Grow Your Business With Internet Marketing

The Internet has caused a massive change in the way all markets operate. Some entrepreneurs see major opportunities whilst others may find their companies are falling behind the competition. The Internet levels the playing-field for entrepreneurs. It also changes the balance of power between buyers and sellers. To see how you can profit from these new opportunities, you need to look for a marketing or advertising agency to leverage the power of internet marketing.

Disruptive Technology – the blog versus the media

A disruptive technology is a new technological innovation, product, or service that eventually overturns the existing dominant technology in the market. This happens even though the disruptive technology is radically different from the leading technology and often initially performs worse than the leading technology according to existing measures of performance. That’s taken from the definition for Disruptive Technology in Wikipedia.

Clayton M. Christensen of Harvard unveiled the concept of disruptive technology in a book entitled The Innovator’s Dilemma. I believe something happened three weeks ago that means that blogs and blogging may well be the disruptive technology that puts traditional news media under incredible pressures. Continue reading

With Only ONE Website, Is Your Company Really Customer-centric?

Introduction

A website is now a necessary proof of credibility for any company. It must be visible so that potential customers can find it on the Internet. When they find it, it should easily provide the information they need to confirm the company as a potential supplier.

The way the website is put together is critical in achieving these objectives. Unfortunately in the Tower of Babel atmosphere of the Internet and given the challenges of modern day commerce, people are stressed and have limited attention spans. So the discipline of Usability has sprung into vogue. How can a website be designed so that visitors “naturally” find the information they are looking for? As an extension of this, how can websites help the growth of new sales and solidify current sales?

Usability

The architecture of websites is radically different from the structure of published materials. The behaviour of someone browsing the Internet is poles apart from the behaviour of someone leafing through a brochure. The discipline of Usability aims to develop effective websites. This is not as easy as it might seem. The experts in this field show, in the richness of their own websites, the complexity of this subject.

One such expert is Jared Spool of User Interface Engineering: his website is to be found at www.uie.com. Another is Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group: his website is at www.nngroup.com. Both websites are excellent illustrations of the extensive knowledge that is available to help make websites more effective.

However, in encouraging companies to have a website and make it an effective one, we have already perhaps confined our thinking into a box that limits effectiveness. How do we think outside the box?

Product-driven versus client-centric

One key perspective that has appeared in the last few years is the notion of client-centric or customer-centric as opposed to product-driven. Elsewhere on this website you will find a paper “Winning Marketing Plans are Client-centric” that was published on the web by Strategis Canada in March 2000 as its Pick of the Month. In April 2000, McGraw-Hill published a book by Harvey Thompson of IBM entitled “The Customer-centered Enterprise – How IBM and other World-class Companies achieve extraordinary results by putting customers first.”

This is a fundamental change in view. Put yourself in the shoes of a website visitor and see the company as it appears through the website. Both Jared Spool and Jakob Nielsen have examined aspects of this.

Jared Spool has made the distinction between core users and ring users who may visit a website. We all have core competencies where we have knowledge, skill and experience. With a web page that deals with one of these core applications, then we are happy with, or even demand, a page that functions at our competency level. With something that is not central to our operations, such as say accounting, then the web page must be something simpler. Spool calls this a “ring” application because it is not in our core. He says the web page must be designed accordingly.

Nielsen has made a similar sharp division between what may be suitable for a public website versus what is needed in a company intranet. The two audiences have different interests and different skill levels in navigating the site. So, very different principles must be used in designing these two applications.

A public website has a mixed audience of very different participants. There are shareholders, the financial community, suppliers, potential alliance partners, potential customers, current customers and so on. The traditional way this is handled is as follows. The Whose Company (fictitious) might have a website www.whosecompany.com. Anyone visiting would in practice be viewing a web page whose URL was www.whosecompany.com/index.htm. This would be the entry point for all the potential visitors. In some cases, it is designed as a so-called Splash Page. It has little content but allows visitors to select which part of the website they next wish to visit. On this page are other links, which particular sub-audiences might next visit such as www.whosecompany.com/shareholders.htm or www.whosecompany.com/suppliers.htm.

