These are interesting times for people in the print "catalog" business - their primary marketing activity costs more and is less effective every time they do it. There are battles about everything in that world right now - from attribution (no, you can't mail a web customer a dead tree and claim they ordered again because you did so) to formatting and delivery.

But I don't want to wade into that mess right now - I want to talk about content because the lessons there apply to all Internet Entrepreneurs.

In the long ago and far away websites really sucked compared to print catalogs. Screens were hard to read, images were low resolution, and many of us were very impressed by our members only jackets. (Mine was red and it made me super cool).

And then the web caught up - and the dream of consistency began.

The notion for a long time was that if the web could have as much great content as a print catalog all would be happy with the world - and it was in fact quite complicated and expensive to make that happen.

We then saw the rise of the "virtual catalog" - those sites, often flash driven, that were meant to be exactly like print catalogs, even allowing you to turn pages like it was a real dead tree.

This went on for many years and folks adopted a mantra - they all wanted consistency - the exact same content on their website and in their catalog. You still see print shops today proudly hawking "virtual catalogs" and openly discussing how important consistency is.

Whoa boy - that's just plain wrong these days.

If you focus on consistency you'll actually damage your web site and skip over much of what is cool about the web - we call this the consistency conundrum.

With incredible screen resolutions, amazingly fast web connections, and photography possibilities that are mind blowing the web has left dead trees in the dust.

But the problem that many Internet Entrepreneurs have is that they become stuck on the mantra - consistency is king. We want all of our materials to be presented in the exact same way everywhere. They have trained to do his for a long time and they have developed skills that make this happen more easily.

Ideal marketing makes the best use of each medium - that has your different avenues supporting each other and playing to the strengths of each one. It is actually pretty easy to spot print designers at the helm of websites - they don't use video, they rarely utilize image rotators, and in general they don't use the common solutions that are best for the web. No offense to print wizards as web designers sometimes try print and that is a train wreck too.

Here is a simple little test if you sell products online: do you write in shorthand when you do the first draft? If so you've got a serious consistency conundrum.

In a paper catalog we have to be very cautious about space as more words costs more money. So we see all these abbreviations, shorthand talk, and things that are designed to accommodate that reality.

When it comes to product copy I tend to hope that people have a first draft that is nice and long , they trim it to fit in their paper catalog. Take that long version and place it on your site - where you can use as many words as you like and not increase the cost. I've talked about this in the past by referring to the web as the "cutting room floor" for photography and copy production - don't pay to have something made and then throw it away.

The problem comes when after years of training the long version doesn't even exist - it is written in shorthand on the first pass.

If this is how you produce content today you are missing out on what the web can do for you.
Here's the bottom line for Internet Entrepreneurs: you need to make the best use of every content path, and that means having different content in different spots. If you hear someone say the object is that we have the same content everywhere, you can be sure you have a very serious problem.

Try to shift your thinking and work on how you can make the best use of each communication medium.

Ross Lasley is the Internet Educator, an experienced Internet entrepreneur providing web strategy and consulting services to businesses. Ross speaks frequently on web design, e-commerce, and Internet marketing issues and maintains a weekly newsletter, Web Enlightenment.
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