First a bit of marketing theory. There are said to be four crucial steps that each customer makes before the transaction is complete – AIDA.
It is also said that 80% of sales are clinched after the fourth contact between seller and customer. The trouble for many direct marketing campaigns is that they aspire to get the prospect from the first A to the last A on first contact. The Web channel has some clear advantages over DM in this field, but many online marketers end up missing some of key ingredients of a successful production.
Over the last weekend my wife and I were reviewing a number of websites selling specific services for visitors to her country. Each of these sites is clearly attempting to put on a compelling performance of AIDA.
Now one important feature of this particular sector is that the product in question, rather like a live operatic performance, is likely to be purchased just the once by most of the customers. This means that a degree of over-hyping is less likely to affect long term business in quite the same way that it will for propositions that depend on repeat custom.
The Web is also probably the only chance that these organisations have to cost-effectively register at least an “AI” before the prospect leaves their own country. Indeed the owners of these businesses ought to be aware that their customers will tend to do more actual research, comparing the various offers like-for-like, at the online stage than after they set off, so a website that can consistently deliver a resounding “DA” will most probably represent a major long-term competitive advantage – provided that it reflects an integrated approach to marketing and customer satisfaction.
The trouble with the absence of severe penalties for spin is that they all end up telling essentially the same tallish tale. Indeed most of the sites we reviewed read like CVs. It’s rare to find a feature or a service that isn’t offered as part of every pitch.
As a potential customer you will be looking to the Web for one additional, over-arching pyschological hit – Reassurance. You might find this in the qualities of the online documentation. But as someone that knows the facts on the ground pretty well, I can confirm that there is in this instance, no clear correlation between the production values of the various websites and the likely overall customer experience typically being delivered by the correlating services.
Whilst positive differentiation may be rare, there are however a few notable examples of negative differentiation. About half of the websites fail to make it even to the first A by:
- choosing an unmemorable, index-unfriendly URL
- formatting content to further deter search engines like Google
- not getting themselves included on highly visible sites that provide listings of all similar services in the region
Those that pass on Awareness often stumble on Interest.
Minimise your footprint is the most common piece of advice offered to would-be web-writers and many appear so keen to follow usability guidelines on concise, scannable text that they end up purging their copy of substance. Even if most of the content is a shotgun blast of a features list, surfacing the most important information and the key differentiators and crafting these into an interesting story will foster engagement - which will form the all important bridge across to Desire provided that the story is the kind which the potential customer can project themselves into.
In general terms this is where the discipline of Netcoms meets the discipline of Branding – adding value to superior products. However, in the case of the websites that we reviewed there’s actually some kudos to be gained from appearing local and relatively under-polished, though there’s a fine line between being charmingly unprofessional and being uncharmingly so! (Some of these organisations blatantly describe themselves as “not for profit” when they are, well, not.)
Greed and Avarice are members of the same crowd as Desire and deserve some attention. Prices like information tend to converge in this particular sector, but some of its members are at least attempting a variable pricing model with discounts for extended stays or even incentive schemes during the stay.
Returning once again to Reassurance, it’s clear that the key component of the Action stage of the sale will be the responsiveness of the team that uses the website to generate AID. If emails are left unanswered, or if deposits are demanded before queries are answered there is a chance that the online part of the communication will be exposed as an empty facade. I’d also be prepared to wager that few of the websites we came across have anything worthy of the name of a sales database.
A few of them must stare at the prettiness of their pages and wonder what’s going wrong, unaware that it’s the second (and subsequent) online contacts where their opportunities are being squandered.
So, a few general conclusions from our weekend excursion into this comparatively online-dependent market:
- Promotions of any kind, including online, are no replacement for getting the basics right
- Delighting your customers with an excellent service and unexpected extras may not get them to come back but it may help you leverage them as referrers. The Web can clearly be used to support this referral strategy.
- Any unexpected and hard-to-duplicate extras at the website stage of the sale will be even more advantageous for all aspects of AIDA
- Consider what other psychological drivers that have led this prospect to consider this purchase and attempt to appeal to them in your narrative. They may also allow you to leverage an unlikely partnership with a business in another sector and to literally hyperlink a pair of related propositions
- Some of the best marketing ideas depend more on brainpower than budgets. The Web will not only be a cost-effective platform for the main offer, it’s also often the best way of communicating and supporting other low-budget high-IQ creative marketing ideas.