A Clue...to Internet Commerce

by Dana Blankenhorn

Volume II, No. X

For the Week of March 9, 1998

This Week's Clue: The Clubhouse

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Mr. Barksdale Goes To Washington

A Site Worth Seeing

...And While We're On The Subject

Clued-in, Clueless

This Week's Clue: The Clubhouse

There will be a lot of talk at this week's Internet World show in Los Angeles about attracting people to your Web site. The short answer to the question is, you do it any way you can.

Until now, most advice about Web site publicity has involved the online media. Look for groups and publications that cover your area. Make sure you're engaged and try to get links. Produce an e-mail service of value and offer it to anyone you meet. Advertise. Create a special buy, and send those who click-through to the "mini-site" where they can buy that item.

How do you reach the next level? Start with a hard look at the real world. Do you have a physical store? If you do, create brochures highlighting your site's services and leave them on the counter. Do you advertise your business in newspapers, magazines or on cable? Don't forget to put in the URL. Are you selling information? Do you know that offset printing is very, very cheap? If you have channels of distribution, publicize your site to them, highlighting something unique about it.

The next step is to specialize. Find the one thing that makes you different, specifically a body of knowledge you have (or can get) that no one else has (or can get easily). Maybe you just own an antique shop - do have you have special insight (or connections) into Depression glass, or old political buttons? The goal here is to gain maximum loyalty, or mind share, even if it's within a small subset of people. Even a small subset is a big number when extended across the middle class of the world, and that's what the Web does for you.

Once you have a club, it's time to get a clubhouse. As David Strom described it in a recent "Web Informant," this is a password-protected area with high-value content. No fancy graphics, no cookies, but fast answers to confidential questions, and shared answers to interesting questions. Don't forget to include links out of the site on every page, and don't be afraid of including links to competitors. Remember that it's the members who run this clubhouse, so separate the membership list from your regular list, and keep it under the control of an outside club "president."

In the case of Attachmate , which created a clubhouse called "Treasure Box," passwords can also provide personalization as the database of information on your topic grows.

The technology Attachmate used to do this wasn't fancy, Strom notes, but the site did take a lot of work. Survey results had to be delivered back in real-time, as soon as questionnaires were completed. Valuable expertise had to be created, and a lot of time had to be spent interacting with individuals, without an immediate payback. You have to put a lot of work into the front-end to create the value that will deliver sales on the back-end. Finally, notice that this is essentially a B2B clubhouse, and most surveys I've seen indicate B2B sales grow fastest with product and customer service databases. But if you've done your homework, if you've got some education to do, and if you properly define your market, this strategy can work in any niche.

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Look for my column in PlugIn Datamation very soon. I'll also see you this week at Internet World in Los Angeles, where I'm moderating a full day of e-commerce panels Tuesday. And, yes, we're still waiting on automated deliveries of this letter through Audette Media - we'll let you know on that.

Just remember that it's Journalism -- checking the news, calling people, listening carefully, writing on deadline -- which keeps the Clues coming, although I also handle consulting and commercial writing (ask about those rates via e-mail). If you're looking for excellent work, as found in Atlanta Computer Currents, on Access Atlanta, in Net Marketing magazine and Internet & Electronic Commerce Strategies, or right here, don't wait for the e-mail -- give me a call at 404-373-7634.

And now back to our show...

Mr. Barksdale Goes To Washington

Before last week's hearing on computer software competition, the eyes of the world were focused on Bill Gates. He was worried about being "ambushed" by Sen. Orrin Hatch and a "stacked panel of opponents." Microsoft was spinning harder than the White House faced with a bimbo eruption. But a star was born in Orrin Hatch's hearing room -Jim Barksdale.

While Gates, Sun chairman Scott McNealy, Dell chairman Michael Dell and even Stewart Alsop read prepared statements into the record, Barksdale tossed his remarks aside and engaged in a little piece of political theater. He turned to the audience and asked them who had PCs. Then he asked how many didn't use Windows. Seeing a universe of hands drop, he turned back to the committee. "That's a monopoly," he said. That was also the day's sound bite.

For the next five hours, Bill Gates tried to defend the ludicrous proposition that Microsoft does not have a monopoly on operating systems because it might not have one tomorrow. At times, under Hatch's questions, Gates looked less like the most powerful man of his time and more like a kid who'd gotten his hand caught in the cookie jar. To his credit Barksdale didn't overplay his hand. He asked for no new law. He merely asked that the current anti-trust laws be aggressively enforced.

Ironically the short-term winner here was Bill Clinton. His Administration has sought to use the anti-trust laws against Microsoft. Even conservative Republican Scott McNealy had to praise those efforts. The key question here, however, was whether a future Republican Administration would have the backbone to continue the effort. Thanks to Jim Barksdale, and his public dressing-down of Bill Gates, the likely answer to that question is yes.

A Site Worth Seeing

Usually I spend my time here reviewing online business plans and prospects. But businesses must operate within the larger context of real life - especially an online business - so sometimes I find myself going a bit afield.

So it was I looked closely when the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication announced the Online Journalism Review. It turns out to be a well-produced, and well-written, online journal critiquing online news coverage and the people who create it. Time will tell whether this becomes just another establishment organ (history says it will) but their first issue is an excellent start. I only wish my own alma mater had thought of it.

...And While We're On The Subject

While they may think it's outside their purview, one area the Online Journalism Review needs to address is business models. Big media companies have, on the whole, still failed in this area, and their attempts to force through ad-based business plans are growing increasingly embarrassing.

For Exhibit A we offer a recent story in the Los Angeles Times by Larry Magid, a former colleague of mine at CMP Media. Larry had a simple story to tell of how some "adult" sites have been scarfing up URLs similar to those kids might use and sticking dirty pictures on them . The Times took Magid's story and cut it into six pieces, each filled with ads, javascript, and a host of "meta tags" for use in spamming search engines like AltaVista . (They also moved it into the site's archives within two days, frustrating links to it.) While there were some links within the story to outside sites, each of the six pages also had dozens of links to other parts of the Times' - not all of them clearly marked. That last technique, by the way, is called "popping consoles" and came from the world of the porn operators.

There's a lot of this going on, by the way. Links from within news stories to other sites' information is getting harder-and-harder to find on many sites. Breaking stories into multiple "pages" - each with lots of .gifs to slow loading, and lots of ads - is becoming common. The "Holy Grail," of course, is to keep people online long enough so that the Times' can charge big upfront fees for "anchor tenant" sites, as E! Online recently paid you-know-who .

Unfortunately, while some of these old-media efforts slowly fade away, there always seem to be new fools to take their place. The content is fresh, it's properly designed for the screen, but where will the money come from? From commerce or commissions, you ask? Heaven forfend - that would break the "iron wall" between advertising and editorial. But unless you take a medium on its own terms, you lose.

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Dan Janal, who's developed a wonderful Internet marketing letter (joined to an informative Web site) and shown the rest of us how to use time management. By delivering his wisdom monthly instead of weekly he can fine-tune insights, justify a longer file and win enormous loyalty from readers without turning online production into a full-time job.

Clueless is the Fox News Channel, which inked a deal with cyber-idiot Matt Drudge to host a weekly celebrity news show. Obviously Rupert Murdoch has yet to get the memo that this child's 15 minutes are up. Either that or there really is a conspiracy (Richard Scaife's now picking up Drudge's legal bills) aimed at propping-up anyone with a paranoid and biased worldview.


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