Pete, my friend and colleague at Skoosh, always complains that I don’t start my blog posts with something of a summary of what I’m about to say. You know the old rule – say what you’re going to say, say it and then say what you said. I’ve taken that on board so in deference to Pete and all the other Pete’s out there, here’s what this one is about:
It’s about talking with people, not down to them.
The internet, specifically the ecommerce side of it, has been around for 15 years or so now. It’s as exciting as Hell and yet strangely stagnant. We were promised a revolution when we moved across to Web 2.0 but that didn’t happen and for good reason I believe. The clue was in the name. Web 2.0 was a marketing term and as long as we think in terms of marketing we’re stuck in Web 1.0.
For those of you not in marketing, Web 2.0 is this. It is the transition by ecommerce sites – online shops – from talking at you to talking with you. Decades of advertising on top of centuries of education have made us comfortable with being told what to do. ‘Click here’, ‘Eat This’. It’s a veritable Alice in Wonderland just without the magic.
The magic does exist online though. Social networking sites have it, even patriarchal corporations like Facebook. Here you can see photos of your friend’s very ill thought out fancy dress costume they wore at a party you didn’t manage to get to. And you can tell other people about it. As people, rather than consumers, that’s what we like to do.
Facebook is different of course. There are no customers. Ditto Twitter. It’s just us talking to us. To translate that sort of communication to commercial websites we need to make a big shift in our thinking away from what can we tell our customers and towards what we can chat to our friends about. In other words businesses need to start thinking like friends rather than marketing execs. They need to start socialising.
‘Like’ on Facebook was very clever in that sense. At a glance it could be an instruction but it’s ambiguous and is more likely, in connection to a social networking site, to be a question to yourself – ‘Do I like this’? whereas the language of ecommerce is still typically full of instructions. ‘Book now’!’.
Expedia (I’m not picking on a competitor – their site is more influential than Skoosh) has a spider trail leading to their Las Vegas Deals section as follows:
Expedia.com > Deals and Offers > Six Deals we Love > Las Vegas
Okay, it’s no hard sell and with ‘Love’ they’ve certainly bought into the language of the age of sharing. But it’s still coming from them. It starts with ‘Expedia.com’, not even just ‘Expedia’. It’s their store. ‘Deals and Offers’ is fair enough if a bit dull and prosaic (I’m not having a go at them, their site is important in this industry, did I mention that before?). The questionable bit is ‘six deals we love’. Again, as if you weren’t quite sure, you’re back in their store. Someone working at Expedia has found me six deals I’m going to love. I don’t think so. I wasn’t even planning to go to Vegas.
This looks very different when it comes from a friend. Someone whose values I share is inviting me to stay in a villa in Portugal. Interesting – what a great place to catch up and I haven’t been to Portugal for years. Count me in.
Expedia isn’t your friend (I’m not saying anything) so how are they going to sell you a villa in Portugal in anything like the same way? Well, what they’ll do is start thinking like your friend. Your friend hasn’t recommended anything to you this time but you can them. So, on Expedia, you put together 6 great looking deals and post them on your Facebook page: ‘6 deals I love’. It doesn’t even have to be so gushing, the point is that your friends (let’s say mine) are going to say ‘Blimey, Dorian’s bothered putting together 6 amazing travel deals, I’ve got to see this’. They then click through to Expedia and see ‘6 deals chosen by Dorian’. Five friends ‘Like’ the pastel yellow house overlooking Lake Como. That’s where I’ll be staying.
This sort of thing isn’t offered by the commercial Goliaths. The big companies in the travel industry have lacked innovation and there’s precious little brand engagement to be seen. Sure, Expedia has a huge market but it is supported by immense advertising. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any one say I only go to Expedia. But why not? They sell everything and they guarantee the best prices. In reality, there’s no point to going price comparison sites to get to Expedia but people still do because Expedia doesn’t let you talk. Less so Ebookers, Opodo and Travelocity. They’re all about talking at you.
The reality behind Web 2.0 is that people engage in sites not necessarily because they identify with the companies behind them but because when they’re on there they can do the things they want to do and one thing they always like doing – one this we always like doing – is talking to each other. If you give them the opportunity to talk about your online store with their friends they will.