve gotten their attention? What do you want them to do and how will you encourage it? (For what did I actually want all these sand-crabs, anyway?)

Ever feel like you’re just throwing a damp paper towel roll into the water over and over again? Well, probably not specifically, but if your “trap” keeps turning up empty, give us a ring. We’ve been there and we know how to design one that’s just right for your intended catch.

John Natoli and the Do Good Design Co. team