Even in Net Marketing, Tried and True Works Best

For all you Net heads who aren't going to read my whole message before clicking, here it is in a flash: The Internet is different, but online consumers are not. You still have to appeal to their needs and offer them benefits, or else they won't buy.

For those of you still with me, let me explain how it works. Technology, media, styles and expressions have changed. But motivations and needs have not changed. And appealing to needs is the heart and soul of advertising. Maxwell Sackheim called copy-writing “practicing psychiatry without a license.” As Claude Hopkins — the granddaddy of advertising copywriters — wrote in 1923: “Human nature is perpetual. In most respects, it is the same today as in the time of Caesar. So the principles of psychology are fixed and enduring.”

Using Salesmanship Online

When I was a child, Old Gold cigarette boxes with Betty Grable-like legs danced across my TV screen. Speedy Alka Seltzer plopped and fizzed. Harry and Bert Piels ad-libbed. And Tony the Tiger G-R-R-R-EATED on my ears.

Did I buy any of those products? Of course not! I was having too much fun watching the commercials!

Today, many advertisers substitute pyrotechnics for benefits in trying to market their products on the Internet. Flashing banners replace the dancing Old Gold boxes. Clever gimmicks and cute buttons replace Harry and Bert. MIDI music files replace Tony's roar. And what happens to the marketing? It speedily plops and fizzes out.

Claude Hopkins said, “Advertising is salesmanship in print.” And what's true in print is true online.

Direct marketing expert Milt Pierce said, “More people are spending more bucks to discover how to make the Internet make money. What nonsense! Use basic selling techniques. They worked before, and they will work forever.” Copywriter Bob Gaines said, “Blinking messages and tinny music do not a respondent make. Think: What does the Web page lack to make me want to respond? That's it. It's direct marketing dressed up with a few electronic distractions.”

Your prospects still want to know only one thing from you: “What can you do for me?” The secret of all successful advertising still is to convince your readers that you offer fulfillment of their desires. Whether in a direct mail package, in a newspaper or on the Internet, you have to focus on their needs and wants. And you have to direct them to the satisfaction offered by your product. To get them to stay with you long enough to buy, it's not enough just to entertain them. Right on the spot, you have to offer what direct marketing pioneer Victor Schwab called “rewards for reading”: mental, physical, financial, social, emotional or spiritual stimulation, satisfaction, well-being or security.

Your product has to become the friend and benefactor of the reader of your advertising. Or conversely, your product has to become the hero in your prospects' subconscious movies: rescuing them from risks; worries; losses; mistakes; embarrassment; drudgery; fear of poverty; illness or accident; discomfort; boredom; or the loss of business, social prestige or advancement.

The best ads are ones that dramatize those rewards in such a way that the reader can almost taste it.

Getting the Order

Some say the answer to better Internet marketing is HTML e-mail or rich media — delivering higher-quality graphics and sound. Of course, HTML mail looks better than plain text, but many people still use text-based e-mail programs. The problem with a lot of Internet marketing is that most people who develop Web sites or HTML e-mail are either programmers who think like this or designers who think in graphic images.

You need to learn to think in dollars. Improved graphics and sound attract, but they don't motivate. They are the oil that lubricates the engine. You still need the gas to make it go.

When technology works, though, it can make your focused strategic marketing message explode right off the screen. In Claude Hopkins' day, you had to wait until a prospect mailed in a coupon to get action. Today, your prospects can be using your product — and reaping the rewards it promises — in seconds. But you have to make them want to try it.

There are many differences between print and Internet marketing, just as there are differences among direct mail, newspaper ads and TV commercials. For example, Robert Bly — the guy who “wrote the book” — points out a fundamental difference between print direct mail and electronic direct mail: “In general, short is better. This is not the case in classic mail-order selling where as a general principle, the more you tell, the more you sell.” E-mail is a unique environment. Readers quickly sort through a bunch of messages and aren't disposed to sticking with you for a long time.

The immediacy of the Internet gives it an almost magical quality of interactive marketing never possible before, but it also poses the biggest challenge to holding onto a prospect long enough to make a sale. TV commercials and the Internet have spawned nanosecond attention spans.

Essentially, most Internet people deal with how to say things. That's the magic of the medium. But the critical still issue is what you say. And that cuts across all media.

Marshall McLuhan, the communications theorist who proclaimed, “The medium is the message,” would have loved the Internet. He was the first to declare that electronic communications were tearing down world borders. Television, he said, turned the world into a “global village.” You might say he wrote the Declaration of Interdependence. (Isn't it interesting that McLuhan died on the last day of 1980, the year that IBM introduced the PC to change the way we work, play, talk and even think.)

The Internet seems to be the fulfillment of McLuhan's vision. In many ways, it is his global village. To a certain extent, it also validates his catch phrase. According to McLuhan, how we get our information affects us more than the information itself. Electronic media affect us because of not only what they show but also how they show it. Television watching, he maintained, is a physical experience that involves a person more deeply than reading a book. How much more of an interactive experience is the Internet?

So what does all this mean to us as direct marketers? New media have changed the way we communicate. But the bottom line is that we have to look at every new development as an opportunity. New hi-tech weapons have changed warfare. And new hi-tech tools have changed “marketing warfare.”

But the mother of all marketing wars still rings with the battle cry “Get the order!” And when properly used, the Internet can give us, as never before, the means to get the order now.

Mordechai (Morty) Schiller is a 26-year veteran copywriter and consultant. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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