Don't Squander Your Message

If you've listened to the news on National Public Radio, you might have heard sponsorships ending "on the Web at Sodexho.com." But they don't tell you how to spell it! They don't even say "so-dex-ho," let alone the far more effective "s-o-d-e-x-h-o." When you're entering a website, if you're even one letter off, you won't get there--you'll get to someone else's site, perhaps, or a "server not found" error.

Is it Sedexo, Codecso, Sudexo, Cidexo? Sodhexo? Phonetically, there are at least a dozen choices.

How did I find the right one? I remembered that they used to be Sodexho-Marriott, so I went to Google and asked for a search that contained both "sedexo" and "marriott." Google, helpful as usual, asked if I really wanted Sodexho and Marriott. Since I did this research, the company has actually changed to the considerably easier Sodexo (no silent h).

I *never* would have guessed that spelling! Do you think a prospect would go to that much trouble? Not bloody likely! I only went there because it's such a good example of money-wasted "marketing."

I'll continue making an example of poor Sodexho. First of all, why would I track their link down? Did their sponsorship spots tell me anything about what this company does, or why I might want to do business with them? Nope! And yes, you CAN do this within the confines of a sponsorship slot on public radio (other companies do this very effectively).

But let's say, against all odds, they get you to their website, despite no message and the need to guess spelling. At the time I first visited (maybe they read this article; it's had a full makeover), this is what I found.

The Sodexho home page was very attractive, colorful, uses lots of flash. With my cable connection, it loaded surprisingly quickly; from a technical standpoint, they've hired pro designers. But from a marketing standpoint, the site gets failing grades.

On the left, it told me the time in New York, Stockholm, Hong Kong, and "on the sea," wherever that is, using a hand-drawn circle with four quadrants of solid color. (In a second visit a few minutes later, On the Sea had turned into Montreal). If I moved my mouse over the wheel, it started displaying pictures and odd captions across the time wheel, which turn out to be clickable links. For instance, over the New York part of the color wheel, it said, "Anchors Aweigh! Let the Magic Begin." If you click on that, you get a paragraph about dancing on a harbor cruise boat, ending in elipses--but if you try to find the rest of the article, you're back to the color wheel.

On the right is another wheel-shaped graphic, this one designed on a computer. This has several links: "A time for greeting" (hand icon), "a time for living" (flower), "A time for living" (earth), "A time for initiating" (person), "A time for understanding" (an eye). (This image is all that's visible right now at Archive.org; the full URL is http://web.archive.org/web/20030905120503/www.sodexho.com/SodexhoAnglais/nonflash/nonflash/index.cfm

Underneath that is a navigation bar with what looks like at three different handwriting-style fonts: Country websites, World Innovation Forum, listing on the NYSE. And under that, radio buttons for a site map, a French version of the site, and a contact link.

Having spent about 15 minutes on this home page, I still had no clue about what this company does or why I might want to do business with them. So, just to give it one more chance, I click on the Understanding link. This brings me to a submenu with the company logo and links to "Sodexho Research Institute on the Quality of Daily Life," "Search Engine," and "Library."

Enough is enough! I was out of there!

These people worked so hard to make me aware of their company, spent serious bucks to be a consistent NPR underwriter with spots that have no message, made it impossible to locate their website, and then gave me a site that's a feel-good graphics maven playing on company time and with company money (lots of money, I suspect). I like the feel-good feel. It's an attractive site. But I've spent a quarter hour trying to figure out what this company does, and why I should do business with it.

The average visitor is first of all going to go somewhere else because the spelling is not exactly intuitive, and then stick around for less than 30 seconds to figure out if the site is worth investing any time. My suspicion is that on dialup, the site would still be loading by then.

I'm not just picking on Sodexho. I could name hundreds of corporations that approach marketing in the same backward way.

If you put your hard-earned money into a marketing message, you want it to work.

Evaluate every marketing mechanism on how well it gets the message across. If it doesn't deliver, don't use it.

Green and Profitable marketing consultant/columnist Shel Horowitz is the primary author (with Jay Conrad Levinson) of Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet. He is also the Founder of the International Association of Earth-Conscious Marketers.


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