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It is important to have a story to tell. It is great to know that you have an audience. But once you know these things, you also need to know where you want to LEAD your audience. How will your story evolve as you begin to interact with your audience? And what is the difference between interacting with, and ACTIVATING, your audience?
All these questions began raging through my mind as I read Johnnie Moore’s excellent summary of current and future projects over at the BBC. It is clear from the list that the BBC face many challenges, but are building a strong web platform that not only allows for interaction, it activates their diverse audiences. From online games to digital broadband, and from issue-oriented discussion/blog forums through to digital archives and mobile Internet … the programs under development (or already active) are using technologies in the way that PEOPLE want to use them.
I love the way that they are not just using the technology to tell their own story … but also allowing others to tell personal stories or to create new modes of storytelling. Something to watch as it evolves!
There seems to be a lot of chatter about "landing pages" at the moment … and yet here I am adding to the noise (again)! And while I do believe that we need to treat every web page like a landing page, it is also important to remember that NOT all landing pages are (or should) be created equal.
To start with, a landing page may be related specifically to an area of expertise. Or, it may have been developed to support a marketing or promotional program that you are working on. In both cases the focus of the (specific) landing page should relate to the upstream reason that visitors arrived there … the important thing to remember is that you know WHERE your visitors came from, and the context within which they chose to visit you. When it comes to telling your story, this can make all the difference.
For example, if you are running a print ad that links through to your promotional landing page, then you already know what your visitors have been reading. You know partly what they expect. You know the call to action you used. And you probably know the demographic profile of this visitor. This makes your visitor more "knowable".
BUT a visitor coming through an AdWords link presents a whole new challenge. Thankfully, there is a great article here about creating good information/communication design for use with an AdWords program (thanks to Seth Godin for pointing this out). Now I am quite partial to a glass or two of a fine Pinot Noir, but it wasn’t just the subject that made me read … it was the context. It came from Seth Godin with a simple, but effective headline, and then the article itself contained an excellent title — "Google AdWords for Wineries — How NOT to Do It". There are a lot of tips and tricks available on the web, but sometimes you just want to know how to avoid the problems.
And the advice that The Winery Website Report blog provides can be easily applied to any website … you don’t even need AdWords to learn something about good landing pages. But just make sure that those landing pages continue the story that your ad started. Keep the funnel narrow and you will keep your interested visitors flowing through your site.
I was forwarded an article the other day that claimed that “idiots in the office are just as hazardous to your health as cigarettes”. And while the article was at least a little tongue-in-cheek (or perhaps fictitious even), it did make me think …
There are many frustrations to be found in any job. And when you are dealing with “creative” people, or worse, a “creative process”, then the stress levels can rise pretty quickly. It is easy to dismiss the mis-communications, misunderstandings and “creative differences” as a “left or right brain thing”. But Johnnie Moore points out a great in-depth post by Kathy Sierra, that explains how our brains learn to adapt to the behaviours and situations to which we are exposed. EVEN to those behaviours that we don’t like or WANT to mimic.
So not only can stupid people cause you to “explode”, they can make you become idiotic in the process.
It is easy to get carried away by a good story. It doesn’t matter whether you are reading or writing, when you are "in the zone", when you are caught in the undertow of a story, it can sometimes take great effort to re-engage with the outside world. This is why, as readers, we have authors that we love. It is also, why as writers, we are sometimes confused about where the writing comes from.
It can become hard to tell what comes first, the story or the audience!
Marketers face a similar challenge. When trying to create a new market, the story comes first. The story must create a pool of gravity that will attract an audience. And the story must also be able to spread far and wide, going out into the world and returning with new reader/customers.
But the same also applies to existing markets. If your product or service dominates a market, then all your competitors will be seeking to draw your customers away. They will be seeking to create niche markets or new categories that are going to appeal to your customers. And make no mistake, we all love novelty, we all love something new, and we all love to be first with something new/cool/exciting/exclusive. Can your tired old story compete with this?
If you are constantly looking at the way your story plays out for your audiences, then you will also be seeking to constantly refine it. Don’t wait for your customers to ask for it, or simply go somewhere else. Make YOUR story the one that they love … keep the tale kicking and your brand alive. So what comes first? The story everytime.
You never know how someone is going to come to your website. Sure, you can narrow it down — you can funnel your visitors through online advertisements, place links on blogs, seed discussion forums, even advertise on TV. But it is a big, dirty world out there full of hypertext and email. And if you want to take advantage of this to start a conversation, convert a sales opportunity or make the world a better place, then you need to be ready for your online visitors, no matter how they find you.
