Brass Tacks

Q. My firm, a distributor to small businesses of a wide range of industrial products, launched a comprehensive, well-designed — and expensive — Web site several years ago in the hopes that both customer service and sales would be improved. To date the results have been dismal. I can count on two hands the number of new customers we’ve attracted. What are we doing wrong?

A. Your engineering and your expectations might have been too elaborate. Experience has demonstrated that complex Web sites are frequently a turn-off to busy existing customers and are too infrequently found by target prospects. While non-business consumers might be willing to crawl the Web for hours to find a novelty or a bargain, most business owners and managers simply don’t have the time or patience for “blind surfing.”

Web marketing depends on the customer being proactive in a search for the vendor. It’s predicated on an existing customer knowing that you have the new product or on a potential customer’s willingness to search you out. In today’s busy, time-pressured, hotly competitive marketplaces these kinds of customer initiatives are rare indeed.

The Internet constitutes great technology that, if used realistically, can enhance marketing productivity. The problem is most vendors have focused on its whiz-bang capacities rather than on its brass tacks applications. Very few of your present customers will take precious time to power up their PC to “see what’s new and groovy today.”

And even if they are so inclined, what’s to say they are going to click through to you and not to one of a thousand other competitors? Given the number of Web sites on stream, it’s like searching for a needle in a hundred million haystacks.

Bottom line: It seems we have overlooked the need to create the appeal, interest and motivation that’s necessary to get prospects to seek us out in cyberspace. We’ve incorrectly assumed that our present customers have the time, inclination, patience and loyalty to click, click, click to see what new goodies we might have for them.

Some old-fashioned direct marketing, personal calling and media advertising is still needed to lure the uninformed, wary and otherwise engaged to our under-trafficked ethermarts.

Many companies, however, are using a relatively simple form of technology to enhance their marketing efforts: the CD. The trick is to include content on the CD that will prompt customers and prospects to access it. The type of content offered on your Web site can be included on a CD, which will offer quick and easy access to your clients and prospects.

A well-designed CD obviates the principal hurdles of many over-engineered Web sites, i.e. the need for high-end Internet connections and incredible patience in front of the PC. Currently, marketers like Coke, Pepsi, Kellogg, General Mills, Boehringer Ingelheim and Purina are using content like games, contests, health tips, sports trivia and self-help information to get CD recipients to tune in and turn on.

Because of their configuration, CDs give recipients direct, easy and rapid access to content. CDs’ structural simplicity gives users hassle-free control and preclude the “lost in the wilderness” feeling that Web surfing engenders.

For a vendor to gain maximum marketing effect from such a CD, however, its target customers must be offered attractive benefits in the form of usable content in order to motivate them to engage the CD. Of course, as they access its personally valuable content, they will also be exposed to the marketing messages and product information tactfully proffered by the vendor.

Such CDs can be directed to prime customers via mail, insertion in publications and personal delivery. The latter technique provides company sales personnel with an effective contact discipline and the means of making a cold call more temperate.

Keep in mind, digital content created for a CD can be employed in other media too, like the Internet, when such usage is propitious.

CDs could very well be the “David” you need to kill the market while you are waiting for the Internet “Goliath” to grow up. nhbr

Paul Willax is a professor of entrepreneurship and chairman of the Center for Business Ownership Inc., Amherst, N.Y. He also is the author of the book, “Brass Tacks Tips for Business Owners,” available at If you have a question or suggestion for his column, or to receive a free, weekly e-mail newsletter, “Brass Tacks BrainFood,” write to

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