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Beware My Propensity to Browse

  |  June 12, 2000   |  Comments

One-to-one marketing. It's been around for a long, long time. As has the concept of permission marketing, personalization, customer relationship management and every other hot phrase you care to mention. The difference online is that we're using the latest technology. A good thing, right? Well, it may be good for the software vendors...

It's tempting to think that everything we do online is new. Invented here. Part of this brave new world.

The truth is, it's not.

A case in point: one-to-one marketing.

One-to-one marketing (and every other way of saying almost the same thing) is an old idea that is constantly being repackaged.

Peppers and Rogers have done a great job of positioning themselves as the "one-to-one" folks online. Nice packaging.

But way back in the late sixties, Lester Wunderman had said much the same, talking about direct marketing offline. And before him, smart salespeople had practiced one-to-one marketing for centuries.

In fact, if you really want to see one-to-one in action, go visit a traditional fruit and vegetable market in the East End of London in jolly old England.

The stall vendors have one-to-one built into their genetic code. They know how to engage a group of 50 people at once, but give every individual the impression that the message is for them alone.

One-to-one within an audience has been around for a long, long time. As has the concept of permission marketing, personalization, customer relationship management and every other hot phrase you care to mention.

The difference online is that instead of using the voice of the stall vendor or print on paper, we're using the latest technology.

The technology has never been more sophisticated. And hey, if we can build it, it must be a good thing to use it.

Well, it may be good for the software vendors.

But is it good for web site owners? And do consumers really give a damn?

There may be a great irony at work here.

The Internet provides the greatest venue for one-to-one marketing of all time - from an execution point of view. But does the actual user experience lend itself to one-to-one?

Here's what I'm thinking.

Beware your customer's propensity to browse.

Folks online like to browse. And it's easy.

Let's say I want to buy some pants.

And let's say I have an account at Landsend.com. They know a bit about me. They know I've purchased pants there before. So maybe they'll send me some emails based on that profile.

Do they have my undivided attention? No. Because I've also purchased from Brooksbrothers.com.

Besides which, I like to browse. And a ten-second search at Yahoo will offer up a host of other places I can check out.

Like Nordstrom.com, Guess.com, Eddiebauer.com, Bananarepublic.com, Bluefly.com, Spiegel.com and dozens of others.

I can shop anywhere I like!

In the offline world, I might find a couple of these stores in my local High Street or mall. I might get a couple of their catalogs.

Offline, treat me special and you might become my clothing store of choice for quite some time.

But online, because it's a place that's built on the whole concept of browsing, I have more choice. And every one of your competitors is as easy to find as your site.

So here's the $64,000 question.

Will your sending me personalized, permission-based, profile-driven emails tailored to my previous purchasing history dissuade me from browsing?

Every "solution provider" on the planet will tell you, "yes."

But I have my doubts.

It's no accident you access the web with a "browser."

It's a basic foundation of the Internet experience.

We like to browse. And that includes browsing away from your site.

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Nick Usborne

Nick Usborne speaks, writes, and consults on strategic copy issues for business online. For Web sites, e-mails and newsletters, he crafts messages that drive results. He is the author of the critically acclaimed bookNet Words - Creating High-Impact Online Copy.

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