Is Doing One Thing Right Enough?

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Do you ever get the feeling that the Internet is often the enemy of the simple and elegant?


The conventional wisdom seems to be that unless you have partners, alliances, affiliates, customer relationship management, persistent cookies, dynamically served pages, complex search engines and lots of flash, you have nothing.


Consider the case of Dany Levy, editor and publisher of Daily Candy, www.dailycandy.com, an e-zine guide to the New York chic that interests the "it girls" in New York City. Each weekday she publishes a single-templated page featuring one person, place or thing that her 33,000 readers really want to know about.


She uses very simple HTML and graphics, has a rudimentary archive, facilitates click through to the full week's set of columns across the top and puts whatever ads she can sell on the top right or the bottom.


The site was designed by Ruben Toledo, and her content, which is never more than 250 words of 12-point Times Roman type, runs up the center in short, easy-to-grasp sentences. References, small GIFs and cross-sell information with highlighted links to featured sites make up the right-hand column.


Her editorial philosophy, which she describes as "Gotham-style trend reporting," was shaped by her experience as editor of the Sales & Bargains column at New York magazine. Writing for single, professional women; debutantes; Park Avenue moms; Upper East Side teens; emigrants from other happening places such as Los Angeles, London or Aspen, CO; and wannabes of all stripes, her objective is to make Daily Candy "super short, super sweet and to the point. Our one piece each day must be easy to understand and totally digestible so that readers can decide in an instant whether to read us or delete us."


Each edition has two calls-to-action -- refer a friend and an option to click through to the featured person, product or site of the day. Fiercely independent, she does not sell access to her editorial platform. Nor does she share in any sales that her coverage prompts.


Evidence of the effect that Daily Candy has on e-commerce is anecdotal. A story on Crest Whitening Strips yielded a $22,000 daily spike on www.crest.com. A story and an image of a pearl thong available at Coquette, a boutique in Greenwich Village, caused a run of 300 sales over several days. By announcing the opening of Chingalle, a restaurant in the meat-packing district, she provoked 80 e-mail reservations in a day. When she revealed that the sticky flaps of FedEx bags make excellent ad-hoc lint brushes, friends reported nary a Tyvek bag to be found in the Conde Nast offices. And she has a trickle of revenue as an Amazon affiliate.


She has explored licensing her content, importing other content, buying a search engine and serving up Daily Candy on cell phones, which is possible via www.upoc-inc.com, but which is not very popular except among select teens.


On some days she fantasizes about building a Martha Stewart-like media empire. On other days she hopes somebody will come along and buy her out so she can have a life.


Split 80-20 between women and men, Daily Candy reaches 24- to 35-year-olds, one-third of whom have annual household incomes of $100,000 or more and one-third of whom work in the media. Subscribers are evenly split between text and HTML versions. Seventy percent of readers get Daily Candy at work. The Cassandra Report ranked Daily Candy among the top five sites for reaching females ages 14 to 18.


The site provokes 250,000 page views each month and adds an average of 125 new subscribers each day. Levy uses the number of new daily subscribes as a surrogate measure of the effect of her editorial. Announcements of sample sales and information on Brazilian bikini waxing have yielded the most new conversions.


Levy has clearly cracked the usability code for her audience. Her material is consistent, credible, highly targeted, aesthetically appealing and easy either to use or to discard. The number of daily subscriptions, incidental cases of readers bringing e-mails to retailers to claim discounts, the number of reader inquiries and story tips each week and the growing clamor of press agents seeking her out suggest that the editorial resonates with its audience and that viral marketing is at work.


Daily Candy is a great example of contextual marketing. The e-zine fully integrates editorial and commerce elements in ways that do not blur the line but are fully acceptable, in fact, desired, by readers. The timeliness of information, added to the cachet of knowing first, builds the brand and is a very strong act-now motivator. Scored by e-commerce standards, Daily Candy is doing most things right.


Launched in March 2000 and funded with what might have been her first year's tuition to business school, the site draws on Levy's instinctive understanding of her audience and is a testament to doing one thing and doing it right. After recent marketplace developments, Levy's success raises a question of timing: "Is she doing one thing right at the wrong time?"


And it raises the broader question: "Can you do one thing right and make a living in the post-dot-com world?"


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