Is Your Site a Good Marketing Tool?








Marketing by Design
by Sandy Tapper

You did everything right. You hired a top-notch designer to produce a great-looking Web site for your company. You spent money promoting your products or services online and offline. So why isn't your site generating traffic, sales, and revenue?

Perhaps it's because you didn't incorporate your marketing approach into your site design. The site may be attractive, but if you ignore key marketing principles, customers will ignore you.

Whether you're selling a product, a service, or even an idea, your Web site needs to employ essential marketing tactics. These strategies will make your message persuasive enough to stand out within a crowded Internet environment.

The Five P's of Web Marketing

From a traditional perspective there are five key principles to consider, all conveniently beginning with the letter "P." These are product, price, promotion, physical distribution, and people. The five P's are fundamental building blocks for any marketing and communications strategy. The Internet is no exception.

1) Product

Identify what you're really selling. It's one thing to sell a particular widget or service online. But you must identify the real benefit behind your product and make sure that benefit is immediately evident when someone visits your site.

Too many sites seem to say, "Here's my product, and here's how much it costs. Please buy it." From a marketing standpoint, this simplistic approach doesn't help your potential customer decide to buy the product or service from you. Think about the key factors that prompt you to acquire a particular item from one vendor over another.

Uncover your product's core benefit. On the Web, where visitors may decide in nanoseconds to stay at or take leave of your site, it's critical that the site immediately answer your prospect's question, "What's in it for me?" After all, you're asking a visitor to spend some time and money on you. Give your visitors some emotional, psychological, or rational reasons to help them justify that buying from you is the right decision.

To get you started, ask yourself whether your product or service:

saves time?

provides convenience?

offers peace of mind?

offers better profit opportunities?

does something better than someone else?

preserves a particular lifestyle?

Try the "so what" approach to benefits. The best way to identify underlying benefits is to think like a kid for a minute. Ask yourself, "So what?" as you mull over the benefits of your product or service for a prospective end user.

Let's say that your site offers graphic design services. What benefits do you offer besides, "We create great designs for your Web sites." (Gee, you and a thousand other designers.)

Get to the important part of what you offer by asking yourself, "So what?" until you identify your product's most compelling benefit.

We create great designs for your Web sites. (So what?)
Our creative is unique. (So what?)
By offering a unique creative, we can make your Web site stand out from your competitors. (So what?)
By being creatively different from your competitors, you'll establish your own identity. (So what?)
By having your own identity, your brand has a better chance of being better remembered by your prospects and customers. (So what?)
By being remembered by your prospects and customers, you'll have a better chance to generate revenue and profits. (Aha!)

Unique creative gives your customers the edge of having a more productive Web site. That's a key quality people seek in a Web designer.

Does the site's message appeal to your target audience? It's one thing to have a great product with the appropriate benefit identified through the "so what" process. But it's necessary that your site, and its message, be designed with your target audience in mind. Don't fall into the trap of saying, "Everyone is my customer." Clearly, there are certain market segments that will be more receptive to your message than others.

Think about these key demographic factors as you develop your Web site's copy and graphics:

What age group does your product or service most appeal to?

What are visitors' demographic traits (gender, household income, marital status, educational level, and so on)?

What's their level of Internet usage?

What information is of utmost importance to your key target market?

What will keep your target market returning to your site again and again?

What content and graphic issues should be considered in site development?

Nickelodeon's is a graphics-rich Web site that appeals to kids. Bright colors, simple and concise copy, and lots of navigation options contribute to a truly interactive experience for the Internet-savvy preteens and teens interested in Nickelodeon's programming.

In comparison, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) offers simpler graphics, larger typefaces, and more content. These design elements meet both the physical and informational needs of its target market: members of the 50-plus age group.

In each case, age and style helped determine the overall presentation of site content to the respective target audience. Don't underestimate the power of color, fonts, graphics, and navigational flow as elements that create the right image and message for your target market.

2) Pricing

Numbers say something about your product. In the traditional brick-and-mortar world, the seller has always had control over product offerings and pricing. The Internet has changed the rules, giving the buyer more control than ever. This includes the ability to comparison-shop easily for the best products at the best prices.

So what's behind pricing, besides cost of goods, overhead, and profit margins? Perception.

Pricing your product is not as simple as it seems. Price your product too cheaply and visitors may wonder what's wrong with it. Price it too high and you'll drive customers away.

In today's Internet environment, the goal of generating a profitable level of revenue may conflict with the unprecedented control that site visitors now have in price shopping. Don't make the mistake of relying solely on price as a strategy to differentiate yourself; someone will eventually beat your price, undermining your key point of distinction.

Instead, treat pricing as one element of the overall marketing mix. Once you've identified a pricing structure that keeps you competitive (while in the black), make sure that the look and tone of your Web site corresponds with your pricing structure. For example, if you're offering products that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to upscale consumers, be sure your Web site supports that image.

Take a look at Tiffany & Co. and Service Merchandise: Both sites sell jewelry, but their respective target markets, product lines, pricing, and images are quite different. Also note how the tone of the text and graphics reinforce each respective retailer's image, especially in terms of price points.

Generate profits while keeping prices competitive. One solution is to create value. For example, many sites offer free shipping as a value-added benefit of buying a product at a particular price. For some services, 24/7 customer support is a critical sales tool that may justify a slightly higher price. What can you offer that will justify in your prospect's mind that your product or service warrants a particular price?

