Advertising. At its most basic, it’s proof of life. “Hola, we exist!” But does anyone beside you give a shit? Beyond elemental proof of life, adverts attempt to hit a number of targets. Features and benefits. Eat this and you’ll shed 10 pounds in 30 days. Wear that and you’ll get the girl. Pop this and be frisky for hours. Then there’s the call to action. Buy one and get one free. That might work with speakers but not really with preamps. Added urgency can work wonders. Offer expires Monday, November 30th. That’s the Black Friday clarion call around the world.
Then there are celebrity endorsements. George Clooney and Nespresso. That might work for the ladies. Or those guys who like guys. Sex sells. That definitely works for most of the guys but not hifi. Unless they’re ear buds or portable players worn and operated in public to become fashion items, stereos remain hidden. They’e home bodies. Nobody sees them. The status thing which works for watches, clothes, handbags, smart phones, cars and houses doesn’t work for hifi. And really, does a half-naked woman next to a big loudspeaker promise you’ll get some if you own it? Even dim wits knows that the ladies hate the big boxes.
Discounts sell. Selling on price works every time. Of course people still got to want what you’ve got. Half off for something nobody wants is still 50% too much. Surveying these basics, advertising for hifi looks quite challenged. It sure ain’t sexy. Having a hifi doesn’t make you stronger, smarter, slimmer or more desirable. It’s no longer the status thing it once was. And today, very few audio companies have the cash to go after celebrity endorsements like big watch brands. Our celebrities are top reviewers whom nobody outside hifi knows or cares about.
When one advertises, the question must be, who is the intended audience? Most hifi can’t afford the fashion route nor is it hip enough to apply in the first place. That leaves pushing tech or musical enjoyment. What to say about features and benefits? “When music matters.” Variations on this scheme are so ubiquitous, it no longer exerts any pull whatsoever. Everyone says it, very few really mean it. Canvas sundry hifi brand websites for evidence that it’s about the music. You’ll find tech talk, white papers and patents. You won’t find exposés on how listening to music enhances your life quality. No, it takes a lot more than one smarmy tag line to be convincing. That leaves tech – horse power, SPL, bass reach, sample rates, the works. Of course that stuff only speaks to the insiders.
Clearly advertising is vital to being in business and staying in business. What many fail to consider is that it all starts with their website. Last century’s business card is this century’s URL. The ditty about first impressions, mattering and only having one chance remains as vital as it’s always been. A good website not only informs, it creates identity. Identity leads to familiarity. That’s a sense of knowing the company and what they’re about. When it comes time to part with the cashish, people always prefer to do business with folks they–think they–know rather than total strangers.
Just so, most hifi companies aren’t too good at building compelling identities with their websites whilst eliminating common objections. Let’s start with the latter. What are common red flags?
● No business address. Who in their right mind does business with a company who fail to publish a complete address of work? Are they for real or what? Of course if you work out of a ghetto or trailer park, be mindful that Google Earth will zoom in on it.
● No business phone. Should a delivery stall, acrid smoke rise or anything else bad happen, punters want to talk to a live person, not an email auto responder.
● No email address. Don’t use an interactive inquiry window to obscure your email address. If you’re in business, publish a proper email. If you need filters, use multiples like sales@, info@, tech@ etc. Address, phone and email must be easy to find.
● Absence without notice. If you’re incapable of responding to email or phone calls due to a vacation or emergency (remember that vacation times and durations vary widely by country and religion), post a very visible note to that effect. Otherwise risk irate customers who, not being answered in 24 hours, hit the forums asking whether you’re still in business; or insist that your customer service sucks.
● No pricing. That’s a biggie. Punters need to know whether they can afford your stuff. Obviously end pricing will differ around the globe. It’s easy enough to say so based on currency exchanges, different VAT, customs clearance, shipping etc. whilst still providing a potential buyer with that very relevant information.
● Limbo pages. A news page that was last updated more than 12 months ago speaks louder than you can imagine. Then it is best not to have a page called ‘news’ to begin with. Ditto for a ‘coming soon’ product rendering that’s ancient. These things hurt you more than you can quantify. Is your company dying? Did your chief engineer leave?
● Ill-timed press releases. Announcing new product without having a matching product page on your site is a huge wasted effort.
● Show attendance without site backup. Ditto. Premiering new stuff at a trade or consumer event without simultaneously having it live on your website presupposes customer interest of such urgency that they’ll keep checking back until your site is finally updated. What has you believe their momentary curiosity stays live that long?
