This Site Is Not For You

Here’s an idea that may run a little against the grain. It’s about excluding customers from your site. It’s about saying, “Hey, this site may not be for you.”

Instead of bribing and persuading every single person online to sign up at your site and give you permission to market – how about trying the opposite? How about playing hard to get? How about building from a model that aims to exclude most people?

So far the path of relationship marketing online has largely been based on – “Let’s create close personal relationships with ten million people by the end of the week.”

Trouble is, what’s the value of that relationship when the customer knows that he or she is one of millions who have exactly the same relationship?

When I’m one of many, it just doesn’t feel so special any more. So maybe it’s worth looking at creating some online models that increase the value of each relationship by limiting the numbers.

Quite a while back, American Express used the following line right after the salutation in its direct mail letters:

“Quite frankly, the American Express Card is not for everyone.”

What a great line. It excluded people by implication, but attracted them at the same time because the inference was that being accepted by American Express made you special.

Apparent scarcity increases demand – and perceived value.

It’s the same principle at work when you try to get past the doorman at a great nightclub. The harder it is to get in, the more you want to be one of the few.

You want to join that golf course? You need to be recommended by an existing member. Again, a barrier to entry makes membership all the more desirable.

Right now, with most web sites that ask for some kind of registration or transaction, there is no barrier to entry. Quite the opposite.

As a result, I think the perceived value of the relationship on offer is usually pretty low. That said, some sites do put up barriers to entry.

Mind’s Eye Fiction, Electric Library, Hoovers Business Profiles and Wall Street City all make demands of visitors who want to access their sites. But these are sites that offer information. Content.

Isn’t there an opportunity here for e-commerce sites as well?

Imagine an auction site that demanded a personal introduction from an existing member for you to be even considered. Plus a $5,000 bond. Plus a minimum purchase commitment of $10,000 a year. Let’s make it a niche auction site – just for sports memorabilia.

And if you don’t have the big bucks to participate, we’ll offer a watching membership. For an annual fee of just $250 dollars, you can log in and watch the auctions.

Let’s create a niche online bookstore that only carries titles by American authors. This site is the best source for signed first editions anywhere. The site also sends out monthly newsletters that give you a heads-up on author signings in your city. It won’t cost you anything to be a member of the site. But to sign up, you will need to be recommended by at least two current members.

Naturally, with all these exclusion sites, we’ll have to create some substantial extra value – perceived or real – as part of the membership package.

Quality chocolates as gifts for special occasions? Sure. We’ll create apparent scarcity by having our chocolates handmade. They’re going to be expensive chocolates. And it’s going to cost you $45 dollars a year to even access the site. Also, maybe one part of the site will only be open to American Express cardholders. Get a little co-marketing thing happening.

Quite frankly, these chocolates are not for everyone.

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