New Thinking, New Strategies, New Approach

Spring Internet World June,  1998 – Wisdom From the Mount
As seen on ClickZ

By Elaine Morris Palmer

I had the good fortune to attend the Spring Internet World a few weeks ago in Los Angeles. This is an international five-day conference  considered the best in the business, with more than 200 conference sessions and workshops focusing

on the critical issues, applications and emerging technologies. Over 60,000 Internet professionals attended from all over the world.

It was a new experience for me. I’m not new to technology conventions — I became a convention rat in early 1994 when I flew to San Jose for my first Intermedia. But since then, and until now, it’s all been pretty repetitious. There’s always been a lot of bobbing and  weaving by a lot of titled executives hurling predictions at me. This year, the consensus of notable speakers was that:

The Internet is a reality and we must adapt.

Below are some of the insights, challenges, promises and perils highlighted in this year’s conferences and symposiums. Welcome – you’ve got a lot more than just mail!

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Theodore Levitt who wrote “Marketing Myopia”, stated more than  20 years ago that “companies fail to successfully maneuver market transitions because they have a myopic view of the scope of their business. ‘What business am I in?’ was the question then, and most definitely is the question now.

The Internet and the 1 billion users we are told will be there by the year 2002, really do change the game.

Customers are pushing us to change! 800 numbers are no longer enough. Being price competitive is not enough.   With disintermediation comes unlimited toll free access 365 days a year.

What’s changed is the competitive global dynamic. Customers are learning to hyperlink to get from place to place on the planet. This has created a new kind of mobility.  Hyperlinks cause energy.  As a result, as people become Internet literate, they become more and more impatient. To reach customers, we need to be there “first and fast”.

Kevin Clark of IBM talked about the customers changing us. They are creating product and service requirements. And they look a lot different than before. You can’t always pick out the Internet buyer when he walks into your store or showroom.

Web culture is a bartering and exchanging culture. Trust is the value proposition.

The Internet is a blend of high value and high relationship marketing.

We are switching to an “attention economy”[1] where without it you don’t do business and for it, you have to pay.  Some of the new concepts  related to “attention” marketing were:

  • (Re-) defining the value proposition.
  • Business communication potential.
  • Interactivity or giving the customer access to “live” information.
  • Permission marketing.
  • Altered perceptions of time.

(Re-) defining the value proposition.

Once you’ve decided to lead the change and anticipate and fill the needs of the industry you’re in, your Internet commerce strategy (you’ve all heard this all already) comes into play:

  • Define your purpose.
  • Develop valuable content.
  • Build it right.
  • Attract qualified customers.
  • Gather feedback, measure and improve.

It’s easy, right. Then why isn’t anybody here?  That’s where “defining the value proposition comes in. That is, the reason why the average surfer knows about, visits and stays at your sight. (BTW, the average stay is between 27 and 32 seconds — not impressive for this medium).

Traditional marketing tells us certain things work: a clearly defined product or service, support, customer service and information. Successful sites to date are selling products most consumers already understand (ie: flowers, books, CD’s).

Now, we want them to purchase, invest in,  commit to our products too.

But THIS consumer will not stop to figure it out. He wants YOU to create a dialog, listen, understand his problem, provide help, recommend a solution offer friendly, personal service and make it all easy. This is the value the web offers but is sadly missing from most of today’s sites.

Understand your prospects, know what to provide them, know their issues and they will beat a path to your door.

The benefits are astounding: You significantly increase customer acquisition, retain your customers, capture “wallet share”, gain competitive advantage, and implement cross sell and upsell.

In short, allow a customer to state what he wants, interact with him, customize and bring in a product or service that addresses his need and you create downstream marketing opportunities.

Business communication potential.

There are laws developing daily concerning communication on the Internet. I think we’ve all resigned ourselves to the net as a sponsored medium. But sponsorship roles have changed.   That is mostly in the way that they communicate to us as customers.

We are courting niche audiences on the Internet and that requires different tactics for different topics.  Again, trust and consistency were underscored as  key components.

