Web The New Tool In Old Game

May 23, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Internet didn’t change all the rules of marketing, advertising and sales.

“Marketing and advertising rules still apply when you’re trying to build online awareness and interest,” Susan K. Jones told members of glimaWest at a presentation earlier this month at the Women’s City Club.

“People aren’t going to come to the Web site if they don’t know it exists, what’s available or what promotions are there.

“One of the prime ways to do that is traditional mass media, direct mail, catalog and things of that nature.”

Once customers come to a marketer’s Web site, the goal is to get them to dig deeper and stay there, said Jones, a professor of marketing at Ferris State University, a partner in The Callahan Group LLC and founder of Susan K. Jones & Associates.

She and her consulting partner, Northwestern University Professor Ted Spiegel, set out to identify the issues in direct and interactive marketing and convergence, and the strategies used by successful companies.

They interviewed 23 executives from 13 companies that have successful online businesses, including four West Michigan firms: Quixtar, Steelcase, bargainandhaggle.com and Yamaha Band & Orchestral Division.

The pair published their findings in “Marketing Convergence: How the Leading Companies are Profiting.”

“I think the people who are going to make it in this business know that the Internet is a great thing, and probably more than just a medium, but it’s really not changing the world as we know it,” Jones said.

She said the Internet does have its drawbacks. Among them are:

**The potential to reveal too much to the competition.

**The potential for conflict with retailers and dealers in traditional channels.

**Small predatory firms can imitate the company and do significant damage to brands.

**There are no universally recognized tracking standards.

**Online selling methods are net yet optimized.

The companies that survived the dotcom bomb seem to share some basic beliefs. Jones and Spiegel discovered that successful Internet marketers recognize that:

**The Net is an enhancement, not an apocalyptic revolution.

**Advertising and marketing basics do not change online.

**Established brands do better sooner than new ones.

**Investments must be kept in line with expected returns.

** Hiring low-key, local talent or growing talent from within is important.

“I heard this time and again from companies that are successful. They never did hire the hot shots that wanted the stock options,” Jones said. “At Yamaha here in Grand Rapids, the people that worked on the Web site were people from within who were excited about the opportunity to train, not somebody from outside demanding twice as much as anybody in marketing.”

Smart companies find ways to achieve an integrated look, feel and message across all media and find ways to humanize the online experience, such as linking each customer with a human sales representative, Jones noted.

Smart companies also let customers buy through whatever medium they want — phone, mail, Web or retail outlet.

“Figure out where your customer is and how they want to be reached. Don’t just do what’s easy for you; do what’s effective for them.”

Launching online is not as cheap as people think it might be — and it doesn’t replace print. In fact, all the companies interviewed stressed the importance of maintaining printed materials.

Ken McDonald, executive director of Quixtar, told Jones that when Quixtar launched in 1999, “for about 30 seconds there” they thought they could do without print. They quickly realized that wasn’t the case, Jones said.

“They found that what their customer wants to do is sit in an easy chair with their feet up, flip through the catalog, decide what they want and then go online.”

The Internet is cost-effective for self-service and repeat business, and it offers powerful extranets, unlimited real estate, strategic alliance possibilities, unique new ways to present information, and one-to-one personalization.

“With the Internet we can actually find things out about customers on an individualized basis and then customize what we do. The one-to-one promise is really fulfilled online, cultivating true, real-time conversations with customers.”

The Internet is a great research tool for buyers, sellers and learners, Jones said. It elevates and extends strong and existing brands, and a great brand combined with a great Web site is “magical,” she added.

The Internet offers faster and more flexible testing opportunities than any other medium, but very few people are optimizing that yet, she pointed out. She recommends testing and measuring everything to maximize online success.

She suggests marketers track how many times visitors are clicking on certain features on the company’s home page and change the site accordingly to try to increase conversion rates, average order size, registration and catalog requests. Backroom pretest and focus groups help optimize online results, as well.

“Test online for fast answers and move ‘winners’ to print,” she said. “ We direct marketers love that.

“We used to have to mail a catalog and wait to get responses back about which products were earning their space and which weren’t. Online we can get the answer in a matter of hours.”

Jones said the challenges ahead include streamlining the number of clicks it takes for visitors to get to where they want to go, making search features more intuitive, selecting and measuring data and e-mail lists and making strategic decisions about international e-commerce. 

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