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"Yoda Says, 'Give, Then Take' "
by  J o h n A u d e t t e

One of the major changes brought about by the new environment of the
Internet is a shift in the balance of power between businesses and
customers. For a number of reasons discussed in the issue ASTEROID IP HAS STRUCK PLANET EARTH the customer is now in charge. In order to be competitive, those doing business on the Internet must offer genuine value to customers. And here's the hard part -- genuine value is defined by those pesky customers, not by the businesses.

As my good Internet pal Jaffer Ali continually reminds me, the Internet is becoming increasingly commerce driven. But as I continually remind him, it may be commerce driven, but it's information led. Which means that those marketing information first, and commerce second, have an advantage over those leading with commerce.

One great way to do this is to give before you take. Fortunately this is easy and inexpensive to do in the virtual world of the Internet. You don't have to give anyone atoms that involve shipping and handling. You can give them information in the form of bits and bytes. It's simple, easy,
inexpensive -- and it works wonders. But it does require a little thought.
A little dedication. And especially a little patience as the sale happens
after the second, third, fourth, or later step.

Last week I promised to give you a killer case study of the concept of
"give,then take" in action. The case study I'm using is one I know best, my own company, Multimedia Marketing Group, Inc.

MMG Case Study
Founded in 1994, MMG was bootstrapped into existence with no outside capital. In the early days one of the services that we provided was to register client Web sites with the most important search engines and directories. In those days, there were hundreds of search engines and directories and we spent many hours compiling a database of most of them, ending up with over 1,200 listings.

We next spent many more hours determining which of these 1,200 were the most important for our clients to be listed in, as it was almost impossible to register in all of them. We managed to winnow the list down to the best 100 and we then placed the list on the Internet in a private, password protected section of the MMG Web site for the use of MMG Registration Specialists. The hyperlinked, annotated list was continually updated and it became an invaluable company resource as it greatly reduced the time required to complete the registration process.

Give, Then Take #1
We were doing a lot of business, but of course we were interested in
growing the company. Our marketing budget was modest (really modest - zero) in those days, so the challenge was how do we market the company with this rather limited budget? After pondering this over a couple of pints of Guinness one evening I had a thought. We didn't have a marketing budget, but we did have one valuable asset -- the list of the best 100 search engines and directories on the Internet. Perhaps there was a way to leverage this asset. What if we simply removed the restricted access to the list on our Web site and made it available to whoever wanted to use it -- free? It would undoubtedly draw traffic (we were giving away the crown jewels, after all), but would it kill our registration service, the mainstay of our business at that time? Only one way to find out.

Thus was born the WebStep TOP 100. It immediately became a big hit and began generating substantial traffic to the MMG site. And what do you think happened to our volume of registration business?

It exploded. A percentage of those visiting the TOP 100 decided that it
would simply be easier to have us do the registrations for them. Our
increased registration business led to other business, which led to other
business, and so on. And even in this day of numerous site registration
tools, the WebStep TOP 100 still delivers over 100,000 unique visitors to the MMG Web site every month.

Give, Then Take #2
Next, in November 1995, we launched the Internet-Sales Discussion List (I-Sales) as a spin-off of the highly successful Internet Marketing
Discussion List (I-M). I-M was comprised of about 7,000 subscribers at that time who discussed marketing concepts from a theoretical, 20,000 foot viewpoint. I was interested in providing a forum for the ground level discussion of Internet sales issues and Glenn Fleishman, I-M moderator kindly gave me his support (again, thank you Glenn).

The I-Sales community (and it is a community -- more on that next week) crested 1,000 subscribers within a month or so and today, after some 750 issues, has over 11,000 subscribers from 70+ countries. For month after month after month it was a lot of hard work for absolutely no measurable ROI. And it is still a lot of hard work today (there's nothing like a daily deadline). But the benefits that have accrued to me, and to MMG, over the past three years have been of great value. They include:

(1) Knowledge Acquired
I-Salers are knowledgeable, active and willing to share. Serving as the
moderator of a high quality discussion list such as I-Sales is continuing
education at the graduate level. Over 20 posts a day are sent in for
possible inclusion in the I-Sales Digest. As moderator I review each and everyone of those posts, which means that since I-Sales was launched I have read over 21,000 e-mails on the topic of Internet sales and marketing. You don't have to be too bright to acquire some knowledge when you're exposed to that much great material. If Internet sales and marketing were the international airport of the world, acting as moderator is like sitting in the control tower of that airport with a birdseye view of all the take offs and landings.

(2) Marketing: Exposure, Reputation & Credibility
Being in front of an online community as large as I-Sales on a daily basis helps to build awareness in an important market for MMG. Our company provides marketing services to a number of e-commerce ventures and many of our clients have come from the I-Sales community. The daily exposure also helps to build credibility for myself and for MMG. With all the flimflam activity present in the Wild West atmosphere of the Internet, just the fact that we're there every day helps to build credibility. And it's pretty hard to hide your true nature for over 750 issues. After a while members of your community begin to know a little about you and your company. And they are able to have a sense of whether you might be a solution to some of their problems and challenges.

(3) Profit Center
Now that I-Sales is established with over 11,000 subscribers, many
companies are interested in getting their message in front of such a group. As a result, I-Sales now produces advertising revenues for MMG. It didn't happen overnight, and we certainly didn't foresee it, but it's has become a profit center for MMG.

Did I know all of this when I started I-Sales? Umm, no. I'm not prescient enough to have forecast all of this. As an aging child of the 60's (which actually happened in the early 70's, by the way) my motives were pretty idealistic. I simply wanted to facilitate open discussion on a topic that interested me. I had no inkling that "give, then take" would prove to be such a powerful Internet marketing approach. In his excellent book "New Rules for the New Economy", Kevin Kelly has an entire chapter devoted to the topic of why "give, then take" works in the Internet environment. But in my case, my grandfather would have described it as a blind dog finding a bone.

These two "give, then takes", useful information offered for free (with
very little immediate ROI) are major components of the foundation upon which we are building MMG, a company that has grown from one person working in his basement to an interactive agency with 35+ employees. We still have much building to do -- and I suspect that leading with information will be a big part of it.

URLs of Sites Mentioned
Multimedia Marketing Group - http://www.mmgco.com
WebStep TOP 100 - http://www.mmgco.com/top100.html
I-Sales Discussion List - http://www.mmgco.com/isales/

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