  • Be straight with people. If you’re selling something, say you’re selling something. Web culture as we knew it is history. Subtlety is nice but outright dishonesty is not going over well with consumers. Don’t cross the line between editorial and information. Word of mouth can wrap around the world of the web in seconds.
  • Have a point of view. Encourage and lead discourse. Have strong leaders. Anarchy doesn’t work for mainstream users.
  • Be there! Share information. Listen–carefully and value and respond quickly and effectively to the information that you get.

Transaction sites have doubled in the past year and the essential element is community.  Not one-to-one marketing but one to one to one to one – community style. Community takes on many forms on the Internet, but mostly,  people are finding each other around the globe because of these communal bonds. (and age 50+ are coming on fast) “Topical traffic”,  as it is called, causes Web attendances to grow during specific events such as the Lewinsky affair, March madness, the Olympics and Valentines Day. Users are there in the millions for just a few days.  These events represent distinct demographic categories and have been known to generate trials of products and services.  A great opportunity for cooperative cross selling.

Interactivity — or giving the customer access to “live” information.

Depth and details! These are key. My two favorite potent phrases du jour (and I heard several) at I World were “if your customer is on the website getting what they need, they’re not calling you–you save money.” The other was “you can’t have too much information on a website, you can just make it hard to find.”

If I can imagine it, you as the marketer, must have it there and it must be easy for me to access.  I, as your customer want you to: remember me, communicate with me, work with me, make my life easier.

High possibilities and high expectations are what it’s all about on the net.

Depth and detail are key where transaction sites are concerned. Communication is key to success on the net.  People “use” the Internet they don’t “view” it and they scan, they don’t read. People have short attention spans (“2 seconds long and 8 inches high)” and look for buttons to push. How do we adapt?

Information must look good, be informative and meaningful and it must be helpful and intuitive. (Ask your visitors what’s working for them!  After all, as marketers, we want to know what we’re going to want to ask in the future!)

Create a “global look and feel” across a web site. Top-level navigation is important. Organize the website and offer guidance. And remember, as in traditional marketing, brand establishment becomes a promise. Keep the message clear and stick with it.

Walk the customer down the sales cycle :

  • Provide product information.
  • Provide expertise.
  • Provide editorial information.
  • Provide information variety.
  • Offer specifications & comparison charts.
  • Refer to third party sites.
  • Let customers add editorial of their own.

Automate the role of traditional sales channels.  In other words “act like sales people.” Be the inbound marketing agent. Remember, “Data is dumb. People are smart.” (another favorite of the week!)

  • Qualify – identify a need. Show the product that makes sense.
  • Provide help.  Include a “click here to call” button linked by phone to a customer service rep. Communicate through both, but refer back to the web. It’s far more cost effective.
  • Invite questions. Once customer’s specific interests are known to you, it increases your opportunity to close the sale.
  • Make requests. Ask for information whenever you can to build on your understanding of that person later.
  • Get proactive – Listen, understand and implement an upsell. Use the technology to cultivate a relationship with the consumer after the sale.
  • Allow the person to state what they want and interact with them.
  • Customize. Bring in product or service that addresses downstream marketing opportunity.
  • Answer frequently asked customer questions immediately below each question.
  • Hyperlink! Send people where they need to got to get what they want.  Like Macy’s sent people to Gimbles. It still works!
  • Fix problems immediately.

In short this is a “contiguous full-strength support medium” – browser to purchase! And beyond. The more your customer is getting what he needs on the web, the less time he’s on the phone with you — which saves you money.

The issue of e-mail came up over and over again. Not just how great it is. But what kinds of problems it’s created for the marketer. My favorite example was of an airline who simply disclaimed their ability to accept or reply to email. Period.

Not done here. Ever. It is counterdisciplinary to every principle upon which the web is built today.

A  few things to remember about email:

Make your email work.

Don’t answer by snail (US) mail.

Don’t not answer at all.

If you ask for comments, have a method for processing them.

Filter your email (sales, customer service, public relations, etc.)

Rank you email (sales, suggestions, urgent situation, etc.)