● Embargoed press releases. Do you imagine yourself so important that December 5th, 18:00 Eastern Standard time, gets pencilled in on a publisher’s calendar to let it fly? Forget it. If you’re not ready now, don’t send it out.
● No facility photos. If you’re big and successful, you can get away with murder. If you’re still struggling and new, murder is out of the question. Instead you must overcome justified customer concerns about being new, small and unknown; here today, gone tomorrow, working out of a garage. So prove that you’re real in pictures. Show us your measurement station, your assembly area, your parts inventory, your shipping materials, your CNC lathe – the works.
● No personnel photos. People prefer buying from people, not anonymous corporations. Show yourself!
● No show reports. If you spend money to participate at a hifi show and don’t take photos of your room/display for your site, you rely on the formal press to cover you. Big mistake, senseless risk.
● No owner’s manuals. Today’s customer is well informed. One of the easiest ways to feed that information need are downloadable PDF of owner’s manuals and related product information.
● No decent product photos. For hifi products, being seen nearly always comes well before being heard. So show your product from all angles, in all finish options. Be sure to have plenty of 300dpi options for the press. Many magazines rely on stock photos. If you’re tired of seeing the same two old photos recycled time and again, make more available. Do not require special log-on credentials. What secrets may the press know that consumers can’t? Why eliminate a Saturday opportunity when a dead-lined publisher needs a quality photo and can’t wait until Monday to get the access code?
● No customer endorsements. Are you quite mad? Happy owner feedback is the very best advertising there is. And it’s free. Be sure to solicit such feedback on your site and in your owner’s manuals, then publish it on a special page. Ask for comparisons or mini reviews. Ask for photos of your gear in end user systems and rooms. They show real-world context, not airbrushed glamour shots of speakers without speaker cables set up where they’d never go.
● No story. Even if you’re new, your product goes back. You go back. Whatever prior interests and experience pooled into launching your business, share them. Suddenly your thing is a lot older, more grounded. That makes it more attractive to shoppers with endless well-established mainstream options.
● No English pages. Like it or not, English is the default global language. Your default home page should be English, not buyme.com/EN or variations thereof. The URL which Google & Co. grab should be the English version. Patriotic pride can still be celebrated with the look, logo, company name and back story.
● Link reviews. It makes no sense to pursue reviews, then not link to them. You can’t assume that people read them the first time around.
● One-stop shop. Your website ought to answer all questions, address all concerns, anticipate all objections, provide visitors with all supplemental materials, whether they are end users, press or importers/retailers. It’s your business. You have all the answers. Why wait until people ask them? That’s again presupposing they’re interested enough to even bother. Today’s attention spans are shorter than ever!
● Don’t box yourself in. Religion excludes. “Op amps suck” could bite you on the ass when a budget model in the future absolutely needs one to hit its price point. “We prefer discrete whenever possible” accomplishes the same but doesn’t require spin when you break your own rules. Same with negative feedback, tubes, fully balanced or any other design preference. Unless you’re psychic, you won’t know where the industry will be in five years. Give yourself room to adapt without having to rewrite the whole script.
● Avoid alphabet soup. Do you think the iPhone or Galaxy would be as popular if they were called F0203r or Phone 2vb MkIII? If you want people to relate to your product, name it something attractive and meaningful. A Ford Mustang is far more evocative than a Mazda 626. The same goes for your company name and logo. That, your colour scheme, your chosen font… it all flows into creating personality and identity.
Now we get to a dead-obvious clincher. Just why informative friendly websites which communicate identity, express personality and tell story are so vital is that once you pursue paid advertising, it sends people to your site. Your advertising dollars are completely wasted if what they direct people at is crap, full of holes and still requires that you field endless phone calls or answer repetitive emails about things that should be handled already.
Why are there so many crap websites? One reason is that people hire big firms to design something flashy. Once it’s up and you need €2’499 changed to €3’195, the trouble starts. Though it’s a 15-second fix, that company is too big to bother with tiny updates. Note to self? If you pay someone to design your site, insist that they design it so you can update it yourself. You must be in control. This is the 21st century. It’s about information and communication. Be in the driver’s seat.
PS. Did you notice how dreadful it was to read through this instalment without any photos whatsoever? Online, black type against white background (or the reverse, it matters not) keeps on scrolling like mad crawling ants. Break up text with photos every few paragraphs. It’s easier on the eyes and makes for little rest stops before reading resumes. And, pictures really are worth a thousand words.
Further reading: 6moons