In Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads, Roy H. Williams presents a
little essay that opens like this:
Born into a wealthy family in 1830, Emily has her photograph taken at the
age of eighteen, then lives a remarkably uneventful life until she quietly
passes at the age of fifty-five. It will be the only photograph ever made of
Incredibly shy, Emily asks her friends to speak to her through an open door
from an adjoining room while she stands behind the wall. Her life consists of
tending her garden and baking. She never travels, never marries, and rarely
leaves her home. Emily lives in a world of imagination where words are all she
requires to generate a series of vivid associations.i
Think about this for a minute. The only image lots of folks ever had of Emily
(Dickinson, that is) was a static daguerreotype - a woman perpetually eighteen.
Of course, she didn’t stay eighteen. And the dimensions of her personality no
doubt encompassed more than what the photograph suggested. But that photograph
and her words defined who Emily was.
So what has this got to do with you? Lots, actually. It’s a brilliant
metaphor for how you conduct your business on the Web, and the sorts of things
you can accomplish if you present the right image - the right personality -
through the content on your Web site. I don’t mean to sound cavalier, but when
push comes to shove out there in cyberspace, who you are is far less important
than who your customers imagine you to be.
So let me take you to talk with Emily.
The Importance of Consistency
You’re on the other side of that wall, exchanging confidences. Emily sounds
understanding and compassionate. But when you come back the next day, she sounds
like a gutter snipe. How are you going to feel?
With consistency comes trust. Visitors to your Web site want to know they are
interacting with the same, reassuring person every time they come. When you
change personalities in the middle of the stream, they get confused. They can’t
form a coherent image of you.
The Importance of Personality
Who Emily actually is behind that wall matters far less than what she has to
say and how she says it. And as you sit there listening to her, who you “see” is
actually based on a very limited experience of her. It is through her words that
she ignites your imagination and helps you form your image.
In reality, you can be the toast of the party or even a dreadful bore - it
doesn’t really matter online. What does matter is the character of the
personality you create through your words. They are the elements that help
construct the image of you that is going to make a huge difference to your
The Importance of a Relationship
Behind her wall, Emily engages you in conversation, and you never doubt that
you have her complete attention. Now, maybe she’s really making notations in her
gardening diary or deciding which sauce to whip up for the roast beef that
night, but that isn’t the point. The important thing is, you feel her words are
just for you.
That’s how you want your visitors to feel - as though you are there for and
speaking to them and them alone! Of course your relationship will grow and
develop over time. But always remember, as John Steinbeck wrote, “Your audience
is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one
person - a real person you know, or an imagined person - and write to that one
It all comes down to the importance of words and their power to create the
image you must convey to your visitors. Take it from me and Emily.
i “Emily Lives Inside Herself.” Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads.
Roy H. Williams. Austin: Bard Press. 1999. p 64.
Check out the Free webinar I'm
giving with Jim Novo called:
The Marketer's Common Sense Guide to E-Metrics:
22 benchmarks to understand the major trends, key
opportunities, and hidden hazards your web logs
This free event will be on May 24.
It's the third event on the list.
CIO, Future Now, Inc.
P.S. Do you have questions you would like to see
Get That Site to Me Fast …
… or else the computer gets it! Web rage! If I lived in an ivory tower, I’d
tell you it’s the latest acknowledged antagonistic reaction to the frustrations
of our high-speed, technological world. But there’s not a speck of chalk dust on
me. So, what I’m saying is simple - road rage mentality has made it to the Web.
Folks aren’t just releasing their aggressions on the highways, and when your
site doesn’t perform to your visitors’ expectations, they’re apt to turn primal
and take a whack at their computers.
I’ve been yammering on about issues of performance and usability for over two
years now. So have others. But have enough people been listening? It seems not.
So read on for a little laugh and a dose of perspective. And take heed!
Just before it launched its redesigned Web site, Abbey National, a bank in
the United Kingdom, commissioned a study of Web behavior.i What Abbey
National learned should come as no surprise to you, dear reader - although the
depth of feeling behind some of these reactions should tell you this is serious
“More than half of all internet users admit to losing their rag with the
net at least once a week …. High on people's stress meter is the length
of time it takes websites to appear, help buttons that do not offer
any help and requests for personal details before being allowed into
a site. One frustrated IT manager admitted to smashing up his Ł2,500
laptop after a web page failed to recognise his personal details after six
And how do folks react?
· 7% vent their frustrations on their mice and keyboards
· 2% admit to easing their irritation by beaning a workmate
· 52% abandon a site when it makes them angry
· 26% boycott frustrating sites
· 11% get irritated on a daily basis
There are those who flood infuriating Web sites with abusive email. Others
turn to revenge - like the fellow who ordered 1 million pounds worth of
merchandise on a bogus credit card after a site failed to deliver.
11 percent of the online user base is a lot of people to tick off on a
daily basis! Not particularly good for business, nor for cultivating
confidence in consumers that they should consider the Web their commercial venue
of choice. Fortunately, the Abbey National study revealed a reassuring piece of
· 83% of users revisit sites that keep them happy
Abbey National created a little device to help online users chill out:
simplicity. Folks can defuse their web rage by listening to some soothing
music and viewing some therapeutic images. (It also works as a portal to the
Abbey National site: “Calm enough? Click to Abbey National’s new website for
It’s cute enough, but I’m really hoping it’s tongue-in-cheek. Because
if you truly want to give your visitors a useful dose of therapy, you’ll give
them what they want: a fast-loading, customer-sensitive Web site.
And in the process, you just may spare the life of a computer.
Rage Hits the Internet.” BBCNews, 20 February 2002.