Selling Products Through Personality

A personal touch on the Web could mean the difference between hits and orders

P> The English have been embracing society's eccentrics for hundreds of years -- the Internet, for 25. A Scottish World Wide Web master has melded the zaniness and personality of personal Web pages, such as the Darkside of Pez, with making his clients money.

"When my clients get personal with their Web pages, it shows they are genuinely involved with their company and have passion in what they do," said Michael Wolff, president of Ki-Net Ltd., a Web page designer based in Inverness, Scotland.

If silliness works, as it has for the Web page Finding the Spam, which has received over 300,000 hits, then Wolff and other providers can harness the offbeat to sell his clients. The page sells a product through personality rather than through boring details about the product.

HotWired, Wired magazine's Web page, is to the Web what the magazine's avant-garde look at technology in society is to the newsstand. Because of its success in attracting advertisers, HotWired knows what works. The on-line magazine has given tips to other Web masters on how to successfully advertise on the Web. "You are not speaking to 60 million viewers at a time, you are talking to exactly one person, on their time."

Forrester Research Group of Cambridge, Mass., agreed. "If used effectively, the Web offers a kind of intimacy with customers that cannot be achieved through television or print media," said Josh Bernoff, senior analyst and author of a recent study by the firm. But many companies appear hamstrung by traditional marketing techniques in trying to reach the Web population, which is expected to reach 13.8 million next year. "Companies that persist with brochure-style sites will never reap the Web's wealth. They risk losing out as consumers come to expect customized interactions and personalized promotions," he said.

"People are more important than the product, and you must establish relationships with your visitor," Wolff said. "But it's very hard for my clients to get personal on the Web." Wolff consulted with a hand-painted ceramics company in Scotland on how to get personal with its page. The owner of the company, who loves to fish, decorated his page with photos of his fishing trips. It may seem irrelevant to ceramics but it has worked to attract other fishermen fanatics to buy his products. "You put on things that you find in a photo album and not on a corporate brochure," Wolff said.

Robyn Sachs, president of the marketing and advertising company RMR & Associates of Rockville, Md., started an interactive marketing division almost a year ago to advise clients on marketing their Web pages. Sachs has found that companies are going into the market blindly. Companies must determine why they want to be on the Web.

HotWired considers this the most important decision: "Is your objective brand-building, publicity, selling products, providing information, customer service, order tracking? How you answer this will affect all other aspects of your on-line activity -- the size of your site, what it will look like, where you place your [ads], etc."

Without this kind of focus, a Web page is lost. "It's like a penguin trying to get noticed in a group of three million," Sachs said.

Wolff's success story is found in a small malt whiskey company called Adelphi Distillery, owned by a 25-year-old businessman. Ki-Net launched Adelphi's Web page earlier this year, which initially got a lot of hits but generated few orders. Wolff kept his eyes out on the news groups for people with special interest in whiskey. He found a list of malt specialists that served some 200 subscribers. Without being too obvious and offensive, he was able to identify the more knowledgeable contributors and sent them free samples of Adelphi whiskey. The feedback was positive and the word spread to the United States. A U.S. distributor caught on, and Adelphi has begun distributing internationally. The company expects to double sales in the next year.

"Putting up a Web page is just part of the process," Wolff said. The real work is finding your customers -- it's your visitors' quality, not quantity, that turns hits into profits.

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