Backroads (www.backroads.com)

Sep 01, 1998 9:30 PM  By

It’s the ultimate marketing challenge: How do you convince customers to make a large purchase of an intangible item they can’t sample, haven’t tried before, and won’t be able to return? Ask bicycle trip marketer Backroads. Or better still, look up the travel company’s Online Traveler Website at www.backroads.com.

There you’ll find plenty of reasons to pine for a week of pedaling through California redwoods or sipping Burgundy in Beaune. Of course, this site provides the alluring photographs of exotic landscapes and smiling cyclists that you would expect from a travel catalog. And Backroads is particularly adept at presenting clear navigation elements and page makeups. As one judge says, “These graphics are a knockout.” But the brilliance of the site lies in the information it conveys and the trust it generates.

“Backroads’ outstanding quality is its ability to answer questions. It seems to have thought of every one, and because of this, customers can write a check for a trip to a place they’ve never seen and feel confident that the details have been covered,” lauds a judge. “Forget the beautiful pictures-more companies should learn from Backroads’ anticipation of objections to ordering and how it overrides the objections so clearly.”

The judges have no problem with the lack of ordering capability on the site; they agree that the complex nature of the trips being sold doesn’t lend itself to online ordering. The panelists also concur that the Backroads site not only meets its stated mission to provide information and qualify potential customers but also does a considerable amount of selling. “It presells destinations before customers call Backroads by phone,” explains one judge.

Despite the inability to order online, Backroads nevertheless exploits the unique abilities of the Internet to serve up customized information and communicate with its customers. First the company provides the “Selecting Your Trip” section, in which a customer completes a profile of his or her interests and abilities and is then matched with a trip selection from approximately 150 options. The global map also provides visual references for making vacation selections. Or customers may scan the “Now Departing” section for available space at the last minute for unfilled Backroads trips. Then the “Travelgram” area allows Website visitors to send e-mail postcards.

The overall result is a Website that presents a vast, deep array of information far too cumbersome for a printed catalog to efficiently cover. It offers romance, beautiful photos, and inviting copy, and it sells trips-meeting the ultimate marketing challenge. As one judge sums up, “Just as in its printed catalog, Backroads sets high standards for this site, both in concept and execution. It succeeds better than any other company I’ve seen.”