For example, millions of people are willing to pay AOL $21.95 per month for Internet access, while Earthlink offers it for $19.95 per month. Why pay the $2 per month more for AOL? For the Internet novice, AOL's point-and-click interface creates the perception of ultimate simplicity and ease of Internet access and use.

Another value-added approach is selling "sizzle" - a secondary benefit that sounds really valuable but that most people won't actually use. Banks often use this tactic in creating bundled accounts, such as offering free notary public service, which you may never use.

AOL offered a promotion featuring 700 free hours in the first month of signup. If you think about it, there are approximately 720 hours in a month (30 days x 24 hours). Even if you're online 12 hours per day, seven days per week, you'd still only use 360 hours. But, doesn't 700 hours sound like a big value? It doesn't cost AOL anything extra to offer more hours than anyone would ever use in a month. That's the power of value-added perception.

3) Promotion

Sell yourself within the site. You spend much time and effort to drive traffic to your site. Yet what happens once the visitors view your site? How well are you promoting your product or service within the site?

PennyGold is a site with simple graphics that does a good job promoting the company's services. Testimonials and calls-to-action are sprinkled throughout the site, encouraging the visitor to do something, which stimulates interactivity and site "stickiness." That's what a Web site is supposed to do: motivate your visitor to take positive action.

Several online shopping sites offer different in-site promotional techniques to encourage customer retention and repeat visits. Mercata offers online store credits to acquire new customers and retain current ones. E-centives uses periodic targeted emails to drive traffic to each person's own customized shopping list on the e-centives site. The shopping list features product categories of interest to the visitor and can be modified at any time.

Of course, promotion that involves online and offline efforts should focus on your target audience. Although the cost to reach a particular market segment may be higher on a cost-per-thousand basis, it's usually less expensive than buying mass awareness.

You've sold the customer-now what? If you want to sell something on your Web site, make it easy for your customer to do business with you. To that end, be sure the calls to action are clear and evident. Don't create a site that does a terrific job of selling, but then makes it difficult for the customer to close the actual sale.

Offer multiple calls to action so it's easy for the customer to place an order. Give the customer the option of using email, phone, fax, or order form. If possible, provide extended customer service hours. The 'round-the-clock and 'round-the-world nature of the Internet practically requires customer service on demand. Remember, you need to do business the way the customer wants, not the way you want. Finally, make it very clear in both site navigation and on the product pages exactly how your customers can obtain the products they want.

4) Physical Distribution

Get your product to the customer (and back). In the classic marketing world, physical distribution referred to getting your product to end users, whether by mail, brick-and-mortar stores, wholesalers, or sales representatives. However, the nature of the online buying experience suggests that product returns should be an integral part of the distribution strategy as well.

How and where your product will be sold and delivered to your customer involves enormous planning and coordination. For many Webmasters, sorting through the details and logistics of back-end operations is a necessary evil. It can make or break a sale.

Of course, if it's a Web-based service, such as the aforementioned graphic design example, providing a URL or download is simple enough. However, getting the product into the customer's hands as quickly and easily as possible requires a defined strategy. Sounds simple, yet many organizations let their business processes or organizational structure complicate the end-user experience.

There's been much talk about the brick-and-click business model, in which products are available from a single company both online and in brick-and-mortar outlets. One would assume that the transactions between the two should be seamless, such that one can buy online and return to the brick-and-mortar store, or vice versa. However, many companies compartmentalize their business channels, rather than look at the shopping experience from the customer's perspective.

Toys "R" Us states on its home page that it offers different products and inventory online from that in its stores. However, it does offer a return policy that lets customers return Web-based purchases either to a brick-and-mortar store or back to the fulfillment house.

In contrast, Victoria's Secret offers a paper catalog as well as the brick-and-click channels of distribution. However, as of this article's writing, items purchased online cannot be returned to a store.

5) People

From a vendor's perspective, the Internet offers an extremely cost-effective means of doing business. Self-service sites let the site visitor browse, choose, and purchase virtually any product or service online without human intervention. This streamlined approach opens one-way communication, which is indeed efficient and direct. Unfortunately, it's also impersonal.

The e-commerce experience over the last several years has indicated that customer service is more critical than ever for items like apparel, electronics, and expensive or complex products. In fact, building customer relationships rather than just handling single transactions is fast becoming the norm. That's why the need for two-way communication is becoming increasingly important in the online world.

Email and response forms are standard ways to provide some degree of two-way interaction. However, email response times may be too slow to salvage the sale, and forms can come across as impersonal or a waste of time. Realtime online chats and voice over IP (VoIP) services have created opportunities to enhance the shopping experience while reaffirming the personal-touch side of the Internet.

Lands' End has been very successful with "Lands' End Live," which lets its site visitors to speak with a representative via phone or online chat. By having realtime interaction built in to the site, Lands' End has not only created a positive online shopping experience, but has also enhanced its potential to increase online sales closure.


A marketing-driven approach to Web site development helps you construct a site that integrates intuitive navigation, appealing graphics, persuasive content, and clear calls to action. The principles of the five P's give you the marketing tools needed to build compelling site content and meaningful infrastructure. More importantly, such a site becomes a solid foundation that will complement all of your other marketing, promotion, and sales efforts.

Sandy Tapper is a marketing evangelist and Internet consultant who focuses on creating marketing-driven Web sites. Visit her site at or contact her at

This article originally appeared in the August 2000 issue of WebTechniques magazine. Reprinted by permission.

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