Here’s Some Advice: Mind Your Business!

In real life we are very careful to follow social rules and norms and not to act inappropriately. We give people their “space” and a high degree of privacy. In business transactions we also follow certain etiquette. But online, maybe because of the anonymity of the Web, we marketers get very nosy. We start asking for information simply because it might be useful to us in the future, not often considering the negative impact on conversion rates.

Imagine walking into a brick-and-mortar store and being greeted by a brusque clerk at the door who asks you if they may “hold onto your credit card while you browse the store.” Such a request would be met with disbelief, laughter or both. But online, equally inane behavior is often exhibited on landing pages.

As Seth Godin correctly points out in his book, “Permission Marketing,” Web visitors are in control. They decide the terms of their interactions with our landing pages, and by default, our products and services. Marketer must ensure that the value scale tips in favor of the visitor. In other words, we must give as much as we can, and ask for as little as possible in return at each stage of our deepening relationship with the visitor. We can’t expect them to endure hardships or a loss of control in order to supply us with information.

Consider one of my agency’s clients: a major research university health care system. Like many U.S. hospitals, they make most of their profits on elective surgeries and do everything they can to publicize their efficacy and availability. One of the tactics used to market bariatric (obesity) surgery was an online registration form to attend an in-person seminar for prospective patients.

Part of the online form to sign up for the seminar asked for “BMI.” Even if you knew that BMI stood for body mass index, chances are you do not know how to immediately calculate it. The form did supply a supporting link that showed the formula for calculating one’s BMI, but why was all of this necessary in the first place? No one would subject himself to an in-person two-hour medical seminar unless he is serious about the procedure. In any case, the seminar organizers could quickly eyeball the attendees and determine who were likely candidates. Asking for the BMI information was completely unnecessary and intrusive, and probably significantly lowered seminar signups.

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Another client, HearingPlanet.com, was collecting online leads by offering a free downloadable “Buyer’s Guide to Hearing Aids.” However, in order to download the guide, one had to complete the request form on the landing page, which included fields asking for the visitor’s physical mailing address. This information was clearly unnecessary to simply download the guide.

When address fields were removed from the form (see the shorter version below), form-fills jumped by 17 percent. The company determined that the remaining information is important, including: first and last name, e-mail, daytime phone, state, and an optional comment field. However, this is not the minimum of information required to download the guide. Most marketers would still insist that you need a valid e-mail address. But this too is a product of the inappropriate online information gathering greed that we suffer under. In fact, no data at all is necessary to download an electronic document.

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In the case of Hearing Planet, it can be argued that the better option might be to let the download go viral and be spread as quickly as possible among prospects, their families, healthcare decision makers, and caregivers. Nothing is really lost in the process since the downloaded document contains links back to actionable landing pages. If they find the guide helpful, it will establish thought leadership and a tangible way to remember and get back in touch at a date of the visitor’s choosing. The only thing we marketers would lose in the process is a sense of control. But what we gain is far greater: increased conversions and the beginning of a customer relationship that can be nurtured and developed over time.

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