The challenge of designing an effective website to introduce the company to all these different sub-audiences is significant. The notion of a single company website is somewhat product-driven rather than customer-centric. Even among potential customers there may be people with very different interests. Websites for each different sub-audience would be much more effective. Providing such websites is truly customer-centric.

The Website Farm

A server farm is a location where several computer servers are operating somewhat in parallel. Similarly , a website farm is a (virtual) location where several interconnecting websites are operating. As opposed to a single website where sub-audiences must click on a Home page link to get to the real page they are interested in, each sub-audience would have its own website. This website would appear like a gateway designed for that sub-audience. It would have its own domain, which would appear as the URL in any communications to that sub-audience.

For example, the Whose Company introduced above might have three websites: www.whosecompany.com for potential customers, www.whosecompany.ca for its shareholders and the financial world and www.whosecompany.net for its existing customers. These three websites would make up its website farm. [The above three domains are unregistered as of the day of writing.]

Each website would be designed specifically for its own sub-audience. The website would be optimized for that sub-audience and for the particular searches that sub-audience might do using a search engine. Of course on the introductory page of each website, prominent links should be given to the two other websites of the trio for any sub-audience member who has gone to the “wrong” website.

Potential customers versus existing customers

The information needs of potential customers and existing customers are very different. Potential customers may not even know the name of the company and will be using search engines to get a list of potential suppliers. Existing customers know the company name and may quickly want to register so that they can check an order status or send off a Request for a Quotation. There may be privileged information only for them. They may need a more extensive listing of company contacts.

In some ways, there is a parallel with Jared Spool’s notion of core and ring applications. A potential customer is not familiar with the format of a newly found website. He or she will likely need a simpler website – something like a ring application. An existing customer doing a lot of business with your company may often use your website as the way to communicate with the company. For them, the website becomes a core application. This confirms the need to design two different websites specifically for these different sub-audiences.

And what about shareholders and financial agencies?

Equally shareholders and financial agencies have very different information needs than customers, either potential or existing. They expect to see information presented in different ways. Searches done with search engines might take very different forms. A website designed solely for them might look very different from one designed for customers. The notion of a website farm allows this precise tailoring of a website to its sub-audience’s needs.

The benefits of a website farm on Search Engine Ranking

A website farm brings even bigger advantages for search engine rankings. Each website is designed with its particular audience in mind. It is easy to ensure that its structure and design are optimized so as to achieve the highest search engine rankings for the searches this particular audience is likely to do.

This effect is even more striking if the alternative was a single Splash page. Typically such pages have little text content but include graphical images and links to the subpages for the particular sub-audiences. This arrangement performs poorly in search engine rankings.

FAQ’s about website farms

We already have several distinct websites, but we never called it a website farm. What’s all the fuss about?
Excellent. You probably already have applied the thinking set out here. However most people think a single website is the norm and the natural way of doing things. That thinking is product-driven. Assuming that sub-audiences may prefer their own websites within a website farm is the customer-centric approach. You would then only collapse these websites into one single master website, if that gave advantages to your sub-audiences.

Can’t sub-audiences bookmark a prefered web page within a single master website and use this as their starting point?
Yes they could, but will they? … and will they find their bookmark again? The website farm approach means that the customer has to do less of the running around. You are making it easier for them and they will show you their appreciation for that.

Where do we win with a website farm?

The Usability people will tell you that some people may get confused or frustrated by the simplest things. The next act in such a situation is to click away to somewhere more accommodating. With a website farm, you can tune each website to the needs of the particular sub-audience. So the big win is to retain more visitors on your site and to present information to them in such a way that it gets them taking positive actions.

Isn’t it very expensive to set up a website farm rather than a single master website?

There is a small annual cost in reserving extra domain names and that’s the only cost if you host your own website. There will be additional modest monthly charges for hosting each website if your website is hosted by another company. However you may be able to negotiate a discounted package cost for all the websites within a website farm.

The benefits achieved with these modest costs is very high when compared with other promotional costs involved in an e-marketing program.

Isn’t it a lot of effort to set up a website farm?

Creating the separate websites rather than putting the same information within one website is very little more work. Some pages may appear in almost the same format in two or more of the websites. It’s almost the same effort either way. Either you set up the tree structures of web pages within separate sites or you integrate them within a single tree structure in a single master website. The beauty of hyperlinks is that moving within a website or moving across to another website is exactly the same process.

