Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Throw away the old rules on the Web

People just don't like change, do they? You see it everywhere. But so much in business. And especially now, you have to be so...and I hate this word used like this but...you have to be so nimble. You have to be able to react so...well yes, quickly, but also deftly.

I work in what's called the digital space. Web sites. I write. Big deal, you say. What's the difference between writing for the Web and writing for any other corporate communications material?

Big difference, dude. And I know because I've been writing for a long, long time. Twenty-eight years now, professionally, and I've seen a lot.

But let me say first, we still don't know what to do with this thing called the Web. Given that, I can say that the rules, whatever they are for the Web, are not the same rules that apply to print.

And that is the mistake I see clients make over and over and over again. Marketing people doing what they know, instead of figuring out that they could be making up the rules as they go along. Apply the rules they learned for direct marketing and print. Using frequency and the old tricks to try to get people to open an email the same way they tried to get people to open a direct mail envelope.

You only have seconds, they'd beat into our heads when we were writing direct mail. You only have seconds before they either open your envelope or toss it in the garbage. And that's what they say now. But guess what? Time a mouse click. How long is that? A half second? So you don't have seconds. I wish I had friggin' seconds to get somebody to read a subject line.

So the old rules don't apply anymore. You gotta figure out something else because there is something else going on in our readers' synapses. Hell, for one thing, they're not holding the envelope anymore. Getting them to pick it up, hold it, feel it. That was part of the experience. The experience is different now.

Frequency. In print, you could keep running the same ad, keeping flooding the mailbox with the same DM package, because eventually you'd get them in a weak moment and they would look or open it. They'd recycle copy from brochures to print ads to direct mail pieces to reinforce the message. Reinforcing the message basically meant beating the reader over the head with it.

But you can't use frequency on the Web. You can't recycle copy because people want fresh. Always news. And when they see something that they've seen before. Click. It's that fast. I don't know what that's from. A carry-over from when they paid for online minutes the way we still pay for cell phone time, or what. But the audience behaves differently on the Web than they did in the old days of print.

What are the answers? What are the new rules? Always keep copy fresh. Always make it brief and easy-to-read and dynamic. Make it very personal, and very appropriate to the reader. Forget corporate-speak. Talk in easy-to-understand language. Those are some of the new rules.

But there are more to come, and what's really fun about this business is that you really can set the pace. You can come up with your own rules based on your own knowledge of your visitors and readers and customers.

But, first thing, change. Throw out the old rules. Like always, know them, so you can break them. But then throw them away.

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