I am going on record as saying that if most (let me repeat, most) of the now-defunct dot-coms had to begin operations today, most (again, most) would survive. I’m not going to use the rectification of cash burn, advertising-biased revenue streams, or faulty business models as the reasons for this statement. Instead, I’m going to use relationship marketing as the primary support for my hypothesis and use a case study to illustrate it.
The case study is Ofoto. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a Web-based digital photography site, with services such as assembling virtual photo albums, customizing individual images, archiving CD-ROMs, and… oh yes, purchasing prints.
I’ll use Ofoto to highlight several points that I think strongly encapsulate the best practices needed for success in this post-bubble period.
1. Satisfying an Unmet Need
Advertising 101 teaches us about identifying an unmet consumer need, then delivering against that need. For too long, there were too many solutions to nonexistent problems.
In this case, there was the explosion of digital photography, with poor to nonexistent means to transform a digital impression into a lasting print memory. If you’ve tried the special photographic paper and corresponding cartridges with your inkjet, you know what I mean.
This unmet need and the business opportunity it respectively ushered in were huge.
Ofoto uses the power of community to spread and evangelize its offering. With a three-month-old baby and a hard drive reaching capacity, I was pleasantly surprised, as you can imagine, to receive an invitation from a colleague who wanted to “share” her album with me.
To be able to view the album, I had to register. My reward for doing so was 15 free prints and the ability to view my colleague’s album. In turn, her reward was 10 free prints for helping acquire a new member (a win-win situation).
3. Viral Marketing
By sharing albums with friends and family, you can earn up to 100 free prints (a $50 value). Sound like a lot to a consumer? You bet it is. This pales next to Ofoto’s opportunity to acquire a new customer for roughly $12.50 (15 free sign-up prints plus 10 free prints for the referrer at $0.49 a print).
Sharing digital albums is neat. Applying special effects and inserting text is cool. But the ultimate prize is the ability to purchase prints: from 4 x 6s, 6 x 8s, and 8 x 10s to wallet-sized prints all the way to the jumbo sizes.
The first couple of transactions are virtually free, excepting the shipping cost. The kicker here is that members are still using their credit cards to process the order (countering inertia or security fears) and getting comfortable using the service (repeat purchases).
I’d hate to find out how much time I’m actually spending on Ofoto. Whether inserting my baby into the American flag or applying a charcoal finish, I’m soaking up the experience. Without even thinking about it, I’m beginning to take photographs with the “special effect” application already in mind.
6. Relationship Marketing
When I originally entered into a stare-down with the opt-in box, I pondered whether I needed still more email in my already cluttered in box. Today, I’m glad I gave Ofoto permission to talk to me.
One of the great features of the customization tool is the ability to apply unique borders to an image. As late October approached, I received an email alerting me to new Halloween borders, to which I promptly responded.
I love the concept of melding content with context. Marrying a memory to a specific moment in time makes the image even more meaningful. I fully expect and welcome subsequent emails to inform me about specials, products, and new features.
7. Customer Service
When reviewing a recently completed order, I noticed that a special request of mine had not been fulfilled. I immediately sent an email to the customer service department and received a response that same day. The email was personal, warm, and more than rectified the problem.
I’m a customer for life. I’m a silent salesman. I’m living the brand. I’m evangelizing the experience and enabling word of mouth to work its wonderful magic.
I have good news for anyone out there who has a vested stake in the Internet. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Ofoto is leading the way.
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