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Notes on online sales and marketing

Surprise Webmasters

Supposedly stodgy retailer JCPenney is light years ahead of the competition when it comes to Internet sales. The number of paying customers who shop its Web site (nearly a million in the last quarter alone) place the company among the top five retail sites, shoulder to shoulder with eBay and

Why? Because the chain thinks like its customers, then acts accordingly. It offers merchandise online that isn't available in its retail outlets, uses its specialty catalogs to promote Internet sales, allows online shoppers to pick up or return merchandise at the nearest store, has Internet access at every register and allows online customers to check the availability of an item at their local JCPenney store.

Is your Internet presence designed with the customer in mind? What would your customers do online if you'd let them? The answer could give you an enormous advantage over your competitors.

Raising the ante

When Netflix made it almost stupidly easy to rent movies, it might have spelled disaster for Blockbuster. But unlike lots of big corporations, the brick-and-mortar video chain responded with almost blinding speed, and went its rival one better.

In an incredibly effective marketing campaign, they offered customers a choice. Order online a la Netflix, rent a movie from your local Blockbuster outlet, or both. Rent online, then return locally and grab something new if you like. It was a neat trick, taking the approach that made Netflix unique and turning it to its own advantage. The lesson? If you can't innovate, imitate and improve  and quickly.

Martial marketing

Jujitsu is the art of using an enemy's own momentum to defeat him. A nifty example is on display in the world of marketing, where the Las Vegas casino industry continues to promote itself via “What happens here, stays here.” A new TV campaign for California's Santa Anita racetrack uses the Vegas spots as a springboard for their own, cleverly unveiling how a “consequence-free” Vegas experience can follow you home, and promoting its nearby alternative with a great tagline: “You're this close to winning.” While most marketers shy away from such direct comparisons, the California spots show it can be a cost-effective way to get your brand awareness up to speed in a hurry.

Are you experienced?

How do bands like the Police and Rolling Stones get away with selling premium tickets for hundreds of dollars? It's not the view; the giant screens that flanks the stage let even the cheap seats see the action.

For most concertgoers, it's the experience —being able to say they saw Buffett or Bono from the front row.

Bucking the “no annual fee” trend, some credit card companies offer pricey prestige cards, then orchestrate unique experiences available only to these cardholders. Take note for your own business. If you can find a way to deliver a unique experience to your customers or clients, would they pay a premium for it? As you develop new or enhanced products or services, it's a critical question —one your competition may be asking right now.

—Allen Howie is the owner of Idealogy Design + Advertising in New Albany, Indiana. He can be reached at or 812-981-4675.

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