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Can't Sell That On the Web? BALONEY!
Whenever someone says something can't be done, it's like they dared me! Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they say it not because it really canít be done, but because they canít figure out how to do it. Or they just assume it canít be done and never even bother trying to find a solution. Take the myth that you can't sell on the web stuff that you need to smell or touch or taste to appreciate. Complete nonsense thatís costing you lots of potential sales.

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The whole idea behind selling is to help your customer create a vivid image in their mind in which theyíre enjoying the benefits of your product or service. Itís that image that creates, in turn, a compelling desire to buy your product or service. The key is to involve them in the process by using active voice, compelling verbs, powerful nouns, and evocative adjectives and adverbs. Yes, you make it happen not with pictures but with words. Mark Twain appreciated the power of words: ďA powerful agent is the right word. Whenever we come upon one of these intensely right words in a book or a newspaper the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual and electrically prompt.Ē With the right copy, you can sell just about anything.

You've gotten lost in a book or a magazine article, haven't you? One where the author paints a picture of the setting so evocative that all your senses have been engaged in your imagination? Between the power of the word and your own naturally creative mind, you can easily find yourself in Charles Dickensí grimy London, Frank McCourt's impoverished Ireland, Herman Melville's tense shipboard world, Amy Tanís Chinese enclaves, or John LeCarreís underground.

Folks in advertising and in direct mail have long since proven the evocative power of words and they've harnessed it to incredible effect, selling every imaginable kind of stuff thatís touchy-feely-tasty (I guess saying ďsmellyĒ right here might not work the way I intend - and there you have it: the power of words!). Words sell perfume, gourmet food, wine, travel, music, clothing, even art. The list is literally endless. And youíve experienced it yourself if youíve ever been influenced even once by ad or catalog copy youíve read or heard.

The J. Peterman Company has one of the most wildly successful catalogs on record. Why? Because the text is so rich everyone loves to read it. The company continues in the same spirit on their website:

Signature Collection. A record of my discoveries. A fabric I couldn't put down, a hat I absconded, an irresistible aftershave, numerous things that somehow ended up in my trunk, my office, my farmhouse, everywhere. Things I wore. Wore again. Kept finding more reasons to wear. A collection of signature items - things I think you'll agree are distinctive in a world overcrowded with the mundane. Things worthy of the signature.

Do I want some of that Signature stuff? You bet! Cachet, lived-in comfort, distinction. They've got me hooked even before I look at a specific item.

Feeling hungry for a fruit you just can't find in the local produce section? After you read this, I'll bet you don't have to taste or smell sapotes first before deciding you want to buy some:

White Sapotes (Sa-PO-tays). Somewhere between a banana and a papaya - and known to only a few. Scarce and delicious, this dreamy tropical variety seduces fruit-lovers with its creamy, custard-like texture and subtle tropical flavor. Grown in limited quantities and hard to find at markets because they have to be painstakingly pollinated by hand. Delicious in a mixed fruit cup or sorbet, or sliced over ice cream.

Or how about this for cologne?

Evoke the enchantment and mystery that is a man! From the Mediterranean coast comes a collection that is stirring and decidedly masculine. Heady with overtones of citrus, bergamot and cedar itís warmed by the sensual notes of rum. Trailing into the woody, amber aroma of Haitian vetiver, a grass grown in warm climates and prized for its fragrant root, it lingers with spicy underlays of nutmeg, clove, jasmine and mimosa. Close your eyes and imagine ships returning to port, skin gilded by sun, hair sifted by wind, and the complexity of a spirit that cannot be understood until it is experienced!

Good copy not only offers descriptions, but makes connections, creates images, draws on experience (either actual or imagined) and, as we said at the beginning, involves the reader. Most important, good copy unifies the product with your prospectís perceived need by exciting their emotions. And we all should know by now that buying decisions may be rationalized with facts but ultimately are based on emotions. Want to sell something you think has to be seen, tasted, smelled or touched to be believed? Get yourself a good copywriter. That person can convey the experience of the most sumptuous cashmere coat in words that wonít just equal an actual touch, but by evoking images and emotions, will surpass it by far.

Selling on the web is not just about the images people see; itís also, and perhaps even more so, about the images that exceptional copy creates in your customersí minds. Donít assume you canít sell it on the web. You can. All you need to do is find the copywriter who will make it happen!

1. http://auction1.jpeterman.com/signature.asp
2. http://www.harryanddavid.com/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/ProductDisplay?prmenbr=201&prrfnbr=29874
3. http://www.totalbodyandimage.com/acb_tbi/showdetl.cfm?&DID=9&ObjectGroup_ID=22&Product_ID=348&CatID=2 

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Would You Trust This Face?
Like ice cream, trust comes in lots of flavors. Sometimes it's about privacy. Sometimes it's about reliability over the long haul. And then there is trust that is based on the feelings of security inspired by the simplicity of the site and the availability of user support.

Want to know what it comes down to for lots of folks out there? Sim D'Hertefelt, author of an interesting study on trust, states, "The feeling of security experienced by a user of an interactive system is determined by the user's feeling of control of the interactive system."1 Or, in Grok-talk, they feel secure because the process is easy!

Don't take my word for it. Read what regular consumers have to say about their feelings of comfort and trust when online purchasing is a positive experience:

"It tells me what to do and it's clear even though I am not familiar with computers. I feel confident that I'll get what I want and that nothing strange will happen. I don't mind giving my credit card number in that case."

"I feel secure about giving my credit card number because it's simple. I trust it because you see what you get. There is nothing hidden or obscure."

And here you thought security was all about technical issues such as 128-bit encryption, secure transactions, authentication, digital certificates and secure socket layers. Sure, they matter, although we still don't know how these things contribute to feelings of trust (128-bit encryption is only good for the duration of time it can't be hacked Ö and what sort of untrustworthy environment is it that requires 128-bit encryption anyway? Ö you can see how these things might work against trust).

But for the customer, this stuff doesn't seem to be the crucial issue. What they most want is to feel in control of the online process. If they feel in control, get what they want and are fulfilled, they are more likely to conclude with feelings of trust and security. Just what you want them to feel.

So think about designing for trust. Put your user in control. D'Hertefelt has these suggestions:

Make sure your interactive system is comprehensible. The client needs to know what can be accomplished, how to accomplish it, and confirmation that it actually has been accomplished.

Your system must be predictable. Will your customer know, with a reasonable level of certainty, what is going to happen when she or he clicks on something? In a medium lacking strong interaction design standards, this is a challenge, but look at what is successful. Windows works because every time a drop-down menu appears, it behaves the same way, consistently and for every user.

And music to my ears, D'Hertefelt says the system must be flexible and adaptable. "Not all users will execute a task in the same way. A user will feel in control of an interactive system if (s)he can choose the way a task is executed instead of having to figure out how the system requires it to be done." Sound at all familiar? It should by now!

Sure, trust has lots of components. But it's cool to learn you can improve trust a whole lot just by simplifying your design and process. The math is simple: cleaner design + clearer process = increased trust = increased purchases. And isn't increased purchases what you're after?

1. "Trust and the perception of security." Sim D'Hertefelt, InteractionArchitect.com, 3 January 2000. We've been touting the broad-spectrum value of usability, but this little study discovered usability's association with feelings of trust and security through a task and content analysis job. The findings are limited, but very thought-provoking. All quotations are from this article.

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GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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