Don't Sacrifice TV Sales to the Web

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If you are not driving retail, do not drive your buyers to the Web. Why? The Internet is simply another channel of distribution. Would you put the phrase "Now available at Kmart" in your end tag? Not unless your goal was to drive retail sales.


But in the traditional rollout stage of direct response marketing your goal is to sell as much product via television while building a brand name and a retail "bubble" of consumers. Many consumers who do not order from television become informed about the product and eventually will buy it at retail - some estimate at the rate of about 4-to-1. These consumers will purchase the product once they can touch and feel it and have the added confidence of being able to return the item in person.


I agree that there is a percentage of people who will buy the product off the Internet - and you must respect that bubble as well. But do not drive them there in your tag. If you did not give them a Web address in the tag and they really wanted your product, they would call and order it. The consumers who are not calling and are going to the Web address you give them are most likely going for four reasons: novelty of a new medium; more information; anonymity in the buying process; or the telephone lines are busy. Let's discuss each of these reasons.


First, to drive your potential buyers to the Internet because it's a novel way of ordering suffers from e-retailers' biggest problem - converting traffic to sales. Of the potential customers you drive to the Internet, many will never get there. They will jump online, get e-mail, check stocks or just never go. When your potential buyers do get there, many become the traditional online shopper - toying with the idea of buying (filling the shopping cart) but then exiting without executing the order.


I attended a conference last year dedicated to that specific problem. We are in the impulse business. We inspire customers to get off the couch, pick up the phone and buy - Now! Once they reach a live operator, it is much more difficult to reconsider the buying decision. Why do you think all of the buying clubs now ask, "Are you sure?" when a consumer says no. It's because they convert quite a few of those people. Drive your consumer online, and you are no longer in the impulse business.


If they are going online for more information, your creative is not doing its job. Your consumers should have every reason - and more - to buy your product from the information given in the commercial. No question should be unanswered. Questions that need attention can be answered through reference to a customer service number on the inbound. Do not give your consumer a reason not to pick up the phone. Put up a Web address, and you're essentially saying there's more to this story.


You could offer a Web address in your tag if your product lends itself to the anonymity category (hair loss, herbal Viagra, etc.). These consumers may not want to talk with a live operator and need to be given that option. In this case, I think putting a Web address in the tag makes some sense.


If the phone lines are busy and people are going to the Web site to order, you need to split inbound numbers among various telemarketers to alleviate the blockage.


As a product direct marketer, you are not an e-retailer. There is a big distinction. Many product marketers cite studies such as one by PricewaterhouseCoopers about a large percentage of consumers shunning retailers that do not offer the ability to buy through multiple channels. These direct response marketers think they fit into that category - they must have their product available online. They are confused. They are correct that they should have their product available online - once they go to retail. The confusion lies in that they are not retailers.


If you feel the need to put the address in your tag because you think there is a large percentage of people who will only order online, then treat online orders like retail -another channel of distribution.


I'm amazed that direct marketers have fallen into the frenzy over the need to be associated with the Internet. These are entrepreneurs concerned with the bottom line. They actually go to the trouble of saying, "Not available at retail." And even when they go to retail, the majority do not say, "Now available at retail." Yet, most of them are putting a Web address smack in the middle of the tag. It would make more sense to put in a tag that says, "Not available on the Internet."


We are in the business of getting people to act impulsively and quickly. Give the impulse buyer a reason not to act and they will not.


• Robert Medved is executive vice president and media director at Cannella Response Television Inc., Burlington, WI.
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