Humans are notoriously uptight. One moment we’re seething with anticipation over something that’s sure to be so thoroughly enjoyable that we can’t even picture complaining about it — ever — until the next day or so, when we do. Without warning, people will turn on your brand and tell their friends to do the same. This is why setting expectations online is crucial; something the
band brand Radiohead learned the hard way after its novice online marketing efforts managed to disappoint countless enthusiastic customers.
All of this makes for a case study. Persuasion isn’t a problem for this particular brand; they have legions of fans around the world and have tens of millions of records in the past 15 years. Still, e-commerce is new territory for them, so it’s time for a crash course in conversion rate marketing. I’m going to show you how, despite selling a reported 1.2 million downloads before the album was even released, Radiohead left £’s (tons, actually) on the table — most of which could have been recovered with better planning, minimal web copy, and a simpler checkout process.
A couple weeks ago, when the band announced they would release their new album online — through their own shopping cart, letting people pay whatever they like — Radiohead was widely praised by media and fans alike. The move was hugely disruptive (especially coming from such popular act) and record executives at the major record labels were left shaking in their boots as the likes of Madonna, Oasis and Nine Inch Nails dropped their recording contracts in favor of (non-iTunes) online distribution. Although they’re said to have changed the record industry with the move online, the impact would have been far more substantial had Radiohead anticipated
fan’s customer’s questions in advance and addressed them with proper web copy.
Of the four dominant personality types, the slower-paced Methodical and Humanistic fans were the worst hit. Methodicals were upset because, since past Radiohead albums had been available at 320 kilobits per second (kbps) — a superior bitrate, twice that of the 160 kbps version they received — they assumed they’d be getting the best possible bitrate. Methodicals, and people in methodical mode, don’t like being duped over technical specs. Humanistics, meanwhile, were upset because once their Methodical friends (the detail-focused mavens they are) informed them they were given a second-rate product, and they’re likely thinking this is very “un-Radiohead” of them. This video clip from MTV illustrates the variety of reactions among personality types:
Here’s Radiohead’s In Rainbows website. Although “keeping it minimal” seems to have been a considered design choice, some basic copy at each stage to let people know something, anything about the album would have kept word-of-mouth focused on the you-choose-what-to-pay conversation — or even, say, the album — instead of what they didn’t do. The good news for the band, though, is that if they really did want to start a conversation about what music’s worth (as their guitarist mentioned to Rolling Stone), they’d done an amazing job of it. For instance, PureButtons.com paid $1,000 for the album — but the difference between them and Radiohead is that the button company has its online marketing in order (evidence).
Before purchasing the album, I wanted to see what my friends in the music biz had to say. For instance, URB Magazine editor Joshua Glazer offered this anecdote:
“Funny thing, I couldn’t be bothered to figure out the shopping cart on Radiohead’s site. I tried to enter something in the ‘amount’ space (or what I think was the amount space) and it stayed blank. It was just too vague, so I still had a friend IM me the MP3s. “
As promised, I bought the album at the full, would-be iTunes price of $9.99 (or £4.90). Josh was right, though. They didn’t exactly make this easy.
Unfortunately, this is all too common. There’s no good reason to ask people to register before checkout. In this situation, all they really need is a name, credit card number, address (to verify credit card), and check-box to agree to terms and conditions, and a button that says something like “Place My Order.” If there’s any registration you’d like to lure people into, they need to know why they should do it. It’s like proposing marriage on the first date. Still, it’s the next step that makes the least sense.
Of course, there were two additional steps. I had to enter my credit card info on the following page, with a confirmation page after that. But all of this could have been handled in two steps had they offered registration as an option on the confirmation page instead of hitting me with this hurdle. Also, it would have been nice to know how many steps there would be. A simple breadcrumb indicator at the top to illustrate the steps (e.g., “Step 2 of 4″ or “Register”) would have been nice, as well. People — especially fast-moving Competitive and Spontaneous types — like to know how long things will take. Nothing bleeds the joy out of music like signing a web form. They could have also made this easier for Competitive and Spontaneous types by adding Google Checkout or PayPal as one-step options.
I did finally receive my digital copy of the album. After a couple of listens, it’s pretty good. Not exactly a departure from what they’ve done over the past five years, but they’ve definitely still got it. I’m not quite sure why people are complaining, either. The sound quality is good enough for me, as was the price.
P.S. — If your b(r)and wants to convert multi-channel to multi-platinum, we can help.
[Hat tip to the Wizard of Ads Group's Tim Miles for linking me to the MTV News story, and reminding us that "you can't outrun word-of-mouth." And, in case you're interested in how the music business shot itself in the foot, leaving room for bands to go it alone online, Don Dodge can tell you all about it.]