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Be credible to be incredible

Along with the increasing population of new online businesses, as well as the recent wave of "dotbombs" and online scams, the competitive nature of the Internet will simply make the need to establish credibility an even more important issue. And in order to establish it, one must *communicate* it.

To a potential customer visiting your website for the first time, your company may have little or no believability because you may be totally unknown to your prospect. Therefore, you only have but a fleeting moment to build credibility -- or, at least, to give ample reason for them to allow you to do so.

The search for credibility is part of human nature. Not only do we need to feel safe and secure, but we are also social animals. We need to be with other people in order to thrive and survive. All of these are fundamental, human needs. Anything new, or faceless, is risky at best.

Renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow illustrates these core desires with his famous hierarchy of human motives, which he developed in the 1960s. Maslow states that the foundation of all human needs consists of survival needs, followed by safety needs. More importantly, next in that hierarchy is the need for social interaction (e.g., love, affection and belonging).

Like it or not, the web can never change that.

The fact that we are advancing technologically and the business process is fast becoming almost entirely automated will parallel the need for a more human approach. Today, we see that need being increasingly filled through things such as specialization (niche marketing), personalization (including customization) and interaction (live customer service).

Due to the lack of human interaction on the Internet and the uncertainty of our economic times, people are demanding greater credibility from online businesses -- and that demand will only increase over time. Therefore, communicating this credibility and building relationships with your prospects will become pivotal elements in your online success.

For example, research conducted in January, 2001 by NDP Group, a firm specializing in consumer purchasing and behavior, found that search engine listings overwhelmingly outperformed banner and tile ads (i.e., button or box ads) almost 2 to 1 in terms of clickthroughs. But one interesting result indicated that 55% of all purchases originate from search engine traffic -- as opposed to only 9% from banners and 7% from tiles.

According to Brent Winters of http://www.marketposition.com/, "We (could interpret the statistic in) that search listings, untainted by advertising dollars in the mind of the consuming public, kick the stuffing out of traditional commercial paid- for ads such as banners." I agree. For a copy of the study, visit http://www.goto.com/d/about/advertisers/slab.jhtml.

There are many other ways to build credibility, namely:

  • Consistency throughout the website;
  • Testimonials from satisfied customers;
  • Strong guarantees, or some kind of risk reversal;
  • Professional looks, content and color scheme;
  • A company identity, logo and product pictures;
  • Superior customer service;
  • Third party endorsements;

For example, an inconsistent site (such as one that changes from page to page in color, theme or tone, even structure), or one that carries a myriad of banner ads and affiliate links, will seldom be credible at face value. (Our resident website reviewer, Ralph Hilliard, calls them "affiliate junkies." The "less is more" paradigm applies, here. The more focused you are, the more hits and affiliate sales you will generate.)

Moreover, testimonials from unsatisfied customers wouldn't hurt -- although, they must be presented strategically and professionally. Marketer Linda Cox, who's witty and somewhat controversial, achieves this brilliantly on her site. Visit http://www.lindacox.com/feedback.htm for an illustration.

In addition, using testimonials and endorsements from people whose judgment others value is also an effective approach. For example, if a well-known celebrity, opinion leader or "center-of-influence" not only says something positive about your product but also gives you the ability to reprint it, by all means, use it. Having someone who's respected by others refer or praise your site grants almost instant credibility.

People think in pictures, not in words or numbers. So as far as pictures go, use them. Product shots, staff photos and even pictures of customers, all optimize for quick downloading, can add a great deal of credibility to your site.

If your site offers a service, even if it's free, add a logo representing the benefits of your offering. If possible, add a picture of you or your staff in the process of providing the service. Take a look at how direct marketer Dan Kennedy does it at http://www.dankennedy.com/sched.html.

If it's software, add screenshots. If it's an ebook, add a three-dimensional shot of the book cover. If it's information, add a picture that represents the gist of the content. Take a look at how Advertising Age does it (where pictures accompany every news headline) at http://adage.com/news_and_features/.

Nevertheless, these may be the final steps in getting many stubborn prospects to commit to your product. But the first step, however, is building a relationship with your prospects. Although your goal may be to put your business on autopilot, you must always remember that you are dealing with people.

There are many new websites, fly-by-night businesses and get- rich-quick schemes on the web, so anything "new" or faceless will likely be questionable in the very least. Therefore, it goes without saying that your Internet marketing strategy must also include the use of relationship-building tools -- such as ezines, online communities, message boards and so on.

For instance, ezines are multiplying on the Internet because they are formidable tools in developing relationships with people. They help to establish your expertise and reputation, or at least that your website is credible and solid.

Ultimately, credibility is an vital component of operating and growing an online business. Be credible with Internet visitors and you'll be incredible with Internet sales.


About the author
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. Get a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," when you subscribe to his free monthly ezine, "The Profit Pill." See http://SuccessDoctor.com/ now!

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