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Voluntary and Involuntary Advertising

The prospect who is visiting your site is there voluntarily and really wants information, potentially lots of it. Nonetheless, they can be gone in a flash.

I owe the voluntary and involuntary classification of advertising to Dick Morris, campaign strategist who has served both Democrats and Republicans, who gave an interesting talk about the future of campaigning. I was most interested in his discussion of the Web and his comparison to other types of advertising.

On television and in many other forms of advertising, the prospect doesn't want to see your message; she wants to see some program. So you pay some of the costs of the program, and then you get to interrupt what the prospect wants to see and show your message, which the prospect doesn't want to see. You try to make your message compelling in appearance, or entertaining, or something, so that it gets watched and remembered. This Morris called "involuntary advertising".

The Web is different, he said. The prospect who is visiting your site really wants to find out about something and is seeking information. You don't have to trick them to keep their attention--they are actively looking for something. Morris called this "voluntary advertising". You don't have to keep yourself to "sound bites" of a few seconds--the prospect really wants information, potentially a lot of it.

However, the visitor to a Web site, because of the voluntary nature of the visit, has a very tenuous relationship with the site, and can be gone in a flash. The whole Web beckons, so as soon as the visitor decides this isn't the site, then she's gone. Similarly, as soon as the visitor might decide that some needed information just isn't there and will take more effort to obtain, same thing--bye bye, off to find a site that has the information.

So what do we do with such a visitor? We don't have them locked into their sofa waiting for the return of program that we've interrupted! We understand what they want--information--so we organize our site so that they can quickly decide that we have the information they want, and they can get to it quickly. In a future Newsletter, I'll talk about the importance of the Key Selling Proposition, or KSP.

In addition, we offer incentives for the prospect to stick with us. For example, we offer Internet special deals--added merchandise or discount pricing--as an incentive. And because we can lose this visitor so fast, we offer a way to get continued information about us--a mailing list or a newsletter--but with another incentive, that the newsletter will have not just information but also special offers.

Morris would say, I think, that a Web site must be written and presented very differently from a conventional ad, since the marketing environment is so different. The Web site must be much more information-rich, not overwhelming the visitor with everything on one page, but making it very clear that all the desired information is there, with a very clear link structure to get whatever is wanted. It's important to always provide price information--not having prices just invites suspicion that prices are high.

On a Web site, if part of our business is still maturing, we can't tell the visitor to keep checking back--why would they come back unless they know the information they want is on the site? Instead, offer to tell the visitor about future developments, just leave your email address...

We also must remember that a visit to a Web site is just one encounter. There is a common doctrine in marketing in today's crowded environment that it takes some seven exposures to your name before the prospect starts to take you seriously. So the visit to the site is just the first. How do you get the others? If the prospect just goes on from your site, it will be hard to get the rest of the impressions that you need. If you can snag the prospect's email address before they leave, though, every now and then you can send them some useful information and build familiarity and credibility. On the first visit the prospect may well not buy--so we offer information, photos, special offers, gifts, whatever it takes to get that email address.

If you're a client, then you've heard from me about the importance of a newsletter or some other regular publication to your prospects, and the importance of offering "deals" on the Internet. In fact, you are probably tired of hearing about it! I was impressed by Dick Morris's way of looking at Web advertising--it put these incentives into perspective for me--and I thought you might find it helpful in the same way.

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Dave Roberts provides expert Web marketing services to help you meet your business goals. Visit his Web site at: DaveDoesItAll.com


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