Websites: It's the experience stupid

The other day I picked up a book that was sitting on my night table for over a year. It's just a small book and seemed like an easy read, perfect for falling sleep. It was called, "The Invisible Touch" by Harry Beckwith. Mr. Beckwith has written several books and is an expert on positioning, branding, and client relations. I wasn't sure if I was going to bother reading it or not, but after looking at the introduction I was hooked. This guy knew what he was talking about; he must because I agreed with most everything he said. That surely makes him an expert, at least in my eyes. Anyway, he tells a story about going to a concert for one of his favorite artists, a Laura Nyro. He purchased her recordings and loved them for their exquisite sound and her technical playing ability but the concert was a disaster. Ms. Nyro performed with her usual skill and precision, but she never once looked at the audience, preferring instead to sit at the piano staring offstage while she played. Each song was preceded by a perfunctory introduction that was barely addressed to the audience. Needless to say, Harry was disappointed, as you can imagine anyone would be. The Difference Between Products and Services The point of the story Harry Beckwith was making was that there is a big difference between products and services. To quote from his book, "Products are made; services are delivered. Products are used; services are experienced." In this case, recordings are products and concerts are services. This got me thinking of my own experience, perhaps not quite so genteel as Mr. Beckwith's but instructional, nevertheless. Marketing is creating memorable experiences When I was a young man, just after graduating from College in New England, I started working in the family business. My father exiled me to the shipping department where he figured my newly earned business degree wouldn't get the company in too much trouble. One day he came out from his office to the plant floor where I worked and said, "Come on, let's go to lunch." My father knew I never eat lunch so this was a special moment, as he never bothered asking me to lunch at work. Perhaps this was the day that I would finally be allowed into the ranks of real businessmen who worked in the office and wore ties to work. As we got into the car I asked where we were going, to which he answered, "The Dirty Bagel." He looked over at me and saw me roll my eyes and grunt in disgust. Of course I knew the place he was taking me. Every businessman in Toronto who worked in the garment district knew "The Dirty Bagel." It was a legend more than a restaurant. Its real name was just "The Bagel" but everybody called it "The Dirty Bagel" to distinguish it from another uptown, neighborhood place where the same businessmen eat breakfast on the weekends and where their wives lunched after shopping. Back then it was rare for upper middle class women to work, so they shopped and ate lunch when they weren't taking the kids to the dentist or hockey practice. "The Dirty Bagel" and the "The Bagel" both served the same kind of food, simple meals, bagels and coffee. The downtown version was old, grimy, and well worn, while the uptown version was new, well lit, and well ... cleaner. The waitresses in the new place were middle-aged, chewed gum, had pencils stuck behind their ears and called everyone "Hon." The waitresses in the downtown version were old, actually ancient, spoke with thick European accents, and were just plain nasty. If you asked for an extra pad of butter or more cream for your coffee, instead of getting a "Sure thing Hon" you were more likely to hear something like, "Sophia, listen to Mr. Big Shot, he wants more butter. Hope he knows a good heart doctor..." and as she turned to leave you probably over-heard some Yiddish profanity under her breath. Now you may be thinking, why would a bunch of rich, privileged businessmen who owned their own businesses, wore expensive silk and mohair suits, and drove Lincoln Continentals, put-up with nasty old ladies who tossed the food on the table and treated you like you were in prison? At least that's what I wanted to know. On this particular occasion, the food arrived skidding across the table like a curling stone looking for the button (that's the red center of the bull's eye for the uninitiated). After mopping-up the spilled coffee and reassembling my bagel and egg salad, I asked my father, "Why on earth do you come here, the place is old, the waitresses are nasty, and the food is something you could brown bag?" My father looked at me, smiled and said, "It's for the 'experience." And then he took a bite out of his giant twister bagel and winked. These businessmen were old school, not an MBA in the bunch. They survived the Depression and built substantial businesses with little or no formal business education in conditions that were quite frankly antagonistic. No matter how successful they became, they always remembered where they came from and what was important. These men were characters, who built their businesses by force of personality and shrewd decision-making. "The Dirty Bagel" offered these men an experience that kept them grounded and reminded them how they got to be successful. Of all the lessons I've learned about business and marketing over the years, this was probably one of the most important. It's about the experience stupid! If Your Website Isn't An Experience, What Is It? Today every business has a website but so many are sterile, impersonal and lack any kind of meaningful experience for the visitor. Businesses spend so much time worrying about driving traffic to their websites that they forget what happens when people arrive. If you provide your website audience with an experience, it is something your competition can't appropriate. On the other hand, if all you're providing is a commodity, it's something somebody else will eventually provide cheaper and faster in which case you may end up eating at your own version of "The Dirty Bagel" and not because you want to remind yourself where you came from, but rather where you're going. By Jerry Bader, Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specialises in Web-audio and Web-video.

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