Marketing FOR the User

As I answered the phone last night at dinnertime, only to hear my last name mispronounced by someone trying to sell me (and my hardwood floors) a carpet-cleaning service, I began thinking about what marketing is really all about.

We hear so many Internet companies talking about marketing their services to this user and that user. I think they’re going about it all wrong they should be marketing for the user, not to or at the user.

The way I see it, there are three different kinds of marketing: at the user, to the user, and for the user.

At-the-user marketing is the kind of low-value, high-annoyance dross we’re used to getting from spam emailers, telemarketers, junk mailers, and infomercials. These ads are designed to hit a large audience and overcome the resistance of a very small portion of that audience.

To-the-user marketing is what we’re accustomed to seeing everywhere – on TV, billboards, catalogs, and banner ads. This is medium-value, medium-annoyance marketing. We don’t particularly mind it, but we certainly don’t love it. These ads are designed to hit some targeted subpopulation and persuade a small percentage to do something.

For-the-user marketing is what makes us happy. This is high-value, no-annoyance stuff like test drives, personal interest targeted opt-in emails, and good customer service. These are things designed to make our individual lives better, easier, and happier. And, because they do, we buy more, we keep buying, and we tell our friends to buy.

For-the-user marketing is about meeting the basic needs of the user. This includes the need for trial, trust, ease, information, and the perception of importance. For-the-user marketing is particularly necessary online because your users can’t see or touch you.

Trial is what drives the supermarket sample industry. Research suggests that one out of five people who sample a product go on to buy it. Users want to try something before they commit their time and money to it. Demo-version software, floor models, and changing rooms are all examples of companies meeting their users’ need for trials. Online, you need to give product tours or demo versions and have a good return policy, or your users will go somewhere that has them.

Trust is crucial for users, especially online. Jupiter Communications estimates that almost $21 billion in revenue will be lost online due to issues related to lack of trust. Trust includes privacy and security concerns, as well as the belief that orders will be delivered on time and that you’ll get important information when you need it. Online, you need a privacy policy, definitely, but make it clear and follow it. (Hear that, TRUSTe?) You should also tell the user as much as you can and make the process easy. There’s nothing like a sneaky process to make us suspicious.

That brings us to ease. Making checkout easier, making products easier to use, and making information easier to find are important ways that companies can fulfill user needs. AOL may not be “cool” to the supertechies, but I’m guessing that ease is part of what keeps 40 percent (including, probably, most of our mothers) of the online population there. So, streamline your process, don’t forget about the folks in what ClickZ writer Nick Usborne calls “Flyover Land,” and try to look at things with the eyes of someone who doesn’t work there. You might be surprised. If users can’t use the product, they won’t use the product.

Information is what the Internet is all about. Information is what users need when they go somewhere and want to know about prices, feature-by-feature comparisons, and shipping costs. Information is what they seek when they want to know what your source was, when it was written, and who paid you to write it. When information is supposed to be easy to find and competitors’ information is easy to find, you must make it ample, relevant, and available to your users.

Perception of importance is what makes regulars at a restaurant feel good when the waiter asks if they want “the usual.” This is what makes personalized emails perform better than nonpersonalized emails (almost twice as well, according to one company’s tests). If you feel that a company doesn’t care about you or your business, you’re probably not going to shed many tears as you walk across the street to its biggest competitor. Then again, neither is your user when he or she clicks far away from you, never to return.

Fulfill these needs and you’ve got yourself a happy user, one who has probably bought both colors of your widgets, requested your catalog, and sent his or her whole book club to your site.

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