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Internet issues turn into internet opportunities

What are marketers finding to be the most common issues when making the transition to the Internet?

  1. Understanding new audiences and meeting their needs

  2. Making the transition from communicating as a mass-market company to the individual online consumer (and instant two-way communication)

  3. Acknowledging new competition that was not a consideration pre-Internet

Opportunity number 1: New relationships are formed with new audiences as traditional businesses go online. So, for example, in the case of the Arts & Entertainment Network (A&E), its Biography.com Web site invites younger groups to partake in the site with a search-able database of 25,000 interesting biographies. Because of younger audiences, A&E must gear its site to this group in a manner that young audiences will find attractive, interactive, and appealing.

Interview

Industries moving online

Sheila Cohen is vice president of marketing for Lawyers Homepage Network, a virtual law office for attorneys. Cohen has been marketing and branding products for over 22 years. In a discussion of how various industries are making the online transition, she gave her viewpoint on three industries and what seems to be a rocky road for them.

Supermarket Industry

Although many supermarkets have built their Web sites, few are making the transition to e-business smoothly. Then along comes Price-line.com, spending enormous amounts of money on star power endorsement (William Shatner singing its praises), and tries to "raise the bar." Through Priceline.com, supermarkets and consumers were able to get a good taste of how to buy groceries online. Priceline in all of its efforts attempted to pave the way for grocery stores. In addition, you also have companies like Peapod and Net Grocer that create a network of Web-based shopping using the supermarket as a distribution channel. Who is going to win? Will it be the Internet supermarket, where an online consumer buys and pays for groceries and then physically goes to the supermarket to pick up their prepaid items, or a full service market where groceries will be delivered to you at work or at home? It all depends on which way the market swings. This is another industry slow out of the gate—and the race continues.

Retail Industry

About a year ago, it was obvious that many retail chains were sadly behind the technology revolution, including household names like Barnes & Noble and Macy's that have spent years and billions branding offline. However, they did not seem to fully understand e-commerce and the needs of a Web-based shopper. And, in terms of fulfillment, they must have forgotten that delivering a promise is a key to customer satisfaction and retention. The retail industry has been slow to embrace brand equity and transfer it online. Frankly, a web shopper's expectation is the same as what he or she would expect from a brick-and-mortar location. Consumers want the same selection and variety that they would see in a physical store setting. But when Macy's Web site did not live up to its catalog selection a couple of years ago, consumers were disappointed with slim online pickings. So, what happens? Consumers go to shop at e-toys or Amazon.com if they can't find that "cute something special" from the Macy's online catalog. Macy's then has to scramble to get the customer back.

The Legal Industry

The legal industry is long known for its paperwork court filings and long briefs. It's ironic that an industry bogged down with paper is so slow to make the transition to the Internet. Lawyers, for the most part, are not tech savvy, making the transition even more sluggish. But, finally we are seeing lawyers who are in fact catching on—a good example is Lawyers Home Page Network (http://www.lawyershomepage.com), and its consumer site CaseMatch (http://www.casematch.com), founded by David Rizzo, an attorney himself. On this Web site we see lawyers utilizing the power of the Internet and conducting many functions of their daily business online. The LHN site allows member lawyers to take advantage of this virtual law office with everything from research tools to case management to marketing their firm and finding new clients. It took some time, but the legal industry is definitely catching on!

Opportunity number 2: Web sites provide one-on-one interaction and two-way communication. Companies that have traditionally engaged in mass marketing are used to reaching groups of people and must alter their methods. Mass marketers will quickly find that a Web site is all about the individual consumer and satisfying individ-ual needs. This is a new bond that has to be developed through interaction and strategies to keep a visitor coming back to a site for more information and activity. The Internet provides this opportunity (as well as this challenge) of being able to personalize and sensitize communication. Better yet, the Internet also allows immediate two-way communication. So, if you continue to "mass-market" to individual consumers, they will let you know exactly how they feel or they will not be back to your site. The brand will benefit from the ability to have two-way communication and implement feedback for further customer satisfaction. Otherwise, with so many choices on the Net, a consumer is just a click away from the next best thing!

Opportunity number 3: On the Internet, the whole scope of competition changes. So, for example, if A&E's major offline competitor is the Discovery Channel, that does not mean that in cyberspace Discovery Online poses the same kind of threat. As a matter of fact, A&E has more to worry about with Amazon when it comes to biographies. This forces A&E to think differently and evaluate competition in a whole new light. The Internet evokes creative thinking that is "out of the box," because audiences and competitors don't necessarily follow those traditional business plans we are all so used to.

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