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« February 2007 | Main | April 2007 »

The Myth of the Magical Online Bullet

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a perspective client. They are looking into the possibility of redesigning their web site.  As with almost any web site conversation, the myth of the “magical online bullet” was brought up.  The magic bullet myth goes like this: “If you build a great web site the flood gates of traffic and sales immediately open up to your company.” Too many companies and web site owners think this way.  In order for your web site to be successful you need to approach marketing in a holistic manner and beyond just your web site.  Business success involves both online and offline marketing.

Diversify Your Marketing Investment
A web site represents one important aspect of a company’s overall marketing and sales strategy.  Yes, web sites have amazing versatility and capability. But you can’t place all your eggs into one basket.  Too many companies hedge their marketing bets entirely on their web site.  Look at traditional investing as an analogy.  Any financial planner is going to tell you to diversify your portfolio. The same should be done with your marketing strategy. Spread your marketing strategy across both online and offline marketing.

The Holistic Approach
Recently I listened to an interview with marketing guru Dan Kennedy and the late Corey Rudl.  Savvy marketers combine a variety of techniques with both online and offline marketing.  There is no magic bullet or perfect web strategy. Successful marketing requires constant analysis and time appropriate changes.  It’s also important to recognize you aren’t going to get it right the first time around.

Online Leads – Offline Follow Up
One of the examples from the interview touched upon lead generation. Web sites are great for lead generation via permission based marketing.  At the same time email marketing is becoming so saturated that people are starting to ignore it.  You take the leads you acquire online and apply them to the offline word.  What takes months or weeks to get old online could take years and decades to get old offline.

How Many Times do you Follow Up?
How many times do you follow up with current clients and perspective clients?  Most people follow up once or twice.  There are some marketers that have a follow up process that is over 50 steps and they’re extremely successful. Those 50 steps are 49 more than most marketers are willing to take.

Ultimately, the most successful online strategy is carefully married to smart offline strategy.  Learn how to leverage both and get the most out of your marketing. There are no “magical online bullets” that will guarantee you success.

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Events - Online Ticket Sales

Over the last few years I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a number of public events.  These events included everything from Ukrainian Festivals, Rock and Roll Concerts, Dinner Banquets, to Air Shows.  A few years ago I had the opportunity to try my hand at online ticketing.  Event producers can leverage the advantages of online ticketing to benefit their event and bottom line.  Below are some ideas.

Convenience
One advantage the Internet offers is instant gratification.  Users crave the ability to buy something and have it immediately.  Online ticketing is available 24/7 regardless of location.  Some online ticketing services actually allow users to print their own tickets right from their home printer.  Another convenience of online ticketing services is that users don’t have to wait in line or travel to purchase tickets.

The Ability to Add Value
Added value can be combined with a discounted ticket to offer an additional incentive to purchase tickets online.  There are online ticket services that allow you to add sponsors and additional information to the ticket.  Why not offer a great coupon for the purchaser courtesy of one of your sponsors? 

The Ability to Send Additional Information
You can send additional information to customers via email after they’ve purchased tickets.  This information can include anything from maps and directions to a small guide for your event.  Because the information is digital it can be passed along almost instantly and don’t have to worry about additional printing or distribution costs.

Determine Marketing Impact

Data collected from online ticketing purchases can be used to gauge marketing impact.  Event marketers can quickly determine if one type of advertising outperforms another. 

Future Sales
Does your event take place yearly? If the customer was satisfied with the event and sales process you might be able to approach them again in the future.  Make sure any information that is collected adheres to the principals of permission based marketing.  You can then use the email list to conduct follow up surveys of your event and start to generate interest for the event in the future.  When the event happens again approach those who purchased last time

Online ticketing holds a number of incentives for both event producers and consumers.  The process can be used to save time and money for the consumer and the event producers.

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Money Back Guarantee

Money back guarantees are nothing new.  They have been around for decades if not hundreds of years. Guarantees help to alleviate the risk of buying.  I’ve seen guarantees for products and services priced from $9.97 to $4,997.00 and higher. Many business people are averse to offering any guarantee.  The biggest fear is that too many customers will try to use the guarantee and a company will “lose their shirt.”  In reality this rarely happens. Some people I know say their return rate for their money back guarantee is in the low single digits, less than 5%.