Make your email response personal.

Control who can respond.

Provide training for the staff.
Mostly, where all interactive communications are concerned:

Recognize the World Has Changed!

“Permission Marketing”[2] or “Don’t assume the aliens speak English!”

This is a new term for me although it’s certainly not a new concept.  At least not new in the world of Direct Marketing. The web is not TV. You don’t simply run and ad and see what happens. It’s actually the best direct marketing vehicle of all time, according to some. To quote the New York Times, it’s “direct mail with free stamps.”

We can’t, as marketers, assume people will be looking for us. So we have to grease the tracks for people to find us. The nugget  we are looking for is permission to “send me anything you want and bill me later.” How we set the ground rules from the start equates to how quickly we can move them up the “permission ladder”.

By making it clear to the consumer why he should give you permission to do this and why you should keep it, ultimately gives him the sense of mastery and keeps him in the “permission tent”.  To wit, 97% of the people who enter the promotion you offer stay in until the end!

An important point to remember is that current popular “collaborative filtering” techniques used by companies to cull email lists is not as effective as getting permission. Often receiving unsolicited information causes people to ask themselves “how did they know that about me?” which is off-putting and could lose you that customer for life.

On the subject of spamming which is certainly taboo in traditional net culture, remember, spamming is “hit and run” marketing and only short term. It can’t turn into a long term profitable business.

Altered Perceptions of Time.

The Internet is being called the “fourth sales channel” with the most promising  24 hour/7 day a week access to the customer ever.  And more importantly 24/7 access to you. This unprecedented access means the marketer can now advertise, offer, sell, receive  a payment and deliver all in one medium.  It also means the marketer must be on his toes with his best face forward unremittingly with no exceptions.

To quote author, Don Tapscott,  “The Net will also allow ads to be integrated with each other and with transactions, in ways not possible in the physical media. Software company Oracle President Ray Lane describes the situation where someone buys a Sony stereo on-line, and is offered a $10 coupon to the electronic Tower Records for any Sony title. The coupon expires in 15 minutes. He says, “that’s a highly qualified, motivated audience of one.”

ROI calculations are based on how much or little you are leveraging your presence to your cutomers. Establishing a trusted service with your customer while cutting costs, being effective and increasing revenues through new or existing customers is essential. 24/7!

Summary.

  • The Internet is experiencing a 200% annual growth — 40% of which is currently business-to-customer electronic commerce.
  • The Internet represents a  retail shift from less of a mall mentality to  “downtown mainstreet” — and it’s open all night!
  • Online distribution services that are available now – as never before – demand continuous improvement on a daily basis.
  • Assessing current core competencies, traditional marketing structures, branding and creation of community are key requirements for success.
  • The Internet is a good words and pictures medium, but it’s not TV. Remember, you don’t get click throughs from radio, magazines or the side of a racing car.
  • Kids as young as two years old are  on computers now. Change creates opportunity!
  • Turn your customers into sales people by building community. If you don’t give people a place to exchange information on the net, they will leave you and create one someplace else.
  • Identify and segment your users. Not all physical space warrants a web presence. By the same token, once your category is established, induce your

customers to disclose  personally identifiable information to enable you to sell them other things.

  • Redefine the role of sales people. How can they add value now? Particularly with respect to the after sale customer relationship.
  • Educate the entire staff. Devote increasing resources to Internet management.
  • Offer contiguous full strength support – browser to purchase and beyond.

In essence: Know and perfect your value proposition!

Lastly, no matter what the latest buzz word is, it’s all about Interactivity.

Feel free to comment, question or email to a colleague (only in it’s entirety, please). Look for other articles streamlining interactive and new media marketing in “Net-Net”. The Bottom Line. For information about “Net-Net”, including sponsorships and advertiser space, please call +1/888.351.7686.  For future new media consulting information, contact Elaine Palmer: tel. 310.471.1677 or email to:  elaine@mavenmediany.com


[1] courtesy, Eric Goldman, Esq.

[2] courtesy, Seth Godin.

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