Once upon a time there were two web sites, each selling genuine Turkish carpets.
The first site, PatsCarpets.com, does everything right. Patrick is a smart fellow and is going to build an email list of purchasers and prospects.
He'll do a lot of testing and determine that the optimum frequency of his 'Pat on the Rug' newsletter is 1.67 times a month.
He'll have a 'Carpet Preferences' page on his site where people can input a personal profile. Then Pat can target the right kind of offer to the right person at the right time.
He'll provide online, live help. He'll even offer first-time buyers a $200 discount on their first purchase.
In short, Pat is no dummy and he'll be building his site, his lists and his business in a way that will likely work just fine.
Meanwhile, across the virtual street, NicksCarpets.com opens for business.
Nick doesn't have Pat's attention span or his online business smarts. He's never heard of 'predictive modeling' and has no idea what 'opt-in' means.
But he does love carpets. In fact, he spends several weeks a year traveling through Turkey, looking for some great buys for NicksCarpets.com customers. Sure, he has his regular, wholesale suppliers -- but he also likes to dig up something special from time to time.
While he's away traveling, the frequency and regularity of his newsletters suffer a little. But that's okay, because his customers like him.
They also appreciate the fact that he knows carpets better than anyone.
Want to know the difference between a Bergama carpet and a Bergama-Yuruk? Nick's your man.
Want to know what color of die you get when you mix madder root, acorns and wood ash? He'll have your answer. (Deep, red/brown).
Yes, his newsletters are a little less frequent and regular. Yes, his site is a pain to navigate, his shopping cart is unreliable, and he makes you scroll from left to right to see each page.
But when you look at the carpets he offers on his site, you know they're what he says they are. You know they'll be packaged and delivered properly. And chances are he'll include something in your package that he has picked up on his travels. Like a postcard from Istanbul -- or a pressed flower from the side of the road just outside Izmir -- or the menu from a restaurant in Urgup. Or just a hand-written note saying, 'Hi.'
When you receive his newsletters, you know they won't be professionally written sales pitches with multiple links that take you deep within the site. His newsletters will be jam-packed with stories, advice, observations and typographical errors. He'll probably even forget to include a direct link to his site.
Here's the question.
After 18 months, which site will be making more money? Pat's or Nick's?
It's an impossible question. But I wouldn't write off NicksCarpets.com.
Pat may build a bigger database. But Nick will likely build a stronger and more loyal following.
Pat will grow his list through sophisticated outbound email campaigns. But Nick's constituency will grow by real-life word of mouth.
Pat will be 'forcing the network effect' of the Internet by pushing his message out. Nick will be 'riding the network effect' simply by being worth talking about.
I'd like to think that Nick would do pretty well.
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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.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT