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Marketing: Making the Transition to the Internet

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Marketers need to consider many complexities when taking their message online. Deirdre Breakenridge, the author of Cyberbranding, explains the risks and rewards.
This chapter is from the book


A quick tour for marketers to consider a few key complexities of making the transition to the Internet, including:

  • A transition that supports the brand

  • Ongoing battles over Internet commitment

  • Growing statistics that reinforce the commitment

  • Devoting dollars to the Internet

  • Industries taking the plunge

  • Internet issues that turn into opportunities

  • The smooth transition of the brand

A transition to support the brand

Timing is a key consideration for every marketer. Amazon had impeccable timing. The site launched when the idea of a virtual bookstore intrigued and thrilled audiences who flocked to the site, first for curiosity, and then for sheer convenience. Amazon was also quick to consider the benefits of selling through personalization (without ever infringing upon the rights of the user to the extent of feeling pestered). Like the very best bookstores, it swiftly learned shoppers' preferences and made relational sale recommendations. As a result, the visitor instantly felt "involved" with the site. Amazon asks every visitor his or her opinion with respect to product reviews, and always has something new and fresh to stimulate its audiences.

The rate of change on the Amazon site excels at a pace that would crush the brick-and-mortar establishment. And to address the privacy and credit card issues that concern so many Internet users, Amazon's emphasis on safety parallels Volvo's efforts to make a vehicle that is safe for highway driving. The list of considerations continued, with Amazon immediately taking heed of studies of how many words the normal attention span of readers can bear. With text that is minimal (a body of words never over 150) and visual face-out covers, the site is appealing to the everyday user. In terms of marketing, not a stone left unturned. It's a challenge to get a consumer to break away from an existing brand preference to try a product from a newly created company. Amazon's clever marketing strategies proved to be a key component in driving traffic to the site, retaining an audience and enticing them to make purchases.

In 1999, during the holiday season, Amazon used something as simple as a minipostcard (gift certificate) in the form of a direct mail piece to online consumers. The card was so appealing it was enough to make a one-time purchaser into a frequent buyer. This $10.00-off gift certificate was delivered via snail mail to Amazon customers in memorable, sheer holiday red-and-green envelopes. The card, which immediately caught your eye with its unique use of color (very bright blue and yellow), had an easy-to-read saying: "All aboard Amazon.com Toys." An interesting piece, it was "eye candy," on the one hand, and true to its word, on the other, with a fabulous discount (not requiring the online consumer to make any minimum purchase, such as spend $50.00 and get $10.00 off). With this type of bargain, online shoppers were searching for the Amazon toy gift cards. It was considerations such as this that put Amazon on the cybermap. However, the million-dollar question still remains. Despite all of the branding success, the company has yet to make a profit. Nonetheless, Amazon continues to motivate other companies to develop their Internet presences and to brand online.

Then there's Barnes & Noble at the other end of the spectrum. What a great place to read your favorite book, enjoy a cup of coffee, and attend an author's book signing and discussion. Barnes & Noble did not pay careful attention to the needs of its consumers and lost out on a wonderful opportunity to be the first brick-and-mortar with a virtual bookstore. Out of nowhere came Amazon and captured a sizable Internet market. When Barnes & Noble tried to play catchup, the damage was done. Visitors on the Barnes & Noble site who had previously visited Amazon.com felt that many book entries were similar, and the impression, real or imagined, was that the information may have been borrowed. At the least, the content was, for a while, not substantially different enough from Amazon.com, although prices were often lower. The Internet traveling public was savvy to the situation and felt disrespect for the Barnes & Noble brand. Although Barnes & Noble is making Internet headway, in most cases, damage to the brand is irreversible.

Opinion Research Corporation International includes Ama-zon.com among the top five net names. In addition, when Intelliquest in a survey asked approximately 10,000 Web surfers to name brands in association with a product, for books Amazon was chosen 56% of the time. Not bad at all for the new kid on the block.

Amazon makes the complexities of Internet branding look easy. But the truth is that marketers are struggling over how to handle cyber-brands. New dot-com companies can look forward to a laundry list of considerations with respect to site functionality, content, design, ease of navigation, customer service, or privacy, and the list goes on. But even before any of these issues are taken into consideration, you would think the first obvious question would be whether or not the brand has permission from its audience to be in cyberspace. For example, will consumers stop going to auctions and go to eBay instead? The same consideration holds true for the brick-and-mortar. Take the case of a well-known not-for-profit organization, Lighthouse International (an organization for the vision-impaired): has a visually impaired audience that may not choose the Internet as its medium of choice given this organization permission to be online? The only way to find out whether consumers will go to online auctions and bid for items and whether the vision-impaired will log on to a Web site that would enable them to be a part of an Internet community (one designed for specialized needs) is to conduct market research. Without a research campaign prior to launch and subsequent postlaunch research to guide a serious effort, companies take an incredible risk. It's a myth that even the marketer of a traditional brand can throw the brand online and keep loyal followers happy with just a presence. On the contrary, having an established offline brand means there's more at risk in taking that brand to a new level. After the permission rule is satisfied, considerations filter all the way down to putting the best foot forward to execute the same efficient customer service and providing an online experience that is just as pleasurable as the offline encounter (if not more so). That's why there was no excuse for what Toys "R" Us went through in the 1999 holiday season. Brand followers were not forgiving when Toys "R" Us had significant problems fulfilling orders for catalog items and shipping those items. These are again considerations that cannot be taken for granted.

It's a difficult plunge to take that giant Internet step, and it bears close consideration. Once permission to be in cyberspace is granted, then companies will get there quicker by addressing organizational challenges first: human resource availability, or finding the right people with the right skill set; cost and budget issues; evaluation of relationships with third-party suppliers; defining roles and responsibilities of employees; defining an online and offline marketing effort; providing customer service for online retail; and— most of all—upper management support every step of the way! Some companies, however, try to slowly get their feet wet—as evidenced in a certain brochure like presence—in implementing their conversion from traditional marketer to cyberbrander and do not carefully plan the transition between the existing business model and the e-business model. One possible explanation for the slow start is that the Internet does not have enough history under its belt to allow companies to analyze historical benefits. In most cases, the past dictates the future: People are driven by their successes and avoid repeating past mistakes at all costs. Without not enough history behind the Internet, and stock prices that reflect a lot of price and no earnings, some companies are leery of diving into Internet waters headfirst. But that is not to say that traditional marketers haven't come a long way. In May 2000, an article appeared in the New York Times on the Web entitled "Many Traditional Marketers Are Becoming Devotees of Cyberspace." The article stresses how traditional marketers have lagged behind in the transition to the Internet but are now making up for lost time. A new study, "Web Site Management and Internet Advertising Trends," published by the Association of National Advertisers, supports the traditional marketers' Internet leap. The study concludes that advertisers are turning to the Internet for its ability to reach consumers, the benefits of two-way communication, and the high potential of Internet branding.

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