Despite the problems of many dot.com companies, the Internet is here to stay. E-commerce can bring advantages to every business, and there are few large corporations today that do not have e-business initiatives. But creating a website is only the start and will not guarantee a flow of visitors, new business and satisfied customers. Indeed, our analysis shows that many large corporations have a very ineffective Internet presence and show a lack of understanding of how to market effectively via the Internet. This Insight introduces a proven ten point strategy that distils the lessons from successful Internet strategies. If you follow the principles behind these 10Ps of Internet marketing, your success in marketing via the Internet should show a distinct improvement.
Marketing on the Internet brings many new opportunities not readily available or affordable using conventional marketing methods, including:
- 24-hours a day / 365 days a year opening
- global market reach
- customer self-service e.g. product selection, problem solving
- multimedia interaction
- gaining instant customer feedback
- small companies can compete on an equal footing with large ones.
However, there are certain marketing fundamentals that remain as true as ever:
- Customers have needs and wants that need satisfying
- The buying process involves sharing of information and knowledge - about customer's needs and priorities and how your products and services can meet them
- The sales cycle is similar - potential customers progress through a sequence: awareness, interest, desire, action, commonly known by its acronym AIDA.
Above all, the customer - or potential customer - is the focus. Your customer knowledge and the experience you provide them with throughout the whole sales cycle and their ongoing relationship with you - is what matters.
The 3Cs and 4Ps of Marketing
Marketing textbooks talk about the 3Cs and 4Ps of marketing. The three Cs are Customer, Competitor and Company (your organization). The 4Ps - the so called marketing mix - are Product, Price, Promotion, and Place (distribution channels). These remain core considerations in Internet marketing, although their emphasis changes, viz.:
- Customer - On the Internet they can come from a wide geographic area and diverse cultural backgrounds. You must be more international in your outlook.
- Competitor - They are not who you first think of. Try typing a keyword for your product in a search engine and see whose names appear! On the Internet, share of mind is more important than share of market.
- Company - The strengths that stood you in good stead in traditional marketing are not the same on the Internet. Responsiveness, flexibility, online capabilities, good website design and good follow-through service are what counts.
- Product - You may need to be selective about what part of your portfolio you can sell online. On the other hand, the Internet creates opportunities for easy customization of digitized products such as reports, directories, multimedia etc.
- Price - On the Internet it's always lower than you expect. Much content is free, although to be viable, providers of worthwhile content can and do make realistic charges. A new opportunity afforded by the Internet is that of dynamic pricing, where you can adjust prices according to supply and demand, time of day etc (though be careful not to upset your customers).
- Promotion - This is where the rulebook needs rewriting. Throw away your glossy brochures and start afresh with information and promotional material that exploits the medium - but again do it appropriately (many potential customers do not want to wade through a multimedia Flash presentation before they can find some basic product information).
- Place - The place is cyberspace. But real-world taxes and legislation are starting to make their presence felt on the Internet. So make sure you are as compliant as you can be with all the trading laws and practices in the various countries you sell to.
Positioning has three aims:
- Claiming a distinctive niche in the marketplace
- Making your website distinctive from the many millions of other websites
- Supporting your overall marketing and business objectives.
How can you achieve these aims in practice?
- Be clear about your target customers or potential customers
- Decide what you are best at doing in the overall online supply chain e.g. are you a creator, a connector, a portal or an online shop?
- Articulate what makes you distinctive - your USP (Unique Selling Proposition)
- Reflect your positioning in the design of your website
- Constantly review your positioning and how your site's positioning is perceived.
Online packages come in a wide variety of forms, from face-to-face consulting assignments to information packaged in documents or databases. Or it may be simply a promotional package that describes a physical product. The main aim of packaging is to make it easier to sell and distribute with minimal marketing costs. Three considerations are important:
- Determining what to offer online, and what to offer as an added service e.g. via person-to-person dialogue
- How to convey to the prospective buyer the value of knowledge in your product or service
- How to match what you have with what the customer wants, yet minimize the extra costs of customization.
