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Bob Dylan is one of the great voices in modern music. Like all of the greatest artists, Dylan’s work has universal relevance. It doesn’t just speak to a particular group. His work is a resource that inspires people across the world, including plenty of e-commerce entrepreneurs.

With a new Dylan album out, here are some of lessons that online businesses can learn from Duluth’s most famous son.

“How does it feel

To be on your own

No direction home

A complete unknown?”

— Like A Rolling Stone

The iconic chorus of “Like a Rolling Stone” could have been written by a customer landing on a badly laid out, cluttered e-commerce site.

Site owners should always put themselves in the position of someone coming to their site for the first time. How does it feel to see the site with fresh eyes? Is it confusing? Do users get lost and run for the nearest exit?

Successful sites manage to make users feel right at home from the first time they visit, with clear language, bold and well laid out buttons and the right mix of video, graphics, and text.

“He screams back, ‘You’re a cow!

Give me some milk or else go home.’ “

–Ballad of a Thin Man

These lines come from one of Dylan’s angriest, most satirical songs, but they should resonate with eCommerce marketers. Too many sites fail to give users what they are looking for. They are light on information, leaving customers in the dark about what is on offer and why they should make a purchase.

Don’t be that kind of site. Provide clear, comprehensive product descriptions to go along with your site design and slick content strategy, or users will soon look elsewhere.

“Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”

–It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding

Who can forget the torrent of rage against capitalism unleashed by Dylan in “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”? It’s one of the most remarkable indictments of consumer society ever written, but why is it relevant to online marketers?

If you advertise the fact that you are looking to make money, and you don’t approach marketing with the right attitude, customers can easily turn against you.

People hate braggarts. They respond well to people who offer them a service, and mistrust those who are obviously out to make a quick buck. So style yourself accordingly and prioritize substance over gimmicks.

“I came in from the wilderness

A creature void of form

‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you

Shelter from the storm.’ “

–Shelter From the Storm

This beautiful song from Dylan’s masterpiece Blood on the Tracks is all about online marketing. Well, not really, but it does make a valid point about what marketers need to offer customers.

When people visit online stores, they are usually in the mood to make a purchase. If not, why would they visit? The problem is, while they may know what kind of product they want, they don’t necessarily know the exact model or precisely who they should buy it from.

With so much choice on the web, it’s like a storm of offers competing for their attention.

You need to be the one who offers customers shelter. Create a sales funnel that channels their attention towards a few deals. When customers search or browse, design your site so they are offered three or four choice at most. Reassure them that they will enjoy customer support after their purchase and services like guarantees or free returns. That way, they will be much more likely to make their purchase final.

“She’s 68 but she says she’s 24,

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more.”

–Maggie’s Farm

Dylan might have got away from “Maggie’s Farm” as quickly as he could, but was his predicament that different to the people arriving at eCommerce stores that make big promises that never materialize?

Listing products that aren’t what they seem, making promises of discounts that don’t actually add up, delivery times that seem to magically extend from days into weeks. These are just some of the failures that make customers lose faith in the honesty of an eCommerce operation.

Be honest, tell customers about any small flaws in your products. Take photos that don’t sugarcoat those problems and don’t promise delivery schedules that your resources can’t fulfill. You’ll stand or fall based upon your reputation, so always be straight with your customers.

“Ring bell, hard to tell

If anything is goin’ to sell.”

–Subterranean Homesick Blues

These lines from “Subterranean Homesick Blues” sum it up. When you start an online business, be prepared for some rough times. Don’t expect to start shifting thousands of products a week, and don’t anticipate every marketing strategy paying dividends straight away.

Be patient, flexible, and cunning. Don’t give up if you fail. As Dylan wrote in another great song, “there’s no success like failure.” You can learn from every mistake, and perfect your pitch the next time, until success becomes automatic.

Bob Dylan may be a counter-cultural hero, but he’s also a fabulously successful brand. His shades, aloof persona and poetic integrity have lasted for 50 years. His lyrics contain wisdom for all walks of life, from lovestruck teenagers and student radicals to eCommerce professionals, so take what you can, “put everything out in the sun, and take it down to Highway 61.”

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