A Real World Example
It takes a little daring to offer a guarantee. One of my business mentors, Ray Justice, was the first to offer a 24 hour “clean car” guarantee in the car wash industry.  If you car became dirty within 24 hours you could get it washed for free.  At that time people thought he was dooming his business with such an audacious idea.  Today most car washes offer at least a 24 hour “clean car” guarantee.  Some car washes offer a week or longer clean car guarantee.

Money back guarantees aren’t for every business person or service offered. But if you take some time to implement a guarantee you can make the potential purchase of your product or service even more attractive.  Think through the process carefully.  Below are some points and suggestions.

Some People Will Abuse the Guarantee
There are some people who will take you up on your guarantee.  They’re going to purchase your product or service knowing that they’ll make use of the guarantee.  This happens in every industry regardless of how good the product or service.  Remember most guarantees are measured in single digit percentages.  You’re going to need to accept a little risk with the opportunity for greater reward.

Set a time limit on the Guarantee
Depending on the product or service the length of guarantee can vary.  I’ve seen guarantees as short as a week to an entire lifetime.  Make the time frame long enough to properly evaluate the service or product, plus additional time to evaluate the benefits.  Again, take some time to find the right length of time.  Look towards your competition and see what they are offering.

Well Defined Return/Refund Process
Let your customers know what is required to properly process a guarantee. Be very specific and clear on the return process. Leave nothing to chance.

Use a Guarantee to Improve Your Product or Service
If a customer is unhappy and request a refund use the opportunity to collect feedback. Use the customer feedback to improve your product or service.  This will lead to a better product and fewer returns in the future. 

The Content King of the Internet

How many times have you heard the old cliché “Content is King” on the Internet?  A majority of content is in the form of text.  Users can’t do much on a page that doesn’t contain words.  “Click Here, Buy Now, Play, etc.” are just a few examples. Text is the simplest yet most powerful asset to any web site.  Contrary to what some people may tell you, words are still the foundation of online communication. Are you making the most of the words you use?

“The Internet Will Make Libraries Obsolete”
Years ago a number of people predicted doom and gloom for the book industry as the Internet grew in popularity.  They said libraries would go dark and bookstores would be a thing of the past. Better content would be available online.  Online you have a full range of multimedia, from music to online videos. A book is just a bunch of words and maybe some pictures. Contrary to some predictions both bookstores and libraries are thriving.  In fact, one could argue libraries and bookstores have become more popular as a result of the Internet. It comes back to words. Today you can download digital versions of a number of popular books.  But, when is the last time you read a digital novel?

Words Are Still Extremely Popular and Very Profitable

Some of the most popular sites on the Internet are primary text based.  News web sites and Blogs are just two examples. If all the videos, sounds, and pictures were taken away would users stop visiting a news web site?

Several companies are cashing in on text.  An Adwords advertisement is probably the most unassuming piece of adverting on the face of the Earth.  But Google makes billions of dollars annually from just text.

The power of the pen has been replaced with the keystroke.  Yet it’s still black and white to the user.  The power of words isn’t going to fade any time soon. Those who can craft compelling copy stand a much better chance of online success.

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"Why Isn't the Web Site Updated Yet?"

Yesterday I received a concerning email from a client.  They expressed concern over a web page that hadn’t been updated in a few weeks.

About 30 minutes after receiving the original email someone further up the chain of command called me expressing their concern regarding web site updating.  They told me, “People are checking the web site and things aren’t up to date.  That’s creating problems for us.” More frustration was expressed.

Here is the funny part.  The web site had been updated almost two weeks prior.  Because of an undetermined reason the client’s computer had a cached copy of the site showing up that didn’t reflect the changes.  This simple problem probably wasted about an hour of time for everyone involved and created far too much unnecessary frustration.

The above example is experienced by web developers on a regular basis.  For whatever reason their browser wasn’t refreshing and displaying the most up to date web page.  Usually this is a result of a user browser caching problem or proxy cache issue.

Pick Up The Phone and Call

The above problem could have been resolved without frustration via a quick telephone call. In my humble opinion, too many people rely on email to conduct business. Emails don’t always get the point across effectively. Encourage your clients or customers to pick up the phone and call with problems.  I’m a big proponent of encouraging clients to call if they have questions and concerns.  If you can resolve an issue or question over the phone in 2 minutes versus multiple emails, go with the telephone route.

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Does Your Web Site Stick?

Do you have a sticky web site?  To some people this notion conjures up thoughts of your fingers after handful of cotton candy.  When it comes to the Internet a sticky web site is desired.  Some companies spend years trying to create a sticky web site.

