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Ford versus Ling's Cars. Email Address Gathering

Let me start with an apology.

Dear Ford, I am sorry that your email registration is so bad that for 3 years I have been using it as an example of how not to do it.  I am the owner of a Ford Galaxy and a Ford Fiesta and have owned more Fords than any other car brand.  My mother recently bought her 14th Ford car and so it is in my genes to be brand loyal.  It’s only because I care that I choose to write about my on-line experience.  So there.

Now I’ve got that out of my system here’s the business issue:  The aim of an email marketing programme should be to acquire, convert and retain customers.  When we focus on the start of this process we should be looking to convert as many vaguely interested web visitors into qualified prospects by encouraging them to part with an email address or some other direct relationship (RSS subscriber, or Twitter follower, or Facebook Fan, and so on).

I’d like to think of these as “visitor-based micro-conversions”.  Having the mechanism to get back in touch with people is an important first step in a long sales process.  So, maybe one of the most important things you can work on is turning a visit into a lead, and I did a little blog on that a year ago to help you with the maths.

Gentlemen, start your engines

OK, which one of these 2 sites do you think offers the best email registration experience?

Now, on first impressions it’s a walk-over.  The sleek engineering of the Ford site will power past poor old Ling’s Cars and their (deliberately) amateur look and feel.  And yet…

First challenge is to find the button that allows people to sign up.  It’s in the top navigation on Ling’s site and also a long way down the right hand content bar.  It’s an image with a recognisable “Email Updates” or “Get Car Updates” heading.  In one click I am on my way.

However, on the Ford site there is no obvoius link for people to begin an email relationship.  The call to action people may be looking for is something like “click here to sign up for our newsletter”, but it’s nowhere to be seen on the Ford site.

Right at the very bottom of the left hand navigation is a cryptic “keep me informed” link.  Could this be the one we need to follow?  Who knows.  So, in terms of clarity of the navigation, Ling’s Cars is a bit ahead in the race to generate a registration…even though it is harder to find, the objective is clearly shared.

Lap 2 – what happens next?

In my breathless haste to sign-up for the Ford newsletter I click on the least important link on the home page (that’s what the Home Page Committee thinks of the importance of building relationships eh?).  I go to a new page that is strangely deviod of any of the magic and sparkle that was on the home page.  It is as if I have arrived at a completely new site, designed in about 1975.


Where is the persuasive momentum in that journey?  There is nothing on this page suggesting that this is the right journey, how long it will be and what the rewards will be.  It’s a leap of faith to click a button and proceed to the next page.  But, as you know, I love Ford and so I click the New Galaxy box and click in faith…  

Meanwhile, on Lings Cars, I’m on a page that delivers the value proposition, asks questions with explanations why you need to share the data and it is all done in a seamless, humorous way.  It’s pretty good.

Not only that, the Ling’s Cars registration page is dynamic, using client side rules to make the experience swift and painless.  And how about this for humour…the map of the UK alters dynamically based on your Post Code selection and comes up with some on-brand opinions about where you live…its about as fun as email registration gets…well done Ling! 


Better still, as you work through the form more dynamic content appears…like images of the car make and model that you have selected.  The whole process is engaging, relevant…even exciting!


Error Messages?  Sorry again, Ford

In June 2008 I wrote a Blog piece entitled “The 1 Million Pound Error Message” and ventured to suggest that the way Ford told people off could be costing £1m of lost sales a year.  It’s a pity that 2 years on we still have the same error messages.  Here is Ling’s one, and beneath it Ford’s version.  I venture to suggest that Ling’s Cars uses red imagery and rude tone of voice in a horrible font because they are pretending to be un-professional, whereas Ford….?

Anyway, my point here is that “error messages” should be called “sorry, we didn’t explain things very well messages” and we should be using all our persuasive techniques to re-assure people that they should continue in their journey.

Page 3 – and Journey’s end for Ling’s Cars

Well, it’s been a short, pleasant drive and we’re greeted at our destination by Ling with a personalised landing page in the form of a sample email.  Delightful.  And at the same time a welcome email has pinged into my in-box and I am re-assured that everything is now under control.  Put the kettle on.  Have a cup of tea.  After a little while look out the window and see if there is any sign of the Ford email registrant.  I have a feel they are a very long way from home….



Where are they?

It’s getting dark.  the Ford subscribers should have been here hours ago.  So you go out to find them and discover why they are so slow.  On page 3 of the Ford registration we are asked for our Post Code.  Now, that might be enough to dissuade plenty of people from going any further, and it seems a strange time to ask for such details.  I think Steve Krug sums up my views with a cartoon from his excellent new book.

Anyway, as I LOVE the Ford brand I am willing to share my postal details and I get to the next page.  But Ford have done the web equilavent of changing road signs at this stage of the journey:  On most web sites the “next stage” button is at the bottom on the right, so I click on that button and find myself going round and round in circles wondering why they want my post code AGAIN.  After a few loops of this process I see the right sign post and, clicking on the left hand button I get to the next page.  This is what Her Majesty the Queen would see if she was popping her post code in…

Are we nearly there yet?

By now the passengers in the Ford car are getting a little fractious.  They set off on this journey a long time ago and its taking much longer than planned.  Only the people who REALLY want to get to the end will be still travelling (more of that in a minute).  We round what we think is the last corner and we are greeted with the most confusing, demoralising page so far…

So, what a frightening form.  And look at all those mandatory fields – Phone Number as well…so unless I share my phone number my whole journey has been a complete waste of time.  Anyhow, let’s just put our foot down, grit our teeth and drive on into the night and we should be home soon.

Eventually I get to a thank you page that does include my name, but there is little else to re-assure me that this is the start of a wonderful journey.  I’m tired, stressed and not really sure what I will receive and when.  A quick look in my in-box and, Surprise!, there is no welcome email for me.

What have we learned from all that?

Using Ford as a metaphor for any customer form we see that we should try and keep data gathering to a minimum, unless we are building the value exchange and encouraging people to keep going all the way.  Think about “persuasive momentum” as people are going through the process, remembering to make your error messages and any other navigation as on-brand and encouraging as possible.

The delicious irony of all this is I reckon Ford probably get really good results from their email marketing…their open, click rates and outcomes are probably better than average.  But they have probably put off most of the prospects due to the lenghty registration process and the people who make it to the end really really want a Ford car.  Like me.

Happy motoring.

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