Parallel Information Structures

For some reason this past week, I encountered a lot of direct response advertising that was fulfilling only on the most basic requirements. I saw three different DR banners that simply clicked through to order forms and not much more.

While we all know that the shortest and simplest path to purchase represents a tactic that moves product, we should also know by now that all consumers aren't necessarily ready to buy when they interact with one of our online ads. This is where parallel information structures can help.

Let's say I'm a consumer that is in the market to buy a widget. I see an online banner for Widget Express Inc. and say to myself, "Hey, I've been looking to buy one of those." So I click on the banner and find myself at an order form on Since all I see is the order form, I find myself asking questions.

"Are these Widget Express guys on the level? How do I know this isn't just another one of those Internet rip-offs?"

"Does this widget come with the citrus juicer attachment? Or is that optional?"



"What if the widget breaks? Does Widget Express have a customer service department? Will they take it back?"

These are all questions that smart consumers might ask themselves before purchasing. But if all they're-presented with is an order form, they'll probably hit their browser's back button and skedaddle.

Don't get me wrong. Many consumers expect an order form upon click when they are presented with an Internet ad that presents a product offer. But other consumers expect information and answered questions before they feel comfortable buying.

That's where parallel information structures come in. You see, unlike broadcast media that are linear in the way they present information, interactive media can present information in parallel. A smart DR advertiser will not only serve up an order form, but also some links to important information that can help influence a buying decision. This information might include:

  • Product specs - If a consumer needs to know how fast a Widget Express can dice kumquats, the information should be available one click away from the order form.
  • Product comparison - If a Widget Express widget can roast two Cornish game hens in half the time, a simple table should show how Widget Express' model performs against models from its closest competitors.
  • Company information - Consumers should be able to ascertain quickly how long Widget Express has been in business and how well it has served consumers to date. If Widget Express is the oldest and largest widget company in the world, consumers should be able to find that information quickly and get back to the order form just as quickly. Brand lore helps here, too. If you have a cute story about your founder, Lou Widget, who started Widget Express by selling widgets out of the trunk of his Buick, that goes here.
  • Return policies, warranties and customer service information - Some customers need to be assured that if anything goes wrong, they'll be taken care of. Some testimonials wouldn't hurt either.
  • The rest of the product line - Don't forget about the consumer who clicks on a banner and says, "Hey, this isn't the widget I need. I need the one that makes coleslaw and julienne fries." Give them the option of checking out the rest of the product line. A range of products also has the effect of putting a customer at ease. It lets them know that your company cares for its customers by addressing diverse market needs.

What's great about online media is that none of this information needs to stand between your ad and your order form. Broadcast media, like television and radio, can present only one concept at a time (which is why those DR ads have voiceover announcers who can talk a mile a minute). Thankfully, websites can present the information in parallel - the order form can come with a menu of options for those customers who need that extra little nudge to get them to plunk down their credit cards.

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