Why is a Sticky Web Site Beneficial?
If a web site is sticky users not only stay on web site longer, but also visit more often.  The benefits speak for themselves.  You get more traffic, more often, and they’re interested in what you have to say.  The easiest way to make a web site sticky is by asking yourself: “what can I do to attract users to my web site and get them to stay longer.”

What Makes A Web Site Sticky?
Sticky web sites are usually updated often and deliver high quality content. Content and regular updates are craved by users.  Jakob Nielsen’s HOME RUN Acronym is an excellent base for creating a sticky web site. Web sites aren't aesthetically driven, they're content driven. It's an old cliche on the Internet: "Content is King!"  Web usability also plays its role in web site stickiness.  The easier it is for a user to get around a web site, the easier it is from them to stick around.

Examples of Sticky Web Sites

News web sites and Blogs are inherently sticky.  They always have something new to offer.  Humor web sites are another great example. How many times have you received a link to a funny video or picture?  When you click on the link you usually end up at a humor site. Niche marketing is also very important.  Blogs are a great example of niche marketing.  Many Blogs serve a very narrow audience. 

A Virtue and a Vice

Content and often updates are a virtuous part of any web site.  Regular updates can create user loyalty and trust. The vice comes when a web site that has built the user base’s expectations.  In today’s blistering world of trying to get information users expect information immediately. Would you continue to visit a news web site, Blog, or sports web site that stops posting regular updates?

The bottom line is you need to give users a reason to come back to your web site.  Are you offering your users incentives to return to your web site?

Below are links to articles on creating a sticky web site.

Off site Links:

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The Future of Online Retail = Trust

As we move toward the future more Internet user are going to make purchases online. Smart companies are positioning themselves for the future starting now.  Consider the following information offered by Jupiter Research …

By 2010, 71% of online users will use the Internet to shop compared to 65% in 2005, however, online retailers will find it difficult to find new non-buyers to convert. Online retailers will rely heavily on existing online shoppers to spend more than compared with previous years.

"Retailers can expect to be dealing with an increasingly experienced population of online shoppers," said Jupiter Research Analyst Patti Freeman Evans. "The online retail environment is maturing, and online buyers have become more savvy about finding free shipping and deeper discounts," added Freeman Evans.

Source: Jupitermedia Corporation

Not About Getting Found
One of the biggest fallacies that most novice web site owners make is assuming people will buy because they find you online. This sound advice is given by Internet experts all the time: “Most people visit a web site and never return.” Are you doing something to capture their information?

Permission Marketing
If you can capture a potential consumer’s information through permission marketing, you’re one step ahead of most people.  Users require a very good reason to give up any type of personal information.  The most successful online entrepreneurs have a process in place for soft selling users.  Instead of one chance to make a sale to a user they create several selling opportunities.  It is a matter of establishing trust and credibility.

Friends Buy From Friends
One of my business mentors always reminds me of an important business lesson.  It is true to both the online and offline consumers.  It goes like this, “when all things are equal friends buy from friends.  When things are unequal, friends still buy from friends.”  When it comes to products and services, price doesn’t always matter.  For the consumer, it’s about who can you trust.

Are you doing what it takes to build trust and credibility with your user over the long run?

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Do You Make These Costly Web Site Mistakes?

On occasion we can do things that make our web site harder to use.  In Mark Pearrow’s The Usability Handbook, he outlines some commons causes that adversely impact web site usability. What starts as a small usability issue can grow into a larger problem. Most web sites can be successful without being completely usable.  Yet, the piling up of small usability problems can have a negative impact a web site’s performance and bottom line.  Are you making any of the following common mistakes?

Getting too Technical
When you’re in the technology industry it is very easy to get caught up in the "latest and greatest." Many Web developers and site owners focus too much on technological "bells and whistles." It might be an interactive calendar that is packed with features that nobody understands how to use. Technology tends to get complex. It is imperative to know your web site user and design for them. If you want great examples go and check out Google or Yahoo. Both companies have amazing technology behind them, yet use a very simple facade. Keep things as simple as possible and focus on making the user experience as painless as possible.

“Someone” Centric Web Design
Geeks speak techno terms and humans speak human.  Graphic designers are highly creative, yet their design might be above the user’s understanding (artsy-fartsy).  If Geeks and Graphic Designers don’t design for the user your web site can quickly leave the user dazed and confused.  Users aren’t going to embrace confusing or difficult to use web sites. This happens when a company tries to present information in corporate terms.  Bring it to the user’s level. Create a web site that focuses on the user’s ego in both verbiage and design.

