Article by: Karl Walinskas
I dont go to the music store anymore. In fact, I dont go near a bookstore either, unless its to get at the gourmet coffee, and Im not much on that. I rarely use travel agents, read the sports page, or wait on-hold for half and hour while someone making minimum wage checks the status of my account. If you read my spoof on the World Wide Web a little while ago, you probably know the answer to the unasked question, "Why not?" If you didnt, the answer is, uhh, I use the World Wide Web. I buy CDs from CDNow and BMG Direct online. I shop for books, and sell a few, I might add, at Amazons, Barnes and Nobles, and Borders online bookstores. I name my own price at Priceline.com for airline tickets, and check out the sports highlights on ESPN online. Many utility and credit card companies now allow you to check the status of your account through their websites as well.
Did you ever get the feeling that the world was passing you by? Well, the Internet and the World Wide Web, its primary superhighway, are here to stay. If youre a business owner, you instinctively know you need to exploit this new medium, but how? I mean, youve put your website online and held your breath, waiting for customers to beat a path to your door. Your face has gone beyond blue to that macabre shade of purple that looks like the uniform of The Phantom--and youre still waiting. First, take heart in the fact that there is probably nothing wrong with your flying graphic or your email click-through. Heres the problem: everybody and their brother has a website these days. If yours is like all the rest, you probably wont get any action. Your job is to distinguish your site from the rest in order to make it a truly effective part of your company communications and marketing strategy.
Why is this guy talking about communications strategies? Isnt the World Wide Web just a high-tech, low-cost printing press that we can use to publish our company catalog? Scream it from the tallest treetops, folks, "No freakin way!" The medium of the Internet is different than conventional marketing materials in plenty of ways, but Ill concentrate on the two biggies.
It is interactive, meaning that communication between you and prospects and customers goes two ways. They talk to you, and you talk to them.
It is voluntary. People, in most cases, visit your site by choice, not because they opened up the colored envelope and got pelted by the lurking brochure like the unsuspecting polar bear taking a tranquilizer dart in the hindquarters.
So why are these two important? Im going to give you a few methods, in general terms, that help you bring prospects and customers to your site, keep them there, and exchange information to build a relationship with them. This will generate more sales leads, inquiries and quotes, and ultimately, more Lincolns and Jacksons in the company wallet.
Give Stuff Away. Do you know why more and more people are going online these days? Because stuff is free; especially information. The web culture expects it and you must deliver. You must think contrary to what you may have been taught in the past. The trick is to continually provide value for free. The trick is to provide value that both costs you little to produce and demonstrates more credibility in your company as the experts in your field. This is usually done by writing articles on topics of interest or controversy in the industry that you serve. Maybe youve recently done a study to develop a new product or service. Publish the results--even if theyre not favorable to your current product line. Accountants can reveal hidden traps in the latest tax law changes. Paint dealers can tell readers how to prepare and paint the outside of their houses. Get it?
Another more direct giveaway is to not charge as much for goods and services as you would by other means of advertising. Why? After your site is online, the volunteers who come and purchase from you were created with a minimum amount of effort and capital. Pass along the lower cost of the sale to the customer. CDNow charges a little less than the music store for their CDs because they know that you know youve got to make up for the added cost of shipping your selections to you. It is amazing how many websites charge more for their goods and services than if they cold-called a prospect to develop a sale. Web surfers are very astute, people, and wont be fooled twice--many not even once.
Have your web designer make it easy to navigate to your areas of free information. These sections and information about your web discounts (yes, call it that) should be very apparent on the first, or home, page of your site.
Make It Information Rich. Remember the advertising rule that says to avoid information overload? Well, thats right for your website too--sort of. First, online space is cheap, so you can have reams of information about your company, products and services on your website. Second, online consumers are visiting your site in their own time and space. Theyre impulsive to a degree, yes, but they are not as easily swayed by emotional impact as the typical couch potato. Logic and reasoning works, so give prospects an opportunity to see and hear all about you--if they want to. Dont clutter up your home page with heavy copy, but provide what Ill call drill-downs, links to subsequent pages that add meat to the skeleton you lay out on page
1. The reader isnt forced to view it, but its there if he wants to go further. This also allows you to take different surfers down different paths to enlightenment about your company and what it offers. Dan Janal, who wrote the Online Marketing Handbook, cites the example of a car dealer, who may link page 1 copy about a cars speed and power to a drill down for the hot-rod teenager, while in another paragraph link to information on high safety ratings to appeal to the soccer mom. Here you get the best of both worlds; you avoid information overload while at the same time make your case in great detail for those with a need to know.
Link to Other Sites. More added value here. Most people get to websites as a result of linking from a similar site. Youre providing a service by making industry associations, complementary suppliers, and even competitors from your site. "Wait a second, you idiot. "What if my customers leave and never come back?!" A risk, to be sure, but if your customers are leaving, they really werent your customers after all, were they? You wouldnt bar the door if they tried to leave your store. Even if you dont have the confidence to link to direct competitors on a back page somewhere, here is why other links are important. If you sell cool sunglasses, you provide a service by linking to a business that sells suntan lotions or beach towels. Heres the real neat part. Theyll generally link to your site too with no complaints, providing both companies with a shot at business they would otherwise never have seen. Large companies and associations may have so much traffic that you have nothing to offer them in the way of prospects, so they may tell you to go pound salt. Link to them anyway, because youre still in the business of adding value for whoever visits your site.
Establish a Dialogue. Here is where you exploit major difference number 1, given earlier. Let prospects, customers, the media, friends and enemies talk back to your site. There are lots of different ways to achieve this conversation, ranging from simple click-throughs to your email address to interactive forms that allow prospects to specify a version of your product by checking various features and options in order to receive a quote. Online customer service is becoming increasingly the norm for the better sites, giving customers that voice that they may not have if theyre caught in voice- jail. The satisfaction of an online complaint comes immediately after you click "send." Youve got to monitor any online requests or comments daily, however, and respond immediately. Lucky for you, technology has made this easy. Automatic email responses can be sent out to any incoming comments that say things like, "Were investigating your problem and will get back to you within 48 hours."
For the company website
to fully exploit the medium of the Internet and the type of people who
frequent it, you must think about it differently. Even though the technology
is high-tech, you must make it high-touch by consistently providing value
and establishing online conversations and ultimately, relationships. Take
a breath, let your face go back to a normal shade, and watch the results
of your Internet communication plan on your bottom line.
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