Achieving these requires a degree of online development. For information and knowledge products one challenge is determining how much to codify. Greater codification means lower reproduction costs, whereas a higher personal knowledge component that can be tailored to a customer's individual needs can command higher prices. Whatever the level of codification, give due attention to the product 'wrapper'. This is where you explain clearly what'd in the package, and also, where practicable, allows the potential buyer to sample it.
Don't be bemused by the rush into portals. The concept is simple - a one-stop shop for information. The practice, however, is a little trickier. A good portal has structured and unstructured knowledge (content and communities), news and reference material, indexes, navigation tools and search facilities, personalization tools and various in-built applications. personal utilities. Only a few websites can achieve portal status - even if it is for a specialized profession or industry- specific portal. For most organizations, developing an internal enterprise portal is a a major change in itself - and it is not simply a matter of technology but the whole knowledge management infrastructure that lies on top of it. Because portal sites are generally the most highly visited websites, marketers need to consider these two important questions:
- Are there already established portals for your target markets? If so, what sort of alliances should you develop with portal owners to ensure your visibility?
- If no such portal exists, does it make sense to create one, either by yourself or with industry partners - some of whom you may regard as competitors?
Visitors beat a path to your site from many directions. Your aim should be to create as many pathways as possible. Some of the techniques for doing this are:
- Ensure you are listed in the main directories and portals used by your target audience
- Make good use of META keyword and other tags to ensure that you come as high as possible in search engine results - visit Search Engine Watch for some tips on how to do this.
- Negotiate mutual links with related websites
- Consider advertising or affiliation programmes - where you pay other sites for referrals
- Be prominent in communities and other resource sites covering your topic area.
In general, there is no need to pay high amounts for advertisements or placements. If you have helpful editorial content, any number of sites are willing to take it to boost their own credibility, and you get a free hotlink into the bargain. Finally, don't forget to publicize your URL in other publicity material - both online and offline. Having a memorable URL also helps!
This P is all about making a good impression with your visitors. Unfortunately, far too many websites put style over substance. Talk to any professional, and these are the typical things they look for in a website:
- Compelling content - relevant to their needs, with links to additional resources
- Quick to load - if there are important large images, small thumbnails are shown first
- A good clean design - limited but effective use of graphics
- Encourage interaction - perhaps through use of a drop-down list or through a short navigation or computational routine
- Effective navigation - easy to move from on page to another
- Guidance - steering the visitor to the most relevant pages
and perhaps a bit of intrigue, where tantalizingly one more click may uncover yet more valuable knowledge. The three basic areas that need attention are:
- A Look 'n Feel appropriate for your target audience - it is helpful to think in terms of metaphors, such as a library, magazine, or personal assistant
- An Information Architecture that groups information logically - this is where a good knowledge tree helps; and it must be user-centric, not according to the department or author who created the content
- Navigation aids to help users find their way around quickly - While search engines are in vogue, a good site map - which at a glance shows what is available - is often more practical.
Personalization comes in two flavours. First, is the ability for the user to personalize the layout of your home page, such as at MyYahoo! Second, and more widespread, is the serving of pages based on individual profiles or pattern of use of the site. This means that two different people clicking the same initial hyperlinks may be shown two different pages. While it takes expensive eCRM and other software to build fully personalized sites, your website should, as a very minimum, aim to address different classes of audience. For example, on this website, we have FAQs for managers, knowledge professionals, researchers and so on.
Like all technologies with possibilities, it is possible to get so overwhelmed with personalization, that if a visitor does not fit a given profile, then they get shown no pages at all! In fact, you can offer a level of personalization without going overboard on technology e.g.:
- Using 'cookies' to distinguish first time and returning visitors
- Targeting offers to particular groups
- Giving users access to their own account information or specific password protected areas
- Using different email lists to send messages to different market segments
- Engaging in a personal email dialogue!
And remember, once you enter the realms of personalization, you are wading through the hazardous waters of personal privacy protection, where laws are becoming stricter all the time.
