Set Your Sites on Providing Information

In a time when customer-service training seems to be the mandate for many companies, I often find myself dodging those who serve the customers.

Ever have this happen to you? You’re in a store simply browsing when a battalion of sales people descends upon you. One after another they barrage you with, “Can I help you, Ma’am?” — or that incredibly intrusive, “Looking for something special?”

Just the other day I was in a certain electronics store that employs teenagers. I was out on a fact-finding mission. My son’s ninth birthday is still weeks away, and I’d decided to research prices before purchasing that flash-in-the-pan video game he needs to maintain “cool” status in the third grade. Instantly, a salesperson badly in need of acne cream approached. No, I didn’t want help. No, I wasn’t interested in the fact that today was the last day to order an advance copy of the next big thing for grade-school trendsetters. I wanted to check out the merchandise and the prices. I wanted to be alone.

Surely just about everyone has this type of experience, which is exactly my point. Not every interaction with a potential customer is about making a sale. Sometimes — and more often than we think — simply facilitating the process of helping the consumer become more informed is far more important.

So why do we expect every “successful” Web site to make mountains of cash? Surely the past year has shown us this simply isn’t the case. It seems to me that supplying a Web site filled with information is just as important for a successful online venture.

Those of us who are employed in marketing communications know that much of our job involves informing the consumer. We also know this is a critical part of doing business. An organization that thinks marketing is only about sales probably won’t generate much loyalty — or interest — among its target markets. In this age of the “informed consumer,” you’ve simply got to provide as much information as possible.

We marcommers were thrilled when Web sites came on the scene, and we’ve never lost our excitement. Granted, some organizations may have lost their Web fervor over the past several months, but that’s all the better. It gives us more time to catch up, stop pursuing the newest interactive “must have” of the week, and create some truly great, information-packed sites that are of value to the user.

How do you create an informative site? Here are Susan’s Basic Rules:

  • Do it yourself. Can the canned copy, especially the AP Wire stuff. It doesn’t help your organization establish itself on the Web — or anywhere. Marketing is all about creating a point of differentiation, and canned copy accomplishes just the opposite.

  • Hire great writers and editors. Web-site content demands good writing. If you’re going to build a great site, you must have in-house or outsourced writers who can clearly communicate your message.
  • Get niche-y now. The Web provides an opportunity to really show your connection with a specific target audience. The REI site, for instance, provides the backpack crowd pages of information on everything from cycling to spelunking.
  • Think WWW in your marketing plan. I teach marketing at two universities, and I get really hot under the collar when my students present marketing plans without mentioning their proposed Web sites. It’s said that radio plus outdoor provides the same impact as television. But what provides the impact of a content-rich Web site? It’s truly in a class by itself.
  • Build internal excitement. Some of your best content can come from your own employees. Engage them in building a great site, and you’ll have content to last until the next dot-com boom. The Gallup site does a great job of calling on in-house experts.

Quite frankly, if sales people acted more like informative Web sites, we wouldn’t have to concentrate so much on a quality WWW. But that’s a perfect world I have yet to encounter. God bless the Web. Marcommers, keep up your sites!

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