Not By Chance
Usable web sites don’t happen by chance.  They are usually a result of a well thought design combined with a smart web strategy.  Too many companies approach their web site with the “if you build it, they will come” attitude.  The most successful web sites embrace an Edisonian approach.  Successful web sites are always testing and evaluating their progress.  The web is not a fire and forget environment. You must always seek to understand and evolve, or else you will never be successful online.

Decision Makers
There are too many times when the wrong people within a company are making crucial decisions about a web site. Yes, this even includes upper management. Ego can quickly destroy any web site. The number one decision maker regarding web site policy is the web site user. Get into your user's psyche. You can also learn a great deal from looking at you web stats. I cannot think of one successful web site that isn't catering to the user.

Poor web usability doesn’t happen because of just one thing.  It is the combination of small things that add up.  Keep the issues in check to ensure your site is usable.

Source: Pearrow, Mark. The Web Site Usability Handbook.

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Smart Advance Ticket Strategies

Swiss_flag_event_tickets Today's post is another riff from my involvement with air shows and event marketing. Advance sale tickets are like gold for almost every event producer.  Who wouldn’t want to cover their costs prior to an event?  Every event producer agrees on the importance of advance sales tickets, yet few are able to capitalize on the concept.  It’s one of those things that’s “good on paper.” In many cases event producers are risk adverse when it comes to discounting ticket prices and creative ticket bundling.  For those that are willing to assume a little risk there is the potential for great reward. 

Some Swiss Schooling
One of the most powerful lessons I learned about event marketing came while attending the European Air Show Conference.  There was a Swiss Air Force Colonel who gave an excellent presentation highlighting various aspects of his air show.  The air show took place every few years and featured some amazing acts.  Their last event featured 6 military jet demonstration teams. One of the most compelling success stories from the air show encompassed advance ticket sales.  The Swiss Colonel illustrated important marketing techniques related to ticket discounting and family pricing.

Discount Tickets
Perceived value is crucial in getting people to purchase advance sale tickets.  One leverage point for purchasing tickets in advance is discount tickets.  Many event organizers are very hesitant to discount ticket prices to their event. In the case of the Swiss air show their advance sale tickets were discounted 40% for adults, children, and family tickets. Most event organizers would gawk at such a discount.  Yet in the Swiss example the air show was paid for entirely before a single person entered the gate courtesy of advance sale tickets.  Can you think of creative ways to get the consumer to purchase early?  Does your event offer online tickets?

Family Packages
Another successful aspect of the Swiss air show came in the form of family ticket packages. The decision was made that an average family was 2 adults and 2 children. The family ticket price was set accordingly.  Regardless of how many children in a family the ticket price stayed firm.  Most event producers get concerned with lost potential revenue.  Did the event organize lose a few dollars of potential revenue on the ticket price? Yes.  But any lost revenue was made up in food and beverages purchases once a family was inside the air show.

Event organizers need to look beyond just the ticket price as a source of revenue. Thinking of creative ways to get people to buy early can help almost any event organizer offset cost and risk.

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Event Marketing: What is the Perceived Value?

Are you conveying the perceived value of your event, product, or service? Perceived value is extremely important to the consumer and a crucial element of marketing.  Perceived value isn’t always determined by how much a product or service costs.  In many cases it is what the consumer expects to receive or experiences that determines value.  A good marketing plan both online and offline can help establish the perceived value of an event or product.  It's far easier for consumers to buy when they recognize the value of your event.

The Tale of Two Air Shows
One of my favorite examples of perceived value comes from the air show industry. A few years ago there were two air shows held on the same weekend. Both shows are located almost equidistant from a major metropolitan area in the United States. Each had a military jet team (huge draw).  One show charged a gate fee and the other show was free.

Can you guess which show had three times the attendance of the other air show? Most people respond “it’s the free air show!”  In fact it was the show that charged a gate fee that was significantly more successful.

People Won't Spend If They Don't See Value
Consumers are willing to pony up their hard earned money - if they see value.

One of the biggest differences between the two events above was the marketing. The show that charged admission spent a significant amount of money on marketing.  They started their marketing campaign months in advance.  Marketing, publicity, and advertising can translate into value. The free air show in the above example spent almost nothing on marketing. Ironically, most free events have little value in the prospect's mind.

Here is what it essentially comes down to - If people don't know about your event, or care about your event . . . nobody is going to show up.

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