Web Marketing: It's All Done With Mirrors

In 23 years of marketing technology, the most succinct piece of wisdom I’ve encountered regarding delivering effective marketing messages is this excerpt from a paragraph in a type sample book I used in the mid 1970s:

. . . . Every human being likes to see himself in reading matter, just as he likes to see himself in the mirror. The ideal article for any publication, so far as “reader interest” is concerned, would be one in which every reader could find his own name. The ideal illustration would be a group photograph of all the readers, so that each reader could have the fun of finding himself in the picture.

With that remarkable paragraph in mind, take a moment to consider your site. Let’s try together to determine whether you have a host-centered or guest-centered site.

    Consider your home page to be a mirror. Now ask: Who does it reflect? Your prospects and customers? Or your company and products?

    Check your main links. Are they to host-centered sections titled “About XYZ Company,” “Contact Us,” “Products and Information,” “Our Event Schedule,” “In the News,” “Our Partners,” and the like?

    Take the “Me:You” copy test. Read your copy. Count the number of “Me” words (that is, words that refer to you, your company, your products, etc.) and the number of “You” words (words that refer to your visitors). Are you weighted on the “Me” side?

    Look at your graphics. A lot of product shots? Pictures of your facilities? Partner logos? Staff mug shots?

    In short, is your page talking all about you and forgetting entirely that its job is to reflect your visitor?

Mirror, Mirror On The Web

When qualified visitors first hit your site, they don’t care about you. They don’t care about your products. They don’t care about what people are saying about you. They don’t care about all the links you provide or your white paper libraries or where you’re going to be exhibiting or who your partners are.

When qualified visitors first hit your site, they care about one thing only: “Do I belong here?”

Your site – every page – needs to immediately answer that question with a loud YES. The key word here is immediately. If you make your guests peer and strain to find their reflection on your site, they’re going to be gone in a click.

Aim your designer’s creative attention at finding the fastest, most compelling way to get your visitors the “YES” they’re looking for. There are tons of techniques good design firms can suggest to draw the eye and present it with the right initial messages so people find a mirror of themselves. Turn your artist’s focus away from special effects and on to reflecting the visitors’ jobs, interests and needs. And work together to build paths that provide guests with similarly focused content.

The Right Reflections

Let’s take a look at three sites that do things this way.

Entertainment: disney.com

When you enter the Disney site, you are greeted with four main words and their associated images:

1. Disney (which does not take you to corporate information)
2. Family
3. Kids
4. Shop

Not an “About Disney” to be found. This is immediate recognition and provides an instant path for Disney’s key visitor demographics and interests. It could care less if you read about Michael Eisner’s background. (By the way, it doesn’t appear to provide it.)

Personal Care: kotex.com

Rather than simply peddle product, Kimberly & Clark proclaims the site is “all designed to help you … feel more comfortable with your body.” In the products section, it has what amounts to a “personal configurator.” Women enter information about themselves, such as their level of activity, and the site delivers product recommendations. The only host-centered element is a link to the Kimberly & Clark web site.

Business to Business: farallon.com

Out of a list of 19 primary (text only) links on Farallon’s navigation bar, only two – Corporate Info and On-line Store – are host-centered.

The rest focus on four core areas:

  1. Visitor characteristics.
  2. Guest-focused product categories.
  3. Useful information (for instance, a requirements analysis worksheet).
  4. Useful links (search engine, site map and so on).

All are targeted to address visitor demographics and interests, not an internal corporate information agenda.

Through The Looking Glass

Now, please take a last look at the paragraph I quoted initially. When it was written, the notion that “every human being likes to see himself in reading matter, just as he likes to see himself in the mirror” was expressed as an impossible fantasy.

Not anymore. Cookie-enabled pages coupled with database-driven sites can give back to visitors as much information as visitors give to the server. Personal home pages allow visitors to upload any image files they want … including pictures of themselves. The issues of content control and file management can be solved. From there, it’s an easy matter to accept a small bitmap of someone and present it to them whenever they enter your site.

A database, a couple of cookies, an uploaded jpg and … product collateral and promotion that carry your visitor’s name, company logo, personal picture, and so on.

A web site must reflect its guests, not project itself. It should provide an immediate moment of recognition for visitors. It should establish a path of priority that increases in focus the more they travel it – which they will do the more they recognize themselves on your pages.

That’s the key element to connecting with people – and connection is the important first step in quality web marketing.

Related reading