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How to Make the Intangible Tangible

by Michel Fortin

Surveys show that the one great challenge people have found -- as both online marketers and consumers -- is the lack of tangibility in transacting over the web. In other words, how does one sell let alone buy something that one can not touch, feel, taste, hear or smell (or even see in person)? When one comes to think about it, it's a great challenge indeed.

The benefit of buying from a retail store and in person is surely the ability to inspect products, let alone the ability to meet the people with whom one is doing business. Rapport can be easily developed when meeting clients face-to-face, and products can also undergo their close scrutiny. But on the web, ecommerce changes all that. Those abilities have disappeared.

So one of the Internet marketer's greatest tasks is to market a product online in such a way that people can simply and easily buy it with the mere information they receive -- which in many cases is not a whole lot. More important, that task is multiplied since a marketer must also develop a certain level of trust with their customers. Merchant fraud, from spams to scams, is just as common as consumer fraud. Building trust online is critical.

In face-to-face encounters, one has the ability to provide answers to client questions, give product demonstrations, offer references at the snap of a finger and handle objections. Online, those opportunities are often nonexistent. So how does one sell in this virtual world without the benefits provided by personal contact? And more important, how does one build a certain level of trust that only face-to-face encounters can create?

Beyond the most common methods of reducing skepticism around the purchase of a product or service (such as with the help of testimonials, guarantees and good copy), there are other elements that can help to add dimension to an often dimensionless online offering. They are pictures, samples and answers to frequently asked questions.

Whether it's books, cookware, vitamins, jewelry or even software, pictures talk. As the saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Therefore, turn your web site into a catalogue. Add a scan of your book's cover (like http://Amazon.com), thumbnail pictures of your necklace line, a three-dimensional shot of your software package (like the latest version of Paint Shop Pro at http://www.paintshoppro.com/psp6.html) -- even if it's downloadable -- or a graphic image of your vitamin bottles. Give something people can visually appreciate.

In "Professional Selling" by Marks and Clymer (a college textbook), the authors state that computer-generated sales presentations -- with a mix of text, graphics, photos, animation and sound -- capture attention and arouse interest more effectively since they appeal to all the senses. In fact, the authors also claim that, with multimedia presentations, prospects are 43% more likely to be persuaded, will pay 26% more attention, learn 200% faster and retain knowledge 38% better. Learning time is also reduced 25-40%.

Look at it this way: Texts tell but pictures sell. However, don't load your site with graphics -- there must be a balanced mix of text and pictures. Use thumbnails (smaller-sized pictures that can be enlarged when clicked). Your graphics should be small and compressed (using a software or web-based services like http://gifcruncher.com or http://jpegcruncher.com) for quicker downloads. A page should be no more than 30-40 kilobytes in size.

But what if you sell a service? Graphics can also help. Adding a logo on your site that represents your intangible product gives it an element of tangibility. In addition to logos, graphs and charts also help to make the service more appealing because they can help to emphasize the benefits that your service offers. Take for instance the raging bull logo as well as the graphs that appear on Merrill Lynch's site at http://www.merrilllynch.com/.

Can your product or service be sampled somehow? Free trials help consumers to get a taste of what is being sold before they make their decisions to actually buy. Samples sell too, not only because they're free but also because they help to reassure the client about the value of what is being considered. Virtually all products and services can, in some way, be sampled. Because of their nature, web sites offer a plethora of possibilities.

For example, a software program can be turned into a time-limited shareware download. A free online media kit can be presented to an interested advertiser. A free online consultation can show potential clients the value of a consultant's expertise. A publisher can offer a few free chapters (or even a simple copy of the table of contents) from the book(s) they are selling. A real estate agent can offer free online property assessments. A site selling exercise equipment can offer a free ebook on how to exercise more effectively. Ad nauseum.

But what if you really have nothing to offer for free? In that case, offer a more economical alternative. In reality, they are paid samples of the more expensive one (often called "lead generators"). They help to entice customers, with a cheaper version of what is being offered, into buying the central product or service. Sampling aside, these lead generators also help to isolate the true prospects from the suspects. In fact, it is more effective to market subsequent (and larger) offers to an audience that has identified itself as being more qualified.

A page offering stock answers to common questions, or in other words a "Frequently Asked Questions" page, is a great sales tool as well. Ask yourself, "What are the most common questions asked about my product, service, company or web site?" "What are the most common misconceptions about my product or service?" and "What kinds of objections would I get (and how would I answer them) if I sold my product or service in the offline world?"

Offering an FAQ offers three important benefits. 1) It helps to allay any concerns the customer may have about your product. 2) It may answer questions that a customer may not have at that time, which helps to strengthen the sale and reduce post-purchase remorse (what psychologists call "cognitive dissonance"). And 3) it reduces the greatest killer of sales#


FAQ pages are also great places to preemptively handle potential objections a customer may have about your offer, especially those regarding usability, warranty, guarantee, customer service, privacy and security issues (privacy and security policies should have their own, respective pages). Such answers should also address the 5 W's and 2 H's ("who," "what," "when," "where," "why," "how" and "how much") that were not answered anywhere else on the site. They can link to pages in which further details are provided.

Of course, it goes without saying that an ecommerce-enabled web site should definitely offer those common (and truly effective) sales tools mentioned earlier: Testimonials with full names and not just initials; strong, hassle-free guarantees with effective follow-up product support; good, benefit-laced marketing copy; easy-to-find contact information in order to reach the people behind the site; and clear, straightforward privacy and security policies.

But pictures, samples and FAQs are also quite effective in giving form to this formless shopping medium. People hate parting with their hard-earned money. And the buying process in this invisible world can be a hurdle for most customers. But by giving something customers can appreciate, the hurdle can be removed or, in the very least, lowered to some extent.

About the Author
Michel Fortin is a consultant dedicated to helping businesses turn into powerful magnets. Visit http://SuccessDoctor.com to receive a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning." He is also the editor of the "Internet Marketing Chronicles" ezine delivered weekly to 90,000 subscribers -- subscribe free at http://SuccessDoctor.com/IMC/.

Tags: E-commerce and Internet



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