Tip O'Neill, the late Speaker of The House of Representatives is often quoted as saying "All politics is local," meaning a politician that helps a constituent with a problem is likely to win that vote based on the personal assistance provided, irrespective of that politician's stance on the larger, more weighty, geo-political issues. What then of business, is all business local or international?
Shopping Is An Experience
The world has changed dramatically since the days when neighborhood shopping was the main option, and people relied on their local merchants for products and services. The world of commerce today seems to be divided between two competing scenarios: on the one hand, people are more mobile than ever before, and more willing to travel to buy what they want, even with wildly fluctuating energy costs; and on the other hand, people are busier than ever and use the Internet to seek out the companies, products, and services they want and need.
What seems to be consistent is the underlying need to feel something, to experience the process. The higher the value, the greater the psychological component to the buying experience. The same is true for products and services that are considered non-essential.
People Wonder Why They Can't Sell More Stuff
We all have our favorite stores and websites, where we know we will be looked-after with more than the ubiquitous and perfunctory, "have a nice day," but sadly that sense of service is all but lost in a misguided rush to pseudo efficiency. Brick and mortar stores with their part-time, minimum wage time-fillers whose only talent seems to be a vacant blank stare accompanied by "that's not my department" is bad enough. But what of websites that don't accept phone calls, or any other kind of inquiry other than a form email that you can be assured will be answered in a week or two, along with a request for more information that generally corresponds to the information you've already provided - that's what passes for website service today. And people wonder why they can't sell more stuff.
The Web Is An International Venue
The Web of course presents one additional wrinkle to the service issue, one that puts a premium on communicating your message effectively: the Web is an international venue. No matter what you do, or where you're located, you can be sure people from all parts of the world are visiting your website if you have something of value to say. This then puts a premium on your ability to articulate a coherent message, one that eliminates the need for visitors to phone Mumbai, Beijing, or Lickskillet, Ohio.
English speaking companies have a hard enough time communicating effectively, but what of non-English speaking companies trying to break into the North American market? You find websites in many different languages, catering to local markets, but if you're looking for North American exposure, you best deliver your message in the language of the Web, and like it or not, that language is English.
Words Have Meaning
Far be it from me to criticize CBS news anchor Katie Couric, who generally does a fine job, but when she refers to the Democrats winning the House, Senate, and Presidency as "single party rule" it raises the hackles on the back of my neck. Words have meaning and presentation has impact. But I am not just talking about proper grammar, syntax, and usage, something many of us stumble over at times, but what of idiom, metaphor, and voice; elements that are just as important in effective marketing communication as proper usage.
Years ago while visiting London, England I passed a store with the sign that read "Fags and Mags," a disconcerting message until I got acclimatized to the British slang. When it comes to marketing, you can get away with a lot, but even countries that speak the same language have different patois, slang, and cultural references.
One of the great advantages of being from Canada with its proximity to the USA, its historical ties to the British Commonwealth, and its multicultural population is that we understand these differences and can translate them into effective North American marketing campaigns.
Crafting Your Web Marketing Message
What do you sell? A seemingly simple question any business executive should be able to answer, but can they answer it accurately? Ask yourself: do you sell a product, a service, or a concept? Does a shoe store sell shoes, or comfort and status? Does an accountant sell auditing services, or legitimacy and security? Does a politician sell tax cuts, or a better future?
When it comes to marketing you have to think concepts; if you build your advertising around products or services rather than concepts you will never be able to develop an effective campaign, let alone an effective website presentation.
Take Target and Walmart for example: they both sell similar products for the most part, a problem many retailers and most distributors have but refuse to face. Target markets itself as the leader in low priced, designer-styled merchandise, a distinct marketing position compared to Walmart that markets itself as the low priced leader and the heck with design. Each company delivers a unique marketing concept, one targeting consumers interested in price alone, the other aimed at shoppers who want a little style with their bargains: two different concepts, two different brand positions, and two different marketing strategies.
We All Sell Concepts Not Products and Services
One way or another we all sell a concept no matter what the product or service. When a client approaches us with the question "why aren't we selling more stuff?" a quick review of their site usually provides the answer: their website is not articulating in any meaningful, memorable manner, the conceptual premium their product or service delivers.
Before you invest in a new website or Web marketing campaign, decide what concept you are actually delivering. That concept is the basis of your marketing strategy and it informs what you say and how you say it.
Selling Concepts Is All About The Presentation
The recent US election is a great example of how to sell a concept. Putting all political bias aside look at the difference between how Obama approached his speeches and how McCain approached his. Of course both men talked about their policies and how they would handle different domestic and international situations.
McCain spoke to his constituency and delivered what they wanted to hear, but his words and presentation style fell far short of motivating the undecided or converting non-believers. Accusing a fellow Senator and Harvard Law alumni, with red baiting language like "redistributing the wealth" was obvious code language that failed the sniff test to all but his staunch backers.
Compare McCain's efforts to motivate through distrust and fear to Obama's message of hope, with his "Yes We Can" catchphrase echoing the American 'can do' spirit and traditional approach to solving problems. Not only did Obama say the right words to motivate his audience, he delivered his message with the motivational rhythm and cadence of an inspirational preacher.
Whether you're selling a political agenda or carbonated sugar water, you must learn to communicate your marketing concept in a way that people will understand, remember, and act upon.
Concepts Are Universal
The Web is an international venue. If you have something of value to say or sell, you will attract an international audience. Foreign companies that want to access the USA market must learn to speak "American" or hire a marketing communication company that does. American companies that want to grow beyond their local markets must learn to think concepts, the universal language of sales.