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Build a Better Tree House for Your Stuff!
Any kid knows if you want to build a tree house, you've first got to start with a good tree. The integrity of the trunk and supporting branches is what counts - get that right and you can build anything. Not a bad metaphor in this for e-commerce. First, imagine your website as the tree house that's going to be the best on the block. Then, think of your online sales process as the tree, and make that the foundation for your elevated empire! 

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The cool thing about a cyberspace tree house is that you get to grow the tree! Design? Crucial. Blueprints? Awesome. You've got to plan it all out.

So let's ask a few questions about:

what you do …

  • What makes your stuff worth having? (What are all the benefits associated with your product or service?)
  •  "What's in it for me?" That's the question your customer always asks. How do you answer? (How does your product or service relate to your client's desire for gain or fear of loss, the two most powerful motivators in the buying decision?)
  • Who else is out there building a tree house like yours? (What makes your product or service not only different from, but better than your competitors' products or services? Remember, on the web, your competition is only a click away.)
  • Can you make your stuff seem more valuable without spending an arm and a leg? (How can you raise the perceived value of your product without significantly raising your cost?)
  • How are you going to present your hook? (What is your marketing strategy?)
  • How are you going to bait your hook? (Special offers, rebates, volume discounts, premiums, coupons, free shipping, better payment terms, etc.? And never forget that in the long run the only things that matter are quality and service. )
  • How can you improve your clients' perception of your product or service? (Perception is reality.)

who are you are doing it for …

  • Who really wants my stuff? (Who are your primary clients and what percentage of your market do they represent -- consider gender, age range, economics, demographics, etc. You can't target everybody, and you don't want to.)
  • Who sort of wants my stuff? (Who are the secondary consumers?)
  • What are their most important motivations for buying my stuff? (What do your clients desire to gain and, on the other hand, what is their potential loss by not purchasing?)
  • What could turn them on? (How do you speak to those felt needs in a way that matters to them?)
  • What could turn them off? (What objections might your client use to delay or avoid making a purchase?)
  • How can you tell them they are wrong - but nicely! (What answers to their objections can you offer, and most importantly, how can you present them in a way that brings them closer rather than pushes them away? Have you ever heard of Feel/Felt/Found? Just one of many.)
  • Any other bright ideas? (What else could influence the buying decisions of your clients?)
  • Last, but reeely important: who is the real decision maker? (It's not just about having the right message in the right form targeted to the right market, it's about getting it to the person who can actually make the buy.)

how you've done it in the past …

  • How has your stuff traditionally been merchandised?
  • How has your stuff traditionally been positioned?
  • How has your stuff traditionally been branded?
  • How has your stuff traditionally been sold? (What is the process?)
  • How have clients traditionally perceived your stuff?
  • How have clients traditionally perceived the experience of buying your stuff?

and how are you going to do it in the future.

  • What needs to change in order for your effort to be more successful?
  • What needs to be watched constantly as you go forward so that you catch glitches early, as well as add new tools as soon as they become available?

The answers to these questions will give you the raw data you need to create an effective "storyboard"- the e-sales equivalent to the perfect tree, and the blueprint for your web site

If other folks think they can skimp on this - great! Nothing like watching your competitors' houses come tumbling down while yours weathers every storm. You don't need me to tell you there are no shortcuts to lasting success. A great tree house is no accident. Ask any kid. Or me - and I'm from Mars!

click here for a printable version of this whole article

Behind the Scenes:
E-commerce Secrets from Hollywood?

Ever watch one of those "Making of..." shows where you get to see behind the scenes of your favorite movie? I love them. Do you remember the bit about how people sit down and cover the wall with pictures of what they want the viewer to know, feel and see, and in what order? They call it "storyboarding." Before a single scene gets filmed, the key folks have a complete image of the end product. Nothing is left to chance

The same sort of process goes into designing your website - or it ought to! Because if your site can't lead your customers successfully through the process of shopping and buying, it is going to wind up as the Internet equivalent of excess film on the cutting room floor.

Before you upload a single page to the Internet, your key folks ideally have gotten together, thoroughly considered your website from the shopper's point of view and created your storyboard. It looks a lot like a flow chart, with paper pages representing each individual web page. Each sheet describes the page and contains a summary of its content, layout, graphics and objectives. Objectives? Yes. And the two main objectives of every page are to motivate your customer to keep at it and to make it easy for them to do so.

The sheets representing web pages then can be arranged in the logical order of the buying process, with arrows between the pages. These arrows will become the links you provide to help your customers navigate your site, find what they want quickly and buy it easily. There should be different arrows representing differing outcomes based on how your customer might move through the site (primary trajectories, secondary ones and so on). This is critical planning! Every page! It helps you figure out and understand the nuances of your site. Most important, it ensures your customer sees, understands and does exactly what you intend, but in a way that feels totally natural to them.

Pssst. Take note, graphic design gurus and latest-tech-gadget fans. Studies consistently prove shoppers find ease-of-process far more delightful than glitz and gloss. Never forget that the ultimate purpose of your site is not to dazzle, but to sell.

There isn't a set way to create a storyboard. You've got a number of options depending on how you like to solve problems.

· The "top-down" approach: a sheet representing the index, splash or home page is placed at the top and all the other sheets branch off below, converging on the checkout page.

· The "build-out" approach: begin with the pages that are certain (an order page, a 'thank you' or confirmation page, an 'about us' page, an e-zine description page, a product page, a special promotions page, a security and privacy policy page, etc.).

· The "bottom-up" or reverse approach: start with your order confirmation page and work backward through each step.

Every layer in the storyboard either precedes or supports specific choices the customer makes. It has to make sense - to them.

Whichever method you choose, the essential question to keep in mind always is: what's the plot? With that firmly in mind, each and every element in your storyboard must address these critical questions:

· What do I want my visitors to know here?

· What do I want my visitors to do at this point?

· What do I want my visitors to feel right now?

· Where do I want my visitors to go next?

· How do I make it easy for them to do that?

· How do I "reinforce" them after they've done it?

Consider all contingencies. Sometimes customers miss the first scenes and arrive mid-movie (landing on one of your interior pages). Will they know where they are … where they might go … what they are supposed to do? The final storyboard should allow a customer to enter your site anywhere, know where she is and quickly understand how she can get to where she wants to be. "Keep 'em guessing" only works in mysteries.

Storyboarding helps not only to improve site navigability, but also to develop content and web copy. Best of all, for every day you spend planning and getting all the details right, you save yourself the cost and time of three days’ remedial tinkering and development. Three to one!

Making a blockbuster movie, designing a successful website -- doing either requires detailed planning. After all, how the heck is Indiana Jones going to be able to open the Ark of the Covenant if he can't find it in the first place?!

click here for a printable version of this whole article

 

GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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