My 13 year old runs in laughing and pointing – Look at this crazy website! – he says. He shoves the iPad in front of my nose and there it is: LINGsCARS.com in all its manic multicoloured glory, blaring karaoke out top volume.
My son is not wrong. At a quick glance you’d be mistaken for thinking we’ve sent you to the wrong website (either that or we’ve lost our minds!) but we urge you to look again. Yes, it breaks every rule in the web design handbook. Yes it packs such a punch you need to lie down in a darkened room afterwards, but this is one of the most customer-focused, content-rich, entertaining and downright valuable websites you’ll EVER come across.
We are delighted to present the latest Valuable Content Award to the inimitable Ling Valentine. Hold onto your hats people – here’s what she has to say about the LINGsCARS approach.
Tell us about your approach to your website and content? It’s very different from anything else we’ve seen!
First, I am a Chinese. So my approach to the web tends to be Chinese. In China, there is so much competition for everything, with the massive population, so you have to grab attention. This means that I want to stand out in a sea of “same again” car leasing websites, which on the whole are corporate, flimsy, use templates and talk in the 3rd party “we”.
To me, “we” is nonsense. People want to see who they are dealing with. I need to gain trust.
“99% of websites don’t entertain, they are obsessed with factual information, they lack any emotion.”
Also, a website is competing for space with TV, radio, music, porn, newspapers, magazines and the rest of life. So, I think a good website should entertain, as all these other things entertain, too. But 99% of websites don’t entertain, they are obsessed with factual information, they lack any emotion.
“A good website should entertain.”
Website designers (on the whole) play this “clean and factual” game too, and they are blind to what their websites are competing with. They make beautifully designed websites that are devoid of life, emotion and engagement. They are obsessed with blandness. This leaves a massive opportunity for entertaining, colourful websites made with compassion which have great content and make people laugh and engage them emotionally.
Your website screams personality and it’s very customer focused. What or who inspired you to do it this way?
I always try and look at things from the customer’s point of view. A car is a MASSIVE online purchase, even with leasing I am asking people to commit to (say) £10,000 over 2 or 3 years. Very few other websites can get that commitment while doing it 100% online. That was my inspiration, to give customers the right frame of mind to make the purchase.
So often, I look at other websites when I am buying stuff myself, and I have to force myself to press “buy”, because their attitude and lack of emotion make me hate them inside. I want customers to WANT to proceed, not to do it reluctantly.
How does the website help the business? What results do you see?
LINGsCARS website *IS* the business; there is no other route to the customer. I have an office in Gateshead, sure, and have 8 dedicated staff who have fun and create havoc, but it all boils down to my website engaging customers.
But my website isn’t all colour and chickens and karaoke and flashing gifs… it has the best content in the whole industry too. I often list over 10,000 car deals, with more info and more manipulation of that info than any other car leasing website. There is a massive back-end to my website that people only see when they take a car, and the secure transcribed communication is far better than any other company has ever deployed. I get people (eg head of IT for banks, etc) wanting to develop a similar system. Customers get responses in under 4 minutes and I often do 20,000 customer messages a month. Customers feel totally informed and confident to use my website.
The results are great!
For example as I am typing this, my Jan 2014 gross profit will be in the £75,000 region (with 3 days to go). I never have bad debts, I have no cash flow as I don’t buy the cars, and can invest in crazy stuff.
What other interest has it got from the web and marketing world? (I saw a mention of Seth Godin – he’s one of my marketing heroes!)
Seth is great, he helps me from time to time and always replies my emails if I have a question. Other people often help me, and I find my self chatting to people I don’t know… and then someone else will say “do you realise who he/she *IS*? Turns out many people are quite famous in the web world, but I don’t get involved in that.
“I prefer to think as my website as on a massively busy crowded shopping street in Hong Kong, competing with the local brothels, fast food stands, traffic noise and hawkers and police raids.”
I feel the industry is full of people mentally masturbating and big on talk, making website that are clone Apple design in pastel colours with twitter-like logos. Instead, I prefer to think as my website as on a massively busy crowded shopping street in Hong Kong, competing with the local brothels, fast food stands, traffic noise and hawkers and police raids. No one else visualises that stuff, they seem to think they are in some calm, clinical environment where pixel-perfect perfection is the goal.
How important is online marketing to your company vs. traditional techniques like advertising?
I don’t spend a penny on advertising. No Google ad-words, or anything. I create traffic by different viral techniques and by engaging people. This can be on or off line, but whatever, I have to have fun.
“I don’t spend a penny on advertising.”
I monitor my website visitors and often jump onto forum discussions, and wind idiots up to distraction. These can be serious issues, like the ASA complaint or silly things like a New Zealand schoolgirl swearing issue or ICO compliance or Honda trade mark infringement. There have been hundreds more, but I always engage and always reply.
This generates interest and referrals, and this month I will have over 125,000 website visitors. My conversion rate is terrible, but who cares? I count pound notes, not percentages.
