With an MBA from Harvard University, Robert Brooker understands high- tech business, and he believes the secret to on-line success is old-fashioned credibility.
Brooker sells copies and originals of historic documents from his Web site, www.nativeson.com. His customers are people who want to get in touch with their family history. It is critical that anyone who buys from him be confident that he is offering something that is really old and legitimately historical. His techniques for building credibility will work not only in his niche business, but also in any business where it is critical to persuade potential customers that you are honest and trustworthy.
Brooker builds credibility in seven different ways:
— Demonstrate a reassuring presence. Brooker’s web site shows his restored, historic home with his business partners standing in front of it. He points to Sears and Roebuck as his model. When that famous company first started their mail-order efforts, sales people in the home office in Chicago were encouraged to circle the window nearest them on the drawing of the office appearing on the order form because it would give customers a sense that a real person was handling their account. The same techniques work on the web.
— Post pictures of the merchandise on the web. Posting photos of the documents could discourage some customers, Brooker admits. After all, if they can download a copy, why would they want to buy one? But Brooker insists that the risk is worth it. Forgery looks pretty hard to accomplish when a document is obviously created with a quill pen.
— Provide useful and free information. Brooker registers a separate page for every name for which he has a document. Genealogical researchers are likely to happen upon the appropriate page as they are seeking their ancestors’ names. When they click on Native Soil, they not only get a sales pitch, they also get free information about their family history. As Brooker says, “You don’t have to buy to get something of value.”
— Target your market. Brooker uses the U.S. Census Bureau’s web site (www.census.gov) to avoid sending emails about his documents to buyers whose names are too common. He seeks a clientele who are likely to appreciate the significance of the documents that he wants to sell because they are direct descendants.
— Join professional organizations and display your credentials. Brooker encourages potential customers to contact the American Ephemera Society. He even lists the phone number of the president of the group on Native Soil’s web site so any dubious customer can call for reassurance.
— Post testimonials. Several of Brooker’s satisfied customers have been willing to say so for posting on Native Son’s site. Brooker also includes the email addresses of happy customers so nervous, potential customers can check out his reputation.
— Publish your physical address and phone number prominently. Once in a while a customer visiting Brooker’s home territory in Boston will actually stop by. And when it happens, Brooker is delighted. It’s another opportunity to prove that he is a legitimate member of the community.