Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Why you shouldn't advertise on the web...and why you should.

It never -- and I mean NEVER -- fails: I'll be sitting in a conference room with a client and -- being the totally digital guy that I am -- get this question fired at me: "HEY! I'VE GOT A GREAT IDEA!!! Why don't we advertise our Day Glo Electric Forks on the INTERNET?!?"

Stellar thinking, Ned. The only problem I have in these meetings is what exactly do these guys mean when they say "advertise on the web?" Does that mean simply advertise or actually market their stuff? Post to newsgroups? Place banners on strategically- oriented sites?

Now, don't get me wrong. I love this digital thing as much as anyone. Maybe moreso. But before I advise anyone about advertising or marketing on the web, I feel morally obligated to thump them on the head -- conceptually speaking, of course -- with a few chunks of reality that I was asked to share with you here today.

Before you even think about advertising on the web, put some heavy brain time into whether your product or service really belongs on the web. Figure out what you really want the advertising to produce -- and whether it can deliver it. Finally, you need to seriously wonder if the web is really the right medium for your product or service. After all, Pamela Anderson posters sell far better on TV or in print than they do on radio, because her gifts to humanity are, shall we say, largely visual. So the first question should be, "Why should you advertise on the web?" The second is why you shouldn't.

I generally start with the second one first, torpedoing people's dreams with the brutal realities of how advertising on the web works. Below are just a few guidelines that work for the marketplace as it is right now. Undoubtedly, this will change, but in the meantime, keep in mind the following:

1. ACCESS DOES NOT EQUAL REACH: While the web is a many-splendored thing, the one thing is it NOT is a substitute for a huge advertising budget. Yes, it is true that anywhere from 40 to 60 million people have access, but those numbers mean people can log on, period. Let's face it, over 265 million Americans have access to TV, but I'm fairly sure that the number of Ab-Flexes and juice machines sold that way is a lot lower. So just because you can reach them doesn't mean you can sell them.

2. CONCEPT SELLS, HIGH PRICES DON'T: Another reason why you shouldn't advertise on the web is that high-priced items just don't do well in a remote-access environment. Direct marketers and catalogers have known this for years. The higher the price, the more the consumer wants to kick the tires and smell the paint before parting with his hard-earned cash. Conversely, the more conceptual your proposition, the more interest you're going to generate. And the more interest you generate, the more you're eventually going to sell.

3. SELL INFORMATION, NOT STUFF: This is the biggest mistake that people make advertising on the web. And it's not because of the old "people are just not comfortable with the lack of security for transactions over the net" gig (the truth is that consumers don't have the security problem -- it's vendors that do, because a black-hearted few are out there are ordering crate loads of crystal deodorant with stolen credit cards, which costs these vendors major bucks in refunds and chargebacks). The web is a great provider of information. That's what your consumer is looking for; that's what your advertising should focus on. Give your prospects as much information as they can handle, because that is the nature of the web as an advertising medium. That's how people use it. That's how they expect you to provide it.

4. GATHER YOUR DATA WHILE YE MAY: Ah, now THIS is where it's gets interesting -- and where most advertisers fail miserably. After all the time you've spent agonizing the how's and where's of where to place your banners and links, you eventually get to the Valhalla of all things internet: the user click-through. Your weary prospect has finally hit the button and arrived at your site. Sure, he snoops around a bit here and there, but after all that work, are you really going to let him just slip into the ether untagged? Of course not. Yet this is the real goal of web advertising that almost everyone misses: user data. In my book, every website designed to sell something should entice a user to log in his accurate information -- be it e-mail or otherwise -- if for no other reason than to follow up with him with additional materials that nail the sale. In most cases, offering a reward for signing the Guestbook works fine; if you're really a webhead, though, nothing works like turning your website into an informational NORAD-type database that he'll bookmark and use repeatedly for free.

So why should you advertise on the web? Because it's sort of like working with dynamite: Used properly, you can move mountains. Used improperly, you could blow your legs off.

Rob Frankel

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