Learning About Online Marketing from Street Performers

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Living in a large city like Moscow provides me with a truly unique, twice-daily encounter with a random segment of 7 million other daily subway commuters.  As part of this journey I am often thrown face to face with the subway’s sundry performers, sellers of random crap and beggars. I’d say there are approximately 2-5 individuals who I observe engaged in some sort of attention-grabbing activity every day, so I’ve been witness to a wide spectrum of skill and determination.

Today for the first time it occurred to me how compelling people to spare a little change and stick around for a few seconds is a lot like getting people to sign up and pay for some service online.  The intense boredom of a long subway ride got me dwelling on this for a little too long and here are the results.

Location, location, location

This may be obvious, but you need to be where people are.

It’s far more difficult to draw a crowd to a new place than to insert yourself into their daily routine. Unless you are a celebrity people will not go out of their way to see you at some place where they never go. If you stand outside of the traffic areas or face the backs of people, you are unlikely to pique anyone’s interest.

Managing to hang on to the front page of Hacker News for a mere 3 hours brought more traffic to my blog in 24 hours than 5 previous months combined. Why? Because Hacker News is already a daily routine for a lot of folks. Work hard at inserting yourself into high-trafficked areas. Keep in mind that influence is not just a number of links, it’s also their quality.  So insert yourself into the daily routine of your target audience.

It’s been said many times but it bears repeating… location is key.

Presentation

Make it short, use big letters, and make it easy for your audience to act on the message.

The most attention you are going to get in an underground passageway is about 10-15 seconds it takes for the person to walk past you or before the sound and view fades. But the actionable window is even shorter. Nobody is going to go against the flow of people, so you need to get them while they are headed your way. All you have is 2-3 seconds, and that’s a lot closer to the challenge any new website faces.

My personal take on the look is that the look should correspond to the general expectation in your target audience’s mind’s eye of what you should look like. Looking too dapper or clean shaven as a purportedly needy street person sets of alarm bells. Playing a violin in a wifebeater sets of alarm bells. If you look unkempt, disorganized, or sloppy for no legitimate reason or if you cannot readily justify presenting that way, you are working against yourself.

It doesn’t mean that if you are a scrappy, bootstrapped startup and can’t afford a designer to work on your landing page that you are automatically doomed. Most reasonable people understand and have expectations of what such a site would look like.

However, you should also know that people with different expectations for what a landing page should look like will be turned away. I feel that is perfectly fine. Make it humble, honest, and leverage the skills you already have to tell your story the way you can afford for it to be told. Silence in my view does a lot more damage than less than perfect presentation.

Personality

In my view the most successful attention-getters are the unique ones that you remember afterwards, better yet, those that you wish to remember the minute you see them. Getting your camera out is a sure sign that something struck a cord. I don’t know what the online equivalent would be (I guess, bookmarking or recommending), but you get the analogy.

Personality matters a lot, and who you are is hugely important. The most visited page on my blog is About me. People are naturally curious about other people, and when they read something of mine I guess they want to have some context for who is writing it. It’s common sense to make things personal. Regrettably a lot of good content online is scrubbed clean of the author’s personality. I admit there are legitimate business reasons for this, but I still think that these reasons are applied too indiscriminately.

I believe that attaching a human face to a piece of content makes an appreciable difference in how this content is perceived, and it helps your visitors to learn about you and what you have to say.  So show yourself as the person behind the presentation. While you do, keep in mind that identity alone is not sufficient, what ultimately makes a difference is having your own persona or voice.

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