What type of content do you share on your website and on social media?
Social Media to me means Twitter and talking to people. I can’t do everything and so ignore Facebook in business terms. LinkedIn is just awful, wrist-slitting.
“LinkedIn is just awful, wrist-slitting.”
I simply engage on Twitter in real life, whatever takes my fancy, with whoever rolls up. It’s not planned or promoted. I am not slow to tell people if they are idiots, and I am very open with revenue and sales figures, because everyone else is secretive. Why people can’t just be open and honest? I don’t know.
Please give an example of some content that has worked really well.
My sitemap is great content. The design is a Chinese prison camp and it shows my visitors, live, as they browse my website. It took a lot of coding. I deliberately left it unpolished, but no one else has such a page. If you visit during busy periods, it goes crazy and eventually crashes your browser. But, it has some great cookies (click the jamjar cars icon in the bottom right of my prison compound to make the visitors dance, and also click the cat at the top of the camp, it sings).
“Saying “don’t” is a good example of idiot web designers making rules that are utter nonsense.”
One other stand-out bit of content is my karaoke girl. On my home page, this auto-plays. Everyone says “don’t autoplay music” but honestly, this is *SO* popular. Saying “don’t” is a good example of idiot web designers making rules that are utter nonsense. I have 2 Chinese girls, Christine Wang and Wei Ya Jun, and they have about 25 songs between them. Refresh the page to get a random selection. This works immensely.
“There are no rules, except that customers must enjoy it.”
I am so proud of that content. It charms visitors (who on average happen to be middle-age men, by the way).
I also like my chicken, on my Twitter feed on my homepage. It’s a real chicken, at home, on my farm. I made it walk on a plank, in front of a green-screen. Who else would do that? No one else can compete, ever.
Don’t forget my missile truck… that is my best investment, ever!
I think the key to good content, is the amount of effort that is put into it. Not money, but effort.
Who creates all the content – is that you, your team, marketing agency?
We do the craziest thing possible, and have fun.
There are no rules, except that customers must enjoy it.
What are the main challenges when it comes to your website and content?
The main challenge is the amount of work it takes. Often (e.g. the chicken) I will spend a whole week setting up, training or prodding the chicken, rigging up a green IKEA sheet in my barn, lighting it, prodding it again, dangling bloody worms, chasing it around the barn, doing it again and again, then editing and messing about and a whole day positioning on my website, just to get a chicken up and looking natural… and just so, which is pointless really. It is not even a special pedigree chicken, just a universal chicken. But, no one else has a damn chicken, and it is emotionally nice.
Some people will read this and not get it, but that’s usually the case. The effort that went in shows subliminally when people see the chicken on my website.
I agree this is madness.
What’s next for your online marketing and content? Can’t wait to hear!
I don’t know. I am developing my farm to move my business there, so we might do something exciting around that. I am building a 1km go-kart track and have bought 6, 200cc Honda karts, and I like the filming effects you get with drones, so we might have a website kart race. Or something. Like Grand Designs mixed with Top Gear crossed with F1.
God knows… I want more interaction and live video but am hamstrung by awful 8MB down 1MB up internet connection at both premises. I want to stream! But all I get is a stutter J
Any tips for other businesses so they can make their content as valuable as yours?
People need to be brave and stop taking advice from the usual suspects. They need to take ownership of their own website instead of leaving it to some idiot bland designer who makes a boardroom presentation version of the safest options. Customers want realness, grit, emotion and fun. They want to see who is behind it. They want to laugh, cry and react.
“Customers want realness, grit, emotion and fun. They want to see who is behind it.”
Kill someone if they use the word “we”. People need to be defined. Yes, some customers will not like it, some will moan, but this is the nature of life – it is love and hate. Not everyone will love everything, but how awful to live in a world where there was universal love.
Don’t be afraid to offend. Don’t be banal. Be brave. Have fun.
That’s my advice.
Valuable Content Award on its way Ling!
So there you have it. LINGsCARS.com – once seen, never forgotten.
Congratulations Ling. Your Valuable Content Award badge is on its way. There is much others can learn from your bold approach. We’ve certainly learnt a thing or two too.
More personality – Ling’s right. People want to see exactly who who they are doing business with. Not everyone will like it (or rather not everyone will like you) but that’s okay. More entertaining – we’re always talking about making people smile with your content, but we’ve never seen someone put so much effort into it. We’re going to try even harder. More rule breaking. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula. It’s what is right for you and what’s right for your customers.
Of course we’re not saying your website should look like Ling’s. It shouldn’t, and it couldn’t. (You probably don’t even own a chicken.) But we are saying, take a risk with it, be more out there, show your personality. Be spirited and brave. Have some fun!
Find out more about Ling
- Ling on Dragon’s Den (she turned THEM down)
- Ling’s keynote speech at EConsultancy’s Future of Digital conference
- Follow Ling Valentine on Twitter (but avoid LinkedIn like the plague!)