You would think that everyone in business would be able to tell you what they do and why you should be doing business with them; unfortunately, the sad truth is many business executives can't. In fact, one of the biggest problems in designing Web sites has always been getting appropriate raw material that can be turned into meaningful presentations: A handful of badly written brochures and a few out-of-date photographs are not going to make much of an impression.

And now that the Web has involved into a sophisticated communication platform, able to deliver audio and video content, the problem has become even worse. Web sites need to not only deliver appropriate copy and image content but also present audio dialog and video performances that demonstrate how products and services improve the business or personal lives of Web site visitors.

But if organizations don't know or can't express their own marketing story, or are unwilling to allow their multimedia advisor to develop that story for them, their Web sites will never become integral to their success.

At the heart of the problem is fear—of making a definitive statement, declaring loud and clear what you do, and why anyone should care. And it's no longer good enough to apply technical solutions to marketing problems: You are not going to engage your audience with SEO, XML, CSS, or PHP.

You must have a story to tell and you can't be afraid to tell it as boldly as you can.

Do you know who you are and what you really do?

Businesses that know who they are and what they do can go on to deliver their message, knowing well that some people are just not going to buy into what the business has to say, but those that do get it, really get it, are potential clients. As far as the others are concerned, well, there's lots of business for everybody, and nobody is going to get it all.

You can't be afraid to lose a customer you never had in the first place.

Are you doing all you can to attract business?

There are many methods that can be employed to drive appropriate traffic to your site: search engine optimization is only one. Have you written and published articles and advice on what you do? Have you created a blog or a MySpace page to create a community of interest? Have you issued press releases on new developments and product releases? If you're relying solely on search engine optimization as a substitute for marketing, you are not doing everything you can to attract new business.

Even if your search engine tactics are attracting large numbers of visitors to your site, what is your conversion rate, how long are people staying on your site, and do you have enough compelling content to get them to come back?

If you're in the business of selling banner and text ads on your site, if that is how you make your living, then lots of random traffic may serve your purpose; but if you are in the business of providing something useful to people, then you better pay more attention to what your visitors see once they arrive on your site.

After all, all the traffic in the world is useless if those visitors don't get your message. It all starts with the message. So what's your message?

What's your story?

Crafting your marketing story is not as easy as it sounds, and you may have to let go of some outdated thinking in order to bring your story to life.

Web videos are not feature films or even viral videos intended to show how clever you are. You are essentially making a commercial.

And although special effects may be cool, they are not a substitute for a finely crafted script delivered by a professional performer.

Web sites don't close sales, people close sales

Web videos are designed to make a statement: "This is who we are, and this is what we do, so contact us to find out how we can change your life." Web sites create leads, not sales; so don't expect your Web video to make the sale—that's your job.

Now that you know the purpose of your Web site presentation, it is time to figure out what you want to say.

Below are a series of questions that will help you develop your marketing story.

1. How will your product or service change your customer?

All stories or marketing messages have to do with change. A cosmetic company provides change from plain to beautiful, from self-doubt to self-confidence. A vitamin supplement supplier provides change from poor health to good health, from sluggish to vibrant. A self-help motivational program provides change from defeat to victory, from depression to wellbeing. And so on.

All good marketing stories highlight the change that your audience wants to make in their business or personal lives. Go deeper than the obvious and look for the psychological, emotional, cognitive, or spiritual change that your company delivers.

All successful campaigns are about change. People who are satisfied with their work and life aren't motivated to be customers. You want to target people who are motivated: people who want to be better, stronger, smarter, prettier, healthier, and richer; people who want more out of work and more out of life.

If your audience isn't motivated to change, and if your product or service can't deliver change, then you're wasting your time and your money.

2. Is what you have to say different?

If you are saying the same thing, and in the same way, as your competition, you're in trouble. You must differentiate yourself somehow; you must stand out. Your product or service must provide something different. The world is full of "me-to" companies, businesses that do the same thing as dozens of other businesses. You must find that unique something in what you offer that makes you different—and says you are not a follower but a leader.

If your product or service is substantially the same as your competitors', perhaps you should market it differently, or maybe you should concentrate on the "High Concept" need it delivers, rather than the standard "same-old-same-old" that everyone else is touting.

Which one of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs does your product or service fulfill: physical, safety, social, self-esteem, aesthetic, cognitive, or self-actualization? Chances are your competition has completely ignored the psychological and emotional marketing angle and is focusing on specifications and features that have little to do with why people really choose one product over another.

3. Do you know how to tell your story?

You must have more than a story to tell or a message to deliver; you must know how to tell it. Your marketing should create a recognizable corporate image that establishes a unique identity in the mind of your audience. If your audience sees no difference between you and the competition, then you become interchangeable.

Apple didn't capture the lion's share of the MP3 market just because its product is arguably better than everyone else's; rather, it did so because iPods are more than MP3 players—they are a lifestyle choice, as clearly demonstrated in commercials and other advertising.

4. Can you say it boldly?

The meek may inherit the earth, but if they're in business they'll probably go broke. If you got something to say, SAY IT, and say loud and clear. There are just too many companies, too many Web sites, too many advertisements, simply too much clutter to expect people to pay any attention to you if you are afraid to stand up and be noticed. Go boldly or don't go at all.

5. Who is your target audience?

Decide who you want to target and what motivates them; then design your Web site, videos, and advertising campaigns to trigger every hot-button, motivating message you can. Develop your message so it speaks directly to that audience.

Your message must have purpose, it must be focused and concise, and must deliver a clear impression of identity. This means that you can't be all things to all people. By focusing on a clear audience with a precise message, you may even have a better chance of capturing non-targeted audiences: The fact that Apple iPod commercials are aimed at a hip young audience has not stopped Apple from capturing MP3 market share across all demographic profiles.

6. Can you take the heat?

Last, but not least: Do you have what it takes to tell your story in a way that people will remember? Are you prepared to deliver your message in the boldest, most audacious manner you can? Are you ready to give up on nonproductive audiences and concentrate on those motivated to say yes to your message? Are you able to ignore the odd complaint or nasty email objecting to your cutting-edge approach? Are you ready for the Web-video revolution?

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Jerry Bader is senior partner in MRPwebmedia (, a website-design firm that specializes in Web audio and video. Contact him via or (905) 764-1246.