For the Week of December 2, 2002
The secret to a successful mass-market Web site lies in doing what 99% of companies avoid like the plague.
Post your e-mail address. Post it publicly, post it proudly, post it everywhere you can.
I know. Spambots are going to get you. Virus writers will find you. Every consumer and his Aunt Myrna is going to whine at you about their personal problems opening your packages of Sweetums Cereal.
Great. Wonderful. That's just what you want.
Look, Mr. Big Shot. Everyone knows where your office is. If your company is big enough, it owns the building. Your name is on the door. I'm certain you get a ton of paper mail every day, of which 99% is junk and 99% of the rest can be handled by someone else.
You live with this in the real world. Filtering is a cost of doing business. You have a mail room, and procedures for handling all mail addressed to you. Some of it actually goes into your inbox (although more should go there).
So why should e-mail be any different? Automated gatekeepers can toss the spam, firewalls can toss the viruses. Secretaries can handle the routine correspondence in your name, and junior executives can route most of the rest to the proper place. If you insist on having a separate, private box that only you access, you can have that, too.
Some companies already do this, although they do it wrong. Jeff Bezos sends me a ton of spam, from email@example.com. So why isn't Jeff more successful? It's because he doesn't understand the second half of the feedback loop.
Here it is. Engrave this on your brain. Here is the key to Web site success. (Ready? Here goes.) Every person who writes you gets a coherent, personal, real-life response from a living, breathing, caring human being (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) within 10 minutes of their hitting send, if it's anywhere near business hours. Someone acknowledges them, validates their humanity, and gets to work solving their problem, if that's possible. (If the e-mail in question represents mere harassment, have your lawyer respond.)
I've told you here, many times, that the goal of a Web site is to get people on your mailing list. I've also told you that a store, site or list is not an HTML construct but a database call. I've also told you that the key to the Web's savings lies in more permission marketing, less interruption marketing. By posting your e-mail address online and responding, quickly and appropriately, to every query, you gain a ton of permission, even among people who haven't been your friends until now. (You can also create an audit trail in that database that you can share with every other contact point in the company.)
By putting everyone who writes you into a database, and getting them onto an appropriate list, you have the opportunity to contact them all when you need them, for whatever you need them for. Do you need quick sales, or political power? Just send the appropriate message to the appropriate group, and watch the responses fly-in. Then, just handle them. Business is a feedback loop, and e-mail is the feedback medium.
So many great companies in America owe their success to having a founder out-front, giving the company a human face. Charles Schwab, Papa John's Pizza, and now Ford Motor Co. all put the boss into their advertising for a reason. It is to make a human connection between the customer and the brand. And nothing makes a personal connection more than a personal e-mail, one based upon a careful read of the e-mail that came in.
Does this "scale?" You bet it does. Just hire enough people and install enough technology to make it scale - make that your top priority. Do people have to know you're not reading each one of their messages personally, the way kids think Santa Claus reads their stuff? Of course not. Santa wasn't hurt by the scene in "Miracle on 34th Street" where all the letters are dumped on the judge's desk so the old man in the dock can prove he's the Real Deal. What kids really want to know is that what they want will be under the tree when they wake up Christmas morning.
So here's a simple Clue. Stop posting "web addresses" on your ads. Put a personal e-mail address there instead. Charlie@schwab.com (or Charles, if he insists). Bill@ford.com. A Web site is a billboard. An e-mail address is a person. (Want to get a separate URL for different campaigns? Just change the address, or tag that mailto with a cookie.)
This goes for you politicians, too. You want to win the next election? The strategy is simple. A database that scales, an attractive Web site that lures people into joining a list, e-mail lists for every type of supporter, personal attention to everything that comes in, and your own, personal e-mail address, out there and ready to respond, 24-7. As they said in the first Bush Administration, message: I care.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
You can pre-order my book, "The Blankenhorn Effect: How to Put Moore's Law to Work for You," from Trafford Publishing , simply by sending me an e-mail . I'll let you know as soon as it's available.
You can follow the continuing story on my "Moore's Lore" blog . My other books (which will also get new names soon) include "Boom, Bust & Beyond: The Best of Dana Blankenhorn," , "The Time Mirror," and "Living on the Internet" . I still write for Boardwatch , Boardroom , Marketing Profs Thom Reece's eComProfits and BtoB . I still produce I-Strategy for Adventive
I'd like more readers, so tell your friends, clients, partners, and Congressperson about a-clue.com. You have my permission to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know .
Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
Your list is your most important asset. But what happens when someone forgets who you are and you get on a "spam" blacklist? Your asset becomes worthless.
Need a-clue on how to avoid that? Get your list audited, and managed professionally, by the fine folks at Whitehat , part of the American Computer Group , a long-term leader in database services for direct marketers.
