Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Piercing the Veil of Anonymity: Step 1

Most people who see and respond to advertising are anonymous. Each day millions of unknown people click on key words, banners and emails, tune into to broadcast media and read print vehicles. It’s always been this way in a one-size-fits-all brand advertising world.

Getting past anonymity is the greatest challenge in the evolving, measurable, interactive one-to-one world we live and market in. Piercing the veil of anonymity is critical to deliver personal, customized super-relevant interactions which lead to sales and ultimately help build valuable on-going customer relationships.

Privacy and perceived value guard the unknowns. Consumers and business people are anxious about revealing themselves because they don’t trust us. They don’t believe we can or will keep what they tell us secure and to ourselves. And they don’t believe that we can restrain ourselves from pestering them with too many questions or assaulting them with too frequent or too irrelevant communications.

Yet thousands of campaigns have proven that people will give up information incrementally in return for information or services they perceive to be of value. In fact, in the presence of high perceived value privacy concerns melt away for the great majority who are happy and eager to trade information for a give-away they desire.

Therefore the challenge for marketers is to create offers perceived to be of such value that targeted audiences will uncloak themselves in return. So far “best practices” in this regard are:

I. Confirm Response and Validate Their Action

Create unique landing pages that look and feel like each campaign. Never just drop off a responder at your Home page. Most people still need to be reassured that they ended up where they want to be. The Internet is still somewhat magical to an awful lot of us.

Be sure the landing page delivers on the promise in the ad. If you tout a product or service, picture it, describe it, offer specs and offer answers to the most logical or most frequently asked questions right then and there.

If you can offer prospects a few immediate content choices that naturally follow from the ad premise, you are much more likely to delight them and engage them to continue a conversation with you. Remember that each step in the conversation pre-sells the next and that the experience prospects have at each step must close for the opportunity to continue the interaction.

II. Track Behavior and Dynamically Serve Up Content.

Recognizing and responding to behavior starts the process. Create a user experience that is easy, intuitive and relevant to anonymous prospects. First, can they find what they are after quickly and easily? Second can you watch they are doing in real time and give them more of what they want and what they express an interest in?

If you can’t do it in real time, study your weblogs, identify what significant groups of prospects have looked at and interacted with in the past, anticipate several likely pathways through your content and lay them out in an easy to find and appetizing way.

Third, based on what they seek and what they use, predict their next likely move and proactively provide them with it.

III. Reveal Yourself and Make an Offer.

After prospects have moved through predictable content paths it’s time to try to meet them. The goal is to identify named individuals with explicitly expressed preferences from the anonymous visitors. The key ingredient is patience.

Remember fundamental psychology. Nobody likes surprises. Love-at-first-site exists only in fairy tales. No sane individual tells you their whole life story when you first meet them. Everyone hates salespeople. People buy people first, then goods and services trade hands; your personality will come through by how and when you reveal yourself.

Keep in mind that it’s all about THEM not you. Their wants, needs, likes, dislikes and anxieties drive the process. Not yours. Get an e-mail address first. This is the key to an on-going conversation. Don’t try to get 25 data points out of anyone on first contact.

The three best ways to reveal yourself are:

Ask your anonymous prospect if they are getting what they need? This interest in their satisfaction can be done in a pop-up or pop-under. Simultaneous with the question should be an offer to provide more of the same, the next logical thing or something different in return for an e-mail address.

Offer the anonymous prospect something free in return for their e-mail address. This can be a free sample, a download of data, a report, music, industry intelligence, a digital tool or calculator or it can be a gizmo, a reprint or a tchachkie; in which case you might need to solicit a postal address to fulfill the offer..

Offer to enroll the anonymous prospect in a contest to win something of value in return for their e-mail address. The prize can be your product or service, a discount on your product or service, access or value from a partner or access to an event.

Once you have the e-mail address, confirm it and ask permission to continue the semi-anonymous conversation. In seeking permission comply with privacy requirements and ask your partially known prospect to tell you how, when and about what they’d prefer to continue talking. Most campaign research indicates that responders who express preferences for channel, media and frequency convert to buyers 3-5 times faster than those who aren’t asked or don’t specify what they want.

Only by piercing the veil of anonymity can you begin the process of converting a prospect into a customer, a repeat buyer or a brand loyalist and advocate.

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