Do Unto Others…

At last week’s AdverNet conference in New York, I bumped into a sales rep that I hadn’t seen or spoken to in a long time. As we caught up, the topic of my ClickZ columns came up. Then he asked me a very interesting question.

“Tom,” he asked, “If there were one single thing that you hope every one of your readers would take away from your columns, what would it be?”

I thought for a little while, but the answer was easy.

“I hope that every reader remembers the Golden Rule,” I replied.

“What, the Golden Rule of Web Marketing?” my friend asked.

“Not the Golden Rule of Web Marketing,” I said. “Just the regular, run of the mill ‘Do unto others’ thing.”

Why is this basic moral tenet so important to online media planning?

First, it is important to remember that Internet planning is a business of relationships. Buyers have relationships with sellers, but more importantly, they are tasked with managing a client’s relationships with his customers. And without relationships, either online or offline, a client’s business is simply dead.

That the Golden Rule applies to all aspects of Internet marketing should be obvious to most, but you would be surprised at some folks who just don’t seem to “get it.”

  • An ex-client of mine refused to take down his media campaign even after it was revealed that the banners linked to a site that would instantly crash the browsers of many Internet Explorer users. Knowing this, the client refused to put the campaign on hiatus until the JavaScript problems that caused the crashes could be fixed.

  • A friend of mine was unfortunate enough to be duped into clicking on a banner because it had two fake scroll bars in it. Of course, the banner happened to be linked to a porn site. What happened next, according to the friend, was that the site spawned what appeared to be a dozen or so daughter windows, which clogged the screen and prevented my friend from clicking the back button so he could get back to the site he had been surfing on.
  • An e-commerce site on which I was shopping for a last-minute gift refused to honor a guarantee of overnight shipping, even when the gift arrived over a week past the occasion for which it was given.

What do all the above situations have in common? They all involve web businesses treating their customers in ways that they would not enjoy being treated themselves.

“So what?” you might ask. “Marketers have been treating people this way for years. What makes the Golden Rule so important now?”

Aside from the obvious moral implications, the maintenance of healthy customer relationships is of the utmost importance in everything we do as online marketers. Traditional factors that lock customers into doing business exclusively with one entity have been broken down. For instance:

  • Lack of competition – A new choice is only as far away as the next virtual storefront.

  • Loyalty – Web surfers remain loyal only to the online businesses that treat them respectfully. At the slightest sign of disrespect (including prices that are out of line with competitors), web surfers take off. And they often don’t come back for a long while, if at all.
  • Time factors – Comparison shopping used to take time – time that few people had to spare. Comparison shopping can now be done by intelligent agents, or by quickly flipping through the offerings of a few different web sites.

Consumers are fickle simply because they can afford to be. Right now, they’re being presented with more choices than they’ve ever had previously. Treating them fairly and honestly is the best way to avoid sending them to their next choice in a huff.

So, faithful ClickZ reader, the next time the issue of constructing fake HTML banners comes up, or whatever the case may be, always remember to put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and ask yourself the following question: “Would I like to be treated this way?”

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