Rich Words

A couple of weeks ago I took the opportunity to beat up on the “promise” of rich media. This week I’m going to express the same opinion but from a slightly different viewpoint — in part because of a high volume of excellent feedback to the previous article.

Once again, I think that people overestimate the power of rich media online and underestimate the power of words. When I read about the upcoming broadband rich media revolution, here’s the thought that comes to mind:

“Gosh, people are trying to turn the web into a broadcast medium.”

And is this run for rich media all part of a benevolent plan to help us access information online more easily? I don’t think so.

The plan is to ramp up the technology for quite a different reason. The master plan, as I understand it, is to make the web more attractive to big advertisers. “Imagine! Your own TV commercial online! For just a fraction of what offline advertisers pay! Bye bye banners, hello online commercials!” Ergo, if we can get really rich media happening online, we can fill the web with TV commercials and lots of advertising dollars.

Oh joy.

Meanwhile, thankfully, while rich media development has been trundling along, online commerce has been moving in a different direction. Advertisers and online companies have been discovering that the web is a perfect environment through which to touch people on a far more personal basis. It’s a great place to touch people one-on-one. If your customers’ computers are all five years old and their modems all run, or walk, at 14.4 — you can still reach them one-on-one.

With words.

I believe that online commerce will thrive because of two things:

  1. The Internet is a direct marketer’s dream come true.
  2. When you truly integrate your site with an effective email program, you really can touch people one at a time.

There is no requirement for rich media here. But there is a need to rethink the way one writes for the web.

If your technology allows you to learn more and more about each customer… And if each customer has, step by step, granted ongoing permission for this increasing level of knowledge…Then you need to write in a manner that reflects the growth of your relationship. You don’t talk to someone you know well in the same way in which you’d talk to a stranger. With a stranger you have to sell a little harder.

But when permission has been granted, the list member is saying, “Hey, tell me more. I want to hear about your products and services.” And when you sell by invitation, you barely need to sell at all. To achieve this with a list of hundreds of thousands, you’ll need a phenomenally powerful backend database and email management program — and a remarkably intuitive, light handed writing approach.

At last, the web will have a style of writing that isn’t derivative of offline direct marketing, advertising or editorial writing. Writing to sell on the web will have a style that is unique to this new environment.

This isn’t about rich media. It’s about rich words.

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