Progression is the art of guiding a user from free information through to paid-for goods and services. Unless you are providing a public service or using your website purely for promotional purposes, at some stage you want visitors to turn into paying customers. Take a look at your product portfolio. Do you have free products or samples? What can you sell for $10, $100, $ 1000 and so on? At each stage of progression give the customer value for money, convey your quality, and smooth the pathway to your premium offerings. A good progression in a knowledge-based business goes something like:
- A free offering e.g. the 'lite' version of a software product
- Something in return for disclosing information e.g. registering details to receive free monthly newsletter
- A low cost item - but make sure you have an efficient and low cost online payment mechanism
- Higher value items - here you must give the visitor confidence that they will get value for money; use samples, money-back guarantees
- Premium items - most will require individual selling in which some one-to-one dialogue perhaps in the form a of a phone call.
Once abhorred by the big banks, payments over the Internet are now quite straightforward, thanks to the services provided by Payment Service Providers, and for small businesses, a growing number of shop hosting services. From a marketing perspective, you want to give your customer as much choice as possible, while at the same time making sure you get their funds! Here are a few practical considerations and questions to ask your service providers:
- What is the point of sale for legal and tax purposes?
- What currency should I transact in. How much will I lose on a foreign exchange transaction through bank charges?
- If I send goods first, how do I know I will get paid, especially if it is a low value product and my buyer is in a foreign country?
- How easy is it to set up my site for instant online credit card payments?
- How secure are the transactions?
- How long does it take for my account to be credited?
- What is my liability for fraudulent transactions conducted at my website?
It may seem odd to put process as one of the 10Ps of the Internet marketing mix. After all, aren't business processes an integral part of the business, whereas marketing primarily involves with the customer interface? Yes, and that's the point. Marketing is concerned with the whole customer experience, and many websites let the customer down in the quality of that experience - before the sale, during the sale, and after the sale. Surveys have shown consumers abandoning shopping baskets half way through because of usability problems and of goods that are not being received when promised - if at all.
So, before you embark on a major Internet marketing effort, make sure that you can deliver what you promise. Broken promises and lost customers are much more costly to your business, than not even making the offer in the first place.
This is the bottom line! Unless your website delivers performance, you are wasting your time. This P addresses performance for the customer in terms of online experience and satisfaction; and performance for your business in terms of service delivered and revenue and profit results. As we know, far too many dot.com companies have failed on both counts.
Performance measurement systems (such as the Balanced Business Scorecard or the European Foundation for Quality Management model) are increasingly used to drive a business forward. But an online business is slightly different:
- It has more intangibles (e.g. intellectual capital)
- The pace of change is such that any long-term comparisons may be difficult
- There are complex causal links between inputs and outputs
- Different indicators need to be monitored than those with which managers may already be familiar
- New methods of data collection are possible (e.g. online surveys and statistics)
- Your performance is dependent on the performance levels of others e.g. ISPs, PTTs, software suppliers.
However, these are differences in detail. What remains fundamentally the same is that:
- A good performance system can help you pinpoint problems and improve your business results
- Improvement measures should be linked to goals, from organizational to individual
- It is more important to collect the right information rather than that which is easiest to collect, i.e. it is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong!
Above all, the general approach is the same - clarifying objectives, developing indicators, initiating the system, data collection and analysis, initiating change.
In this Insight we have tried to demystify some of the factors surrounding Internet marketing. Fashions change quickly. Whereas everyone was promoting banner advertisements a couple of years ago, today they are out of favour. The Internet has always been, and will remain, a dynamic communications medium, offering many possibilities. It enhances the ability of people to connect and communicate with each other on a one-to-one or one-to-many basis. Above all it is a community. Many traditional methods of marketing did not carry over well into Internet territory, because they ignored such basic facts. Over time the details of these principles will change, but their general thrust is based on established marketing practice and the special characteristics of the Internet. The 4Ps of marketing have survived for four decades, with occasional tweaking here and there. Learn and apply the 10Ps of Internet marketing and you will be building on a solid and practical foundation.