Are you treating the digital world too much like print?

As regular reader of this blog may know, I once worked for the monolith that was Sensis – Yellow Pages’ publisher some years back.

At the time I sought them out as a potential employer because I knew how easily their directory business model could adapt to an online world, and how well they could leverage their relationship with pretty much every single business in Australia.

Now some 15 years later, their revenues are being decimated by newer, faster online players.  Many of their customers are also getting some small satisfaction out of years of YP’s practice of increasing their advertising fees by upselling and playing off competitors by taking their advertising spend elsewhere.

One of the early signs that Sensis was not grasping the new medium was when they tried to sell their customers a package which reproduced their printed directory ads on their website.  So when you found a business using their search engine, you also got what appeared to be a scanned version of their Yellow Pages ad.

In other words, they failed to understand the notion of the internet being a medium in its own right, with its own new way of presenting information, instead using it to try to replicate the more comfortable printed world from which they sprung.

Buildng bridges to adoption

In fairness, there’s nothing wrong with providing customers with a familiar bridge between an old medium and a new one.  Early television did much the same thing when they simply put radio presenters and programs in front of a camera and called ‘action’.

But such bridges can also become quickly outdated as customers often understand the new medium faster than the providers and look elsewhere for a more appropriate provider – in the web’s case, Google and its competitors.

And since the lightning fast uptake of smartphones and devices, the idea of printing anything has become obsolete as people use their screens for reading, viewing and presenting instead.

Old habits die hard

Still, only a few months ago, I was asked by a client to essentially replicate their printed catalogue on their website.

Ordinarily I would try to stress to them that whilst this approach might work well in the print world, there may well be better ways of achieving the same result by using digital presentation techniques.

But in this case, this print paradigm was a mainstay of their industry, so they were convinced that replicating it was the way to go.

You might be able to guess the result. Replicating the print catalogue in a way that would work online not only chewed up the bulk of their budget, their insistence that it be the major form of all important navigation created considerable technical challenges and in turn delays – all when simply using standard page presentation and gallery tools would achieve much the same result for a fraction of the time and budget.

And explains the acceleration in my hair loss!

Focus on the objective, not the mechanism

Whilst the client was happy with the end result, I think they secretly wondered if their investment in what was essentially a bygone paradigm was really worth it.

Whilst their may well be the odd occasion to replicate the print world online – for example when content needs to be printed for presentation or storage purposes, in most cases the digital world will provide far better ways of presenting information than print was ever capable of doing.

Why would you try to replicate a printed catalogue when you can tap into often far more effective presentation techniques like video, animation and other techniques and effects?

The best way to harness the capabilities of the new media is to approach your professional not with the solution, but with the problem.

New solutions to old problems

Instead of saying “we want to put our catalogue online”, tell them that you want to present your product in a way that is enticing, exciting and demonstrative and if not allowing for an immediate sale, takes them as close to the sale as possible.

Most professionals are not only across most of the presentation techniques available to you for your budget, but are usually excited by the challenge of creating the solution for you.

You may well be very pleasantly surprised with the solution the professional presents to you!

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.

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