As I said the other day, every page is sacred. Seth Godin is right, and provides some solid advice — a landing page can only do one or two of the following five things:
- Get a visitor to click (to go to another page, on your site or someone else’s)
- Get a visitor to buy
- Get a visitor to give permission for you to follow up (by email, phone, etc.). This includes registration of course.
- Get a visitor to tell a friend
- (and the more subtle) Get a visitor to learn something, which could even include posting a comment or giving you some sort of feedback
But this applies not just to your landing pages. It applies to EVERY page. You need to consider the upstream and the downstream — where your visitors came from, and where they go to. You have to make sure your story makes sense as part of the rich tapestry of hypertext life. Your site needs to be as connected as your readers, and your story has to be able to stretch and flex to fit.
I am the first to admit that I held off from blogging for some time … I too felt that it was a fad that would pass, and that I, with my extensive experience in the online world, would be vindicated. Alas, I was wrong, and continue to be proven so. In fact, even a casual glance at this site will show that I have been regularly posting for months now (am I addicted … hmmm … no way, I can stop at anytime!).
As you can see from the Technorati growth charts, the Blogosphere continues its amazing performance (if only my web stats were following this trend!). Dave Sifry, the founder of Technorati, goes into the details in this post, but it is clear that blogs are transforming the way that regular web users are interacting online. And with tools like Typepad, WordPress and Blogger all making it easier and easier to write and maintain your blog, anyone with an Internet connection can now become an online publisher.
It used to be easy for marketers to reach their audiences. We could just go to a TV network and buy airtime, or to a publisher and buy a page in a high circulation magazine or newspaper. Now there are thousands of authorities with hundreds or even thousands of readers each … all with an opinion and all with a story to tell. The challenge for us is to have a story that will attract the storytellers or all shapes and sizes. So not only is the blogosphere changing the way that our audiences interact … they are challenging the way that WE think.
This is one for the Monty Python fans … well not really, but when you think about it, the web really does force us to think in Pythonesque terms. The leaps of logic and associations of words that we loved in various sketches are the very memes that the Internet is based upon.
This struck me as I read one of Seth Godin’s articles today. And while he was talking about someone who wishes Google Did Not Exist, he reinforced one of his key points about "websites". Often we consider our site as a discrete series of linked stories … we don’t really think about how they relate to the upstream and downstream stories that our online visitors read.
When I think about "loving the hypertext", one of the things I like most is the way that stories emerge from disparate websites. This means, that in building an article, a page or a section of a site, we should consider EVERY page as our landing page. But just as important, is understanding that this landing page is also a take-off page …
So while every page is sacred, every page is fairly promiscuous. Oh, I suddenly feel a little bit dirty.
When I first started working on web projects many years ago, everyone was running around, clucking that "content is king". This fueled the growth of many "internet companies" and also led to their failure. But now, as we are entering (or in the midst of) a second dot.com expansion, there are many conversations that sound very familiar. I am getting a sense of deja vu.
Seth Godin neatly points out that, while content is important, it is the context that is MOST important on the web. And while we had an inkling of this importance many years ago and corporatised it with statements like "levelling the playing field", marketers are now becoming aware of the power of the conversations (and recommendations) delivered via blogs, social networks/bookmarks and lenses such as Squidoo. But, of course, not all marketers — there are a number of ostriches out there masquerading as marketers — are interested. But, hey, they don’t read blogs.
Do a small test on this. Write a story on your blog about someone. Put the link into the post and provide some context. Also put that link into your blogroll list in the margin. Then send your friend an email and ask how many referrals occurred via each of those links. I bet you can already guess which one performed the best.
Have you ever looked in the mirror and been surprised at the old person looking back at you? Is it just a male thing?
At his 60th birthday party, my father-in-law described this dilemma. He wonders every morning what happened to the face of the 18 year old who used to greet him while shaving. It is not that he feels all that different — sure he has more knowledge and understanding of the world — but his enthusiasm and excitement for each and every day has not waned.
Russell Davies has been asked to speak at a Youth Marketing conference. It is no surprise that he has been asked, considering his profile, expertise and insight … yet he was struck by a similar paradox. He was "trying not to laugh at my own ridiculousness".
Yet it is PRECISELY this ability to laugh at himself, to view his position through the eyes of his audience (OK they will be marketers not "teens"), that makes his insight, writing and ideas so sought after. And that fact that he can generously share this with the world will make him ok in the eyes of today’s young people … they can smell a fake at 50 paces. The key is authenticity.