The advantages of using a website farm in Quebec

Quebec is typical of markets where there are several languages used by significant proportions of the population. In Quebec, most websites must cater to at least both Francophones and Anglophones. In California, perhaps some websites must cater to both English and Spanish speaking people.

In Quebec, a way that is often used to get around this is to create a so-called Splash Page. This may have the company logo, perhaps a slogan in French and one in English, then buttons to move to the English Home page or the French “Page d’accueil”. Usually a few images are added. If the website designer is sufficiently persuasive, then you may even end up with a Flash introduction with sound. You can almost guarantee that some website visitors will be slightly turned off by such an intrusive and time-wasting introduction.

The problem becomes even more complicated when the company has different French and English names. Suppose your company is called 123 Software in English and you have registered the domain www.123software.ca [not currently registered at the time of writing]. The name in French might be Logiciels 123. A French-speaking potential customer hearing about the company from a colleague might try to find the website. So if the company has also registered the domain www.logiciels123.ca [not currently registered at the time of writing], then our potential customer might guess it correctly.

So far so good. What web page does the company place at www.123software.ca and what web page does it place at www.logiciels123.ca? A common solution is that the Splash page as above is located at www.123software.ca. The site www.logiciels123.ca is set up with an instant redirect to the same Splash page.

What a missed opportunity! The awkward Splash page approach can be avoided. With the website farm approach, each domain would go directly to a page in the appropriate language. www.123software.ca would take you to the English Home page. www.logiciels123.ca would take you to the French “Page d’accueil”. As mentioned above, there would be a prominent link to the other language page for those who ended up on the “wrong” page.

Is Your Website “Unsafe At Any Speed”?

Many website owners will instantly relate to the title of this Newsletter. Conversely many website designers will not understand the message in the title. What explains the difference in reactions? Well it’s the generation gap.

“Unsafe At Any Speed” is the short title of a book published in 1965 almost 40 years ago. The full title is “Unsafe At Any Speed; The Designed-In Dangers Of The American Automobile” written by Ralph Nader. His message was that some of the fine looking automobiles being produced by Detroit were killing people. One of Nader’s targets was the GM Corvair. GM was so incensed that they pursued Nader and tried to discredit him. He survived the attacks and eventually it was GM and others who had to react and modify their automobile designs. Continue reading

Website Planning

A selling-effective website is a powerful and complex production. It is the equivalent of a sales representative, but is likely to be many times more effective in this modern ‘Permission Marketing‘ world. The website must be visible enough to be found by potential purchasers looking for suppliers. It then must be engaging enough that it helps to ‘close the sale‘.

Many skills must work together if the website is to be selling-effective. It is completely ineffective to take a sales brochure and ask a website designer to develop a website from it. As shown in the table below, the website designer will be putting in less than half the effort required to create the effective website. Note that the percentages are given only for purposes of illustration but are likely to be the right magnitude.

About one quarter of the effort must be put in by the company management in clarifying the company Internet Marketing Strategy and in setting the objectives for the website. As discussed elsewhere, strategy is tough. It requires a knowledge of the needs of customers in the target market niche. The company must understand its competition and invest in being able to offer a competitive advantage to potential customers. The review process to confirm strategy may well benefit from the presence of an outside coach or mentor to ensure all aspects are thoroughly considered.

The project team involved in constructing the website must have all the marketing experience and technical skills to ensure all tasks listed in the table are handled well. What is often missing are the skills required for the middle three columns, Search Engine Visibility, Usability and Credibility. These cannot be grafted on to the website once constructed. They must be considered right at the start and must be set out in detail in the specification given to the website designer.

More details on the thinking behind these concepts was set out in Newsletter 32, Make Your Website Your Most Powerful Sales Representative.

Online Banking – Security Is Up To You

If all the talk of identity theft has not already made you very cautious in doing your online banking, then a study reported on by Sarah Schmidt in the Ottawa Citizen today should get you very concerned. According to experts, there’s no ‘peace of mind’ for online bank users. Paul Van Oorschot, Canada Research Chair in Network and Software Security at Carleton University, and PhD student Mohammad Mannan, a specialist in Internet security, suggest that complicated security requirements leave clients vulnerable. They contend that Canadian banks mislead their customers about the safety of online banking in their marketing materials and give users a false sense of security about their refund guarantee if hackers raid their accounts.

