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In Search of Marketing's Digital Lingua Franca

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Marc Ostrofsky
Marc Ostrofsky

Marc Ostrofsky, the author of the book, Get Rich ClicK, has done well in the website business. He sold the domain name Business.com for $7.5 million. He runs a string of successful sites like CuffLinks.com, eTickets.com, and Blinds.com, and has another dozen in development. But the website game, he laments, isn't what it used to be. “The ISPs have so much power now. They're not sending your emails and they're not telling you about it,” he says. “We went from a 16% open rate to 1% in one business.”

In his new book, Word of Mouse, Ostrofsky explains that, before marketers can personalize communications to customers, they need to learn the native tongue of the virtual worlds they inhabit. We recently spoke with him, in English, to learn more.

Do so many people spending so much time on so many devices make it easier or harder for marketers to reach them?

Without a doubt, there's a shift of power. The more knowledgeable the consumer gets, the more understanding the marketer has to have. People get bombarded with messages. There are so many different mediums to reach them, and you have to learn the language of each one. Look at social media. If you don't speak Pinterest, you're not going to reach the Pinterest audience.

So how do marketers become fluent?

You have to realize what you don't know and find someone that knows the thing you don't. One of my companies, Blinds.com, does $110 million in window blinds. We own no product. The products are drop-shipped. We get all our customers through pay per click. We've become expert at it. We spend $15,000 a day with Google on PPC and we know that 2.5% of people who come to our site will buy. But we figure that will change and we're looking for new ways to find customers. The same thing happens in larger enterprises. To branch out you've got to find the people in your organization who say, “I love this, I know about this.” If you have someone at your company who's really into Tumblr, go to them and see if they can help you figure out how your large or small company can play in that space.

And the message?

What it all boils down to is that all the people on your list are interested in one thing: “What's in it for me?” That's all they care about. If you don't hit them with the right size, the right color, the right product, they think you don't care about them.

In your new book you point out that people learn to search for the data they need rather than learn the information itself. Does that translate to marketers, as well?

I was meeting friends for dinner here [in Aspen] yesterday and I parked my car. I had to go and find the meter down the street, get the piece of paper, and go back to my car and stick it in the windshield. At dinner, my friends say to me, “You're such a guru? You're such a schmuck. Why don't you get the app?” So they tell me about this app that debits the parking fee of your card and you walk away. You can pay for four hours of parking and, if you only use two, you can deduct the difference. In the business sector there's a new app called Sign Now. If you get a contract to sign, you can open it in the app, sign it with your fingernail, and send it. In the world of direct marketing, you have to keep getting smarter and more efficient about new technologies, because your competitors are.

But the life spans of apps are short. Something like 90% of them are only opened once and then discarded.

True. There are millions of apps not being used. But it gets back to the language thing. Apps are a great way to get closer relationships with customers who like apps. Some people speak apps, some speak Facebook, some speak Twitter.

So you're saying that direct marketers need to be multinational, but that the nations are channels and networks?

That is the essence of my book. The direct marketing world is made up of new languages. Some people find they fit well with some and not with others. Kids may understand them differently from adults. Until marketers get that, it's the blind leading the blind.

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