26 March 2007

What is the purpose of your website?

There is a point of view that the main point of website is no longer to simply sell a product or a service but to begin a relationship with the visitor. As a concept I'm not entirely convinced by this since it is difficult to test, and the essence of the proposition is that it won't be testable for a period.

The idea of changing the purpose of a website from one which sells to one which develops a relationship is that a site which is attempting to develop the relationship is more interested in giving the visitor something than it is in selling a product or a service. Normally the things being given away are in exchange for an email address and the list which develops becomes the focus of an extended email campaign which may include additional free materials in order to cement the relationship further.

The idea is that by getting the visitor to commit to a free gift, you have achieved significantly more than the average website which has no way of capturing any information at all about its visitors.

The core of the argument is that permission marketing like this allows the website operator to provide the mailing list with a wider and more comprehensive view of the products, services and value that he/she can add to potential clients without actually attempting to actively sell anything. It's because this is so difficult to test that I have difficulty with it - if a sales effort fails it could be either that:
  • the relationship isn't sufficiently mature and the sales offer will be more successful at some point in the future
  • the offer wasn't well presented and wouldn't be successful, irrespective of how mature the relationship is
That confusion seems to me to get in the way. Give things away by all means, but don't allow low response rates to promotions to become confused by assumptions about the maturity of relationships. If a promotion fails then take a hard look at the offer. Test it if necessary on a subset before mailing it out to the entire list. Use that research to tune the offer further.

Permission marketing is a great way to build a list, but I'm not convinced it is the way to really build sales. To do that, you need to qualify prospects and that is a very different way of developing the offer.

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