They surveyed 123 technically advanced users, mainly computer-science students, professors and security researchers. Although most of those surveyed are more security-aware than average customers, they still failed to satisfy common security requirements. They conclude that most average users will be ineligible for the 100-per-cent reimbursement guarantee banks would seem to be offering. In their opinion, doing online banking with ‘confidence’ and ‘peace of mind’ is no more than a marketing slogan which misleads users. Continue reading

Exclusive Product Offering (EPO) – A Rose By Any Other Name

The Sid Lee Agency, previously known as Diesel Marketing, is not to be confused with Diesel, the innovative jean manufacturer. That’s particularly important since the Diesel website seems to have been hijacked as of this date. More significantly, the Sid Lee Agency has a blog, Conversational Capital, that is worth watching for all things connected with brand marketing.

A recent post, Sid Mourns Kozmo, is of particular note. This small snippet will give you a sense of the content:

Kozmo pitched an Exclusive Product Offering (EPO). With delivery guaranteed in 60 minutes, Kozmo was offering unheard-of convenience. Many urbanites challenged themselves to beat Kozmo’s hyper-efficient logistics only to fail miserably. Whether you call it EPO, USP or any number of other confounding acronyms, it’s clear that effective brands exist because they offer something unique.

Continue reading

CUSTOMER SERVICE, NEW MARKETING IN THE INTERNET AGE

INTRODUCTION

People talk about customer service almost as much as they do about the weather. In both cases you might feel that not enough is being done about it. The cartoon below is perhaps typical of how some companies feel about customer service.

Cartoon originally appeared on CustomersAreAlways

Customer service is hardly a new topic, however it is becoming much more critical to success in this Internet age. This article will explain why. Continue reading

Fast Companies

Fast companies compete on speed. They are literally that — fast companies. The world moves just unbelievably fast today — faster than it ever has before — and if you can’t keep up, you’re going to fall behind.

So what we see is that in fast companies, time itself — not short-term profits, not margins — time itself is becoming a more important metric for business performance. Companies are treating time as just as important a resource as money. Because it is. And if you do that, lots of interesting changes take place. Continue reading

Why Big Companies Should Think Like Startups

Andy Sernovitz has some excellent tips for startup companies. Here are the first two in order of importance:

1. Customer service first. Take care of the people who give you money. Everything else grows from here.
2. Ethics matter. There is no undo for dishonest behavior. It will haunt you later.

Now think of the criticisms that so many people have of big companies. Surprisingly these first two often feature. Perhaps all companies prosper better if they put these two rules first. If they are so essential to startups, it is difficult to think of a reason why they should not be equally important for big companies.

MICROSOFT BRANDS SUBTITLE: 2 BRANDS OR NOT 2 BRANDS

INTRODUCTION

Branding is big business and it’s important to do it well. It can be almost Make or Break for a company. How can you create a strong brand? As it happens, it would seem that Microsoft may not be doing too well on this question in the early part of 2006.

The right choice of brand can be a powerful element in driving sales growth. Sometimes one can learn a great deal from the way a big company handles a particular aspect of marketing. This is not always true when it comes to branding. One ‘problem’ many big companies have is that they have too much cash. Smaller, leaner companies must use guerilla marketing techniques to make the maximum impact with the minimum of cash. To be successful, they must be very creative and effective in the way they create their brand. A big company may have many decision-makers and the final brand choice may be a committee decision. At some point, the die is cast and they then try to make the brand work the best way it can. Microsoft is currently defending why it should continue to have $ 35 billion US on hand, which it maintains is for “new technology and other things important to the company’s operations”. So if required they can certainly invest money in making their new brands well known.

This newsletter reviews what Microsoft has done and suggests some lessons that can be drawn from their activity. Branding is an important concept for all sizes of companies, including even one-person enterprises. In this newsletter, we will explore in some detail what exactly a brand is and what it can do for your company. Continue reading

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