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Commander Obvious chimes in with Tip #3 for effective web marketing…

Hey Kids: Professional web site marketers understand that you should treat different people differently. I'll be really specific—if you run a store in the real world, every single person who walks into that store sees the same windows, the same door, the same aisles and the same prices.

But on the web, the cost of multiple home pages, for example, is close to zero.

Example: I've been a user of Filemaker's Mac database since 1985 (!). I launched the software recently and saw an alert about the ability to upgrade to the new version. Of course, I clicked the link. And it took me… to their homepage. I needed four minutes and a bunch of clicks to actually find the upgrade on their site.

They went from treating me like a trusted customerr, someone who had been buying upgrades for 27 years and went to treating me like the hoi polloi, like a stranger who just stumbled in from a Google search.

Don't do that. Different pages for different people. It's not difficult, and it represents an understanding of how the web works and how valuable your customer's time is.

What’s in the box?

We hesitate.

We stall or try for perfect or have meetings or polish or avoid the final 'go' because we're afraid that it might not work, that the art won't be well received, that people will hate it.

Here's the thing: there's a box on the table. And you need to decide whether or not you're going to open it. All the wishing and planning and imagining isn't going to change what's already in the box. The act of opening it doesn't deserve anxiety because the contents of the box were determined a long time ago. What's in the box is in the box, regardless of how much anxiety goes into opening it.

Sure, do a great job, the best job you can do with the resources you've got. But then quit imagining and go ahead and open the box.

“A fire in South Buffalo!”

When I was growing up, there was intense competition for news dominance among the local networks. All evening long, our favorite TV shows would be interrupted by Irv Weinstein, practically shouting about a fire across town. Film at 11!

Friends in Toronto asked us whether there were any buildings at all left standing.

Today's mass media competition makes that battle look quaint. In the relentless search for clicks, profit-focused media companies are racing to the bottom as fast as they can get there.


Can we do anything about this? Should we care?

I think the answer to both questions is yes. We should care about an influential industry that creates and amplifies fear, on deadline, distracts us and festers, like a fast-growing tumor, diminishing the healthy tissue around it.

We get what we click on.

Alas, we also get what others click on. And society does a poor job of marketing productive media to itself. We're consuming more media than ever before, but I'm not sure the mass media is making us much smarter, braver or more willing to take action.

When one million committed people start engaging with a media channel, that channel gains in profit and influence. That's all it takes. The power to change what gets broadcast is in our hands, which might be a good thing. I'm sure that the junk is going to get ever worse. The question is: will people who care click often enough for the good stuff to get even better?

[Irony: a few hours after I posted this, I discovered that the house where journalist Tim Russert grew up  (in South Buffalo) just burned down.]

The importance of going first

The second person to write a story about a young boy and an escaped slave on the Mississippi wasn't a novelist, he was a typist.

"Just like that hot viral video but different/better/more clever," is extremely different from "that hot viral video."

In more and more fields, the originator of the novel idea reaps an outsize share of the benefits. One reason is that it's easier to gain attention quickly. Another is that once you gain attention and reputation, it's easier to lock in permission and turn it into a foundation for your next project. And most of all, when attention is precious, earning that attention with innovation is priceless.

Yes, there are exceptions for those that bring service or price or reliability along to polish an existing idea. And there are certainly businesses that profit from taking over after the innovator, exhausted, gives up and moves on.

But given the choice, I'd say first is a better use of your talent.

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Marketers with power

I know that I have to fill out this form before the doctor will see me, but the way you behave when you design the form and the way you ask me to fill it out will change the way I think about everything else you'd like me to do.

I know that I have to go to that meeting or pay that tax or listen to this lecture, but, right here, in this moment when you have power, you are going to to establish the way I feel about your entire organization.

If a marketer works hard to provide a positive experience when the customer has no choice, the benefit of the doubt that's earned is worth far more than it costs.

Redesign that form, change your attitude, adjust your fees and bend over backwards to be grateful. It'll be rewarded.

Who let this guy in the building?

Are you letting other people talk to your customers?

At the big box pet store they have a vet's office in the back. Ask the lonely woman at the counter, "Excuse me, do you know where the leashes are?" and she'll say, "No, I don't work here."


She sits there every day, day after day, and she doesn't know or doesn't care where the leashes are? Who let her in this building, and why?

The tourist bureau of your town is spending a fortune to attract visitors, but when the security officer at the taxi stand sneers at a tourist, all of that goes down the drain.

The band worked hard to sell you a ticket, but when the opening act gets too loud and goes too long, all that goodwill disappears fast.

You may not have the authority or the control to decide who gets to talk to your customer before you do. Doesn't really matter, though, because the customer thinks you do.

Competition as a crutch

We often point to competition as a tool to bring out the best in people. You will run faster or work harder or fight more ferociously if there's someone breathing down your neck or a record to be broken.

The problem with competition is that it takes away the requirement to set your own path, to invent your own method, to find a new way. When you have competition, it's the pack that decides what's going to happen next, you're merely trying to get (or stay) in front.

Competing with yourself is more difficult, requires more bravery and leads to more insight.

It’s easier to love a brand when the brand loves you back

Worth thinking about that the next time you're annoyed at a customer.

Or when you're dreaming up a policy designed to punish a few outlier customers while it actually annoys all of them.

Tell me again why the gift certificates you sell have an expiration date?

What do you do when they don’t understand?

In science, an academic paper leaves the understanding to the reader. The author of the paper plows ahead and assumes that the motivated reader will do the necessary work to catch up, fill in and understand what's going on.

In some popular magazines, when the going gets tough, the writer glosses over the difficult parts. She dumbs it down or leaves out the bits the editors assume will confuse readers.

And what about the CFO, writing a memo? Or the engineer, writing out the instructions?

Many sources, from textbooks to websites, take the position that if you don't understand a concept or a nuance, it's your loss. I think that's an strategic failure on the part of the writer. (I'll give scientists and other professional writers a pass.)

Just recently (a decade or so) we opened two doors that change the way we communicate: we can link now, which means that any time you're worried you've hit something too complex, you can easily link to more data and more explanation, and second, you can keep writing. Length (given appropriate organization) is no longer an issue.

At the same time, there's an onus on the reader to look up words and references that are easily found in a search engine before giving up.

Ikea, then, should quit trying to jam nonsense instructions with no words on tiny sheets of paper and should instead post videos or detailed instructions in native languages online. Annual reports should get significantly longer (with better hyperlinked indexes), not shorter.

No one is going to read the whole thing, ever again. But we need to make it much easier to read the part of the thing that someone really cares about.

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