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Self-Help Articles on Psychological Marketing

by Gary Witt, Ph.D.

This is the first in a series of articles about how to market your product or service on the Internet. The series, which is based on an Internet Marketing course I teach, is not about how to get online, take credit cards, or provide security. It is about the psychology behind influencing the people who visit your site. These articles are for companies which already have a site and want to make it more effective, and those who are just considering going online.

A while back, Steve told me that his business was going online. "It's a really cool site," he said. "It has tons of pictures, flashing buttons, animation, even sound. It's like a carnival." Steve's carnival lasted about eight months before it was taken down. Why? Because it didn't do its job -- it didn't help Steve move his products. Now Steve tells people that using the Internet for business is a big waste of time. The way Steve did it, it is.

There are tens of thousands of Steves out there who have tried and failed to market over the Internet. The ones I've talked to have made a lot of specific mistakes, but most can be summed up in one sentence: They didn't understand the medium. They thought it was television, or a magazine or a brochure. That kind of thinking always happens when a powerful new medium arrives on the scene. In the ‘50s, advertisers tried to make television fit into their radio way of thinking -- that TV was just radio with pictures. It didn't work. You must understand the Internet is not just television with a keyboard. That's the most critical lesson about Internet marketing you can learn. Your visitors don't think of themselves as part of an audience, but as an individual customer who has arrived at your front door seeking information. And that is how they want to be treated.

The Internet will take its place with the book, the telephone, the radio, and the television as one of the great communication inventions which change the way we live, work, think and behave. We cannot see its impact from here, just as no one could recognize the profound impact of television in 1948, or the desktop computer in 1972 (when I saw one demonstrated and thought, "What a lot of work just to multiply a few numbers.")

The second lesson is this: We're all just feeling our way in figuring out how to best market over the Internet. Ideas that were once accepted as gospel -- like "We can sell all our information online" -- were dust just a couple of years later.

The changes in the Internet are breathtaking in their speed. What was impossible last month is possible today, and will be supplanted next month by something better. Real time video, make your own movies and Web site robot hosts are arriving. Can voice controlled navigation and even virtual reality sites be far behind? As Bette Davis said, "Fasten you seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."

The successful company will never lose sight of this fundamental fact: Whether the customer encounters your message by television, radio, print or the web, buying still first takes place in the mind. The fundamental rules of recognizing and satisfying the motivations of your customers still apply.

So, how do you begin to create or analyze your Web site to maximize its marketing power? Step One is to determine why you want a Web site. Do you want to provide information, enhance customer service, offer premiums, sell products, prospect for customers, build name ID and image, etc.? While a number of companies are making money by direct selling, most find that their Web site is best for generating inquiries. You should be realistic. Your Web site probably won't make you rich.

 Step Two: Determine just who you want to (and can) reach online. You'll probably have several categories here, since the Internet is now attracting a wide range of people.

Don't forget to consider visitors from other countries. One important mindset you should adopt is that of thinking globally. About half of all Internet users are in the U.S., and many of those outside the U.S. easily read the English language, which is becoming the accepted primary language of the Internet. Can people in London or Perth or Tokyo use your product? They can sit in their offices thousands of miles away and, with a few clicks, look at what you have to offer, ask you some questions, and place their orders. Ten years ago not even Carlo Rossi could sell wine that easily, and now every mom-and-pop vineyard along the Fingerlakes of New York are shipping wine to moms and pops from Singapore to Sienna.

Imagine that your store has ten thousand doors, and just on the other side of those doors are offices and spare bedrooms in Phoenix, Dallas, Kansas, Florida, England, Japan, and every little town and big city in between. That's how close your customers are now.

Step Three: Write down all the reasons these visitors might want (or need or desire) your product, all the fears they may have associated with buying it ("won't work, poor value, breaks easily," etc.), and all the fears they may have associated with NOT buying it ("insurance costs too much, stain remains on the driveway, house remains unprotected," etc.) Remember, people don't want your product; they want to satisfy some motivation. Your product is just the means to that end. For more help in doing this analysis, look at "Meeting Customer Needs Is Not Enough."

Step Four: Write down all the features of your product, your product category, your offer, your guarantee, your service, etc. which will satisfy their motivations. For more help in doing this analysis and uncovering the hidden motivators in your product or service, look at "What Are You REALLY Selling?"

Only after you have this put together all this information are you ready to begin thinking about your Web site. Why? Because until you know who your targeted visitors will be, why they are looking around your storefront, and what they're looking for, you can't create a place that will be the most appealing to them.

But you still aren't ready to start designing your sight just yet. You must also take into account an entirely different set of motivations your visitors have about using the Internet. Here are a few things to remember about the minds of your Internet visitors:

  (A) They don't think of themselves as "an audience." Television viewers recognize that millions of others are watching the same program, but Internet viewers don't have that mindset. They have the mindset of a caller who has rung up the store, or dropped in to look at a product. They see themselves as individuals, and want to be treated that way.

  (B) They are looking for something. Most site visitors won't just be "browsing." They have come to find more information about something specific, whether it is a new laptop or the latest research on strokes. They want specific information, and they want it fast.

  (C) They have a lot of sites to choose from. Always remember that you are only a click away from oblivion. If they don't like what they find or how it is offered, they can be in the next merchant's store in a few seconds.

  (D) They are jealous of their time. They don't want to wait. The relatively small bandwidth now carrying Internet messages creates slow downloads, especially if there are large graphic (picture) files. While the full frame color shot of your store and smiling staff is taking twenty seconds to appear on their monitor, they are getting more impatient. By the time they see your store ("I wasted 20 seconds for this?!"), they are not smiling, and they don't care much for your site. No one likes waiting in line, even on the Internet.

  (E) They are not expert navigators. Imagine looking for a book in a library as big as Bank One ballpark, but with no librarians. That's what it is like for many people who try to find information online. It is easy for them to get frustrated and angry when your site doesn't take them by the hand and lead them to the right place.

  (F) They may like to look at visually exciting sites, but that isn't what makes most of them come back. People bookmark a site because it provides what they want, and makes it easy to get.

  (G) They are jealous of their privacy. Imagine a customer comes into your retail store. Does your clerk approach them with a clipboard and ask for their name, address, and favorite color? Of course not. That would be rude. Online visitors will reluctantly give you some information about themselves (much of it true), but only if there is something in it for them -- a gift, a prize in a drawing, a discount, etc. Treat them with consideration and courtesy, just like they were in your store.

  (H) They are worried about giving out their credit card number. This is slowly changing, but it is still overwhelmingly the biggest barrier to E-commerce today. They want to know that you have a secure payment system to protect them, and an alternate way to buy if they're still nervous.

Step Five: Your visitors want you to satisfy these motivations when they visit your site. Based on the above ideas, write down all the Internet-related needs, wants, fears and desires which YOUR visitors will have when visiting your Web site. Put yourself in their place -- a new visitor to a strange place who needs help and doesn't have anyone to ask.

Step Six: For each of these motivations, write down a feature which your Web site design should have in order to satisfy that motivation. For example, "Need for credit card security requires an encryption program."

Planning a good Web site takes time. It isn't just a matter of showing some hot animation. The pages of information which you write down as you go through this six step analysis will form the foundation for a Web site which is built for success.

There are many other Web sites offering tips about Web page design. One of the best is www.wilsonweb.com. It's worth checking out.

Be sure to look at these other helpful articles about Internet Marketing:

(c) Gary Witt, 1999

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