When your list is truly opt-in, not only do you become a white hat yourself, but your e-mails are read, even anticipated, by your audience. That means higher conversions and more money in your pocket.
If you're serious about Internet Commerce, you need Whitehat Interactive . Get it today.
Takes on the News
AOL Starts to Figure it Out
Slowly, painfully, AOL is starting to figure out where its future lies.
It's the content, stupid. In a world where Internet access is universal, the only way a walled garden works is if you have something inside there that's desirable and unique . While most of the attention is going to "TV-like shows" for broadband users the real key to a turnaround will be cutting back money-losing operations on the Internet and making them AOL-exclusives . (No, going from a publishing model to a cable TV model won't work, either .)
As a user I don't like this, because I don't belong to AOL. But they're not going to win market share again until people become convinced that the only way to get the "really good stuff" online is to subscribe to AOL's content in some shape or form, just as they feel forced to add HBO to their cable subscriptions. Once you get them in, of course, you create additional "channels" of content that they must pay even-more for. As public policy it sucks, but as a profitable strategy it rocks.
Oh, one more thing. If AOL can find a simple way to gain subscription income for its content providers, it will gain more exclusive content at zero cost.
How Bad is E-Advertising?
It's pretty bad. Total Internet advertising actually fell 18% for the first three quarters of 2002, while total advertising was rising slightly, said eMarketer , quoting CMR figures. The big gains were in radio and spot TV, especially Hispanic TV.
Why is this? My analysis of the figures indicates that gross targeting by ethnic group or by city, using interruption marketing concepts, has won-out over narrow targeting based on permission, for now. In fact what has happened is that those companies that continue to market through the recession - packaged goods outfits, soft drink companies, toy companies, etc. - never did get the Web and found it easy to drop, while those niches that were advertising innovators - technology companies of all sorts - died.
How will 2003 be different? It won't be, if the tech economy doesn't grow, and if innovation continues to be frowned-upon. That doesn't mean the clued-in won't have work in 2003. They need to continue learning their trade, and accept the fact that sometimes you don't get paid for what you know.
One other important point. While growth in the 1990s came through being nice to people, growth for the foreseeable future will come from being harder on them. For instance, The Economist is offering free subscriptions to people who help fill sponsor Oracle's database with personal information . (Of course, this goes both ways. People lie.) Most major publishers have pushed their archives behind firewalls, charging $3-4 each for stories they formerly gave away and could easily maintain online for practically nothing. Vertical-market Web sites of all sorts are going to all-registration schemes, charging those who don't meet the defined criteria. And I'm still seeing a steady increase of brand name merchants - Columbia House, Travel Smith, Amazon, Norton, Dragon Systems (you know who you are), DirecTv, HandiStitch - that are either spamming directly or through re-sellers. (Oh, and here's a Clue to you corporate spamhausers. You're getting easier to filter-out, as server-side filtering increases, and you were just busted, so just file those Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions and go away.)
While the Web shrinks in search of profit, of course, a-clue.com remains free to all, and always double opt-in to boot. We're such a bargain.
Moving Offline Success Online
It's an old strategy, but at today's prices it could be a winner. Take something that works in the direct mail world and try to move it online. Get the people in your print database to give you their e-mail addresses, then use e-mail to get them to transfer their loyalty from print to the Web, lowering your costs (and increasing your profits) without really changing your business model.
That's what is behind Barry Diller's $370 million purchase of Entertainment Publications . EP sells those god-awful "discount books," many through non-profits, which supposedly give you savings on local restaurants and entertainment, but usually go unredeemed. Anyway, they move 8 million of these things, generating $8-10 billion in merchant sales each year (and tons in additional landfill requirements).
Even if EP grosses 1% of that, you're still talking about an $80-100 million business. Figure half that goes to the bottom line, and Diller's probably paying 9-10x earnings. USA Interactive figures the deal adds to its earnings immediately.
The real profits lie in two directions. First, move as much of the sales, delivery and redemption effort online as possible, taking those savings straight to the bottom line. Second, exploit that under-used URL (they finished the buy-out of Ticketmaster last month ). Given that Diller paid nothing for these opportunities (the price was based entirely on current operations) it's going to be an opportunity - for someone. Diller hasn't convinced me yet he knows how to boost anything except, of course, Diller. (As Dillers go, I prefer Phyllis.)
Clued-in is Matt Welch who got a wonderful piece about big media's continuing antagonism toward the Web into Reason magazine . But what he doesn't understand is that their antagonism is actually a good thing - it means new folks (like us) will take over.
Clueless is the Energy Department, which shut down its free science research site because it competed with pay services . Of course, this is the government you voted for, America.
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