Setting Your Shop Apart

I find I’m contradicting myself a lot these days. I think it may be a good thing. (But maybe it’s not.)

Anyway, here are two contradictory thoughts I have expressed in recent articles.

Thought A:

“Remember, when it comes right down to it, customers don’t give a damn about your site, your business or your life. They just came by to see if there was anything there for THEM.”

Thought B:

“But no one can be you. On the ‘net, within your business, you are the ‘unique selling proposition.’ You are the ultimate consumer benefit.”

The first quote suggests that everything on your site should be about the customer. The second quote suggests that the most interesting and unique aspect of your site is you.

Can these two conflicting thoughts coexist?

Yes, in fact. But only online.

The idea that everything on your site should be about your visitors comes from the offline world of marketing and advertising.

In that world, you invest megabucks in research and focus groups and predictive modeling in order to identify the so-called needs and desires of your audience. You figure out what people want, at what time, and you give it to them – whether ‘it’ is a product, a service, or a combination of the two.

This, to my mind, is step one in your online business strategy. You identify an unmet demand and attempt to address it.

In terms of writing your site, this means seeing and writing everything from the visitor’s perspective. You should find the words you and your used liberally throughout. You should be directing your visitors through a clear and short sales path with active verbs. Every heading and intro should introduce or develop a new benefit to the reader.

In an offline world, addressing the needs and desires of the customer is about as far as you can reasonably go. Indeed, huge retail operations have been built on this model.

But when you do business online, you can add in step two – which is to create for your site a unique niche and positioning through the addition of the owner’s character. This is where Thought B — no one can be you — comes in.

Consider the well-used analogy of the old-fashioned corner store. You and your family shopped there forever, in part because you knew the owner, even if he was a grumpy old bugger. His or her character was part of the buying and social experience.

With larger, offline, retail operations, one loses this sense of character. The experience becomes simply about buying and no longer includes an element of social interaction with the owner. After all, the owner cannot be in more than one store at a time.

But one of the unique benefits of the online retail environment is that you can grow large and still maintain that level of character found in the small corner store. For one thing, when you grow on the ‘net, you don’t need to open another 20 stores. You have just the one store – your web site. So you can be there — however large you grow.

Add the owner’s character and, all of a sudden, you add a more social or personal element to the shopping experience. In my view, you are more likely to insulate your customers from the competition. (Will this insulate you from the ravages of a price war? I doubt it. But it can give you a big advantage at times of price parity.)

So here’s the challenge for writers and those who direct them and work with them.

First, make sure you write to the needs and desires of the customer – it’s the only way to generate sales.

Second, create a unique “character” and “attitude” for the site by bringing one or more people from the company to the forefront. That may be the site creator, the boss, or it could be a designated “corner store manager.” Whoever it is, he or she needs to be visible, unmistakable and a special friend to millions.

At this point, the writer’s job becomes a whole lot harder.

How do you write a site that addresses the needs of the visitor, but is spoken with the voice of a corner store manager?

Let’s look at the specifics of that in next week’s article. Tune in then.

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