Interactive Marketing: The ins and outs of marketing on Internet

Interactive Marketing is an occasional feature focussing on news, issues and emerging trends in all areas of interactive marketing.Strategy invites column submissions. Enquiries should be directed to Mark Smyka, editor, at (416) 408-2300.This column is by Tony De Liberato, who is...

Interactive Marketing is an occasional feature focussing on news, issues and emerging trends in all areas of interactive marketing.

Strategy invites column submissions. Enquiries should be directed to Mark Smyka, editor, at (416) 408-2300.

This column is by Tony De Liberato, who is president and chief executive officer of Universal Gateway and Consolidated Access & Networks, two Canadian Internet providers.

De Liberato has advised many Canadian organizations in establishing bulletin board and World Wide Web sites on the Internet.

How can consumers check the latest Canadian airline arrival and departure times, obtain current software for their computer, experience the wonder of viewing an interactive on-line annual report about a computer company, examine the performance of their favorite investment portfolio, or subscribe to leading magazines, and browse articles from the latest issue in less than 15 minutes?

The ability to obtain information on almost any subject from anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds has drawn an estimated 20 million to 30 million people to the Internet, an extensive worldwide computer network that is accessible 24 hours a day.

Creative marketers realize this new medium can improve market accessibility to their products and potentially increase market share.

But, what is involved in setting up a site at which customers can get access to information about a company’s products and services? What resources are needed?

It is a five-step process:

1. Build your case. Determine why you want to be on the Internet and decide what information you want to display.

2. Select a firm that can help you understand the ramifications of establishing a presence on the Internet, put a plan in place, and make it a reality.

3. Build the site.

4. Market the site.

5. Modify and maintain the site.

Build your case

Before establishing a site on the Internet, it is important to assess the economic benefits of presenting this information on the Internet.

What do you want to achieve? What is required to move this project forward? What is the economic feasibility? What is the bottom line return?

Determine if the news, product information, and positioning statements are targetted to a specific audience or industry segment, or whether the information lends itself more to general public access and viewing.

Select an Internet partner

Because the Internet is a relatively new phenomenon for marketers, many people do not always know what questions should be asked when building a business case, and, often, they do not have the technical expertise to establish a site.

With so many choices, it is important to work with someone who has a good understanding of the Internet.

There are a range of options available, depending on your requirements: Internet providers that only offer access to the Internet; firms that specialize in building bulletin boards and World Wide Web sites, but do not offer Internet access, and providers who do both – provide Internet access and construct bulletin boards and Web sites.

Choose someone who understands the Internet, and who also understands the related marketing issues.

They can explain security issues, assist in developing a realistic plan that will achieve your objectives, and help you determine what type of site is most appropriate for your market.

Building your site

Where you build your site is often dependent on your analysis of the market you serve. Carefully evaluate your target audience. What are their needs, and what type of technology is at their disposal to get access to the Internet?

Some companies have established sites on the World Wide Web, a sophisticated presentation format that can incorporate still pictures, text, audio, and video information.

Through the World Wide Web, information from other sites around the world can be built into the presentation package at your company’s site.

Displaying and transmitting data in this format creates huge electronic files, requiring special hardware and software, as well as specific Internet connections to handle the bandwidth necessary to receive the data quickly.

Web sites make sense for computer firms and other large organizations whose customers tend to be large Fortune 500 companies, and already have the technology at their disposal.

If you are in the general consumer business, 90% of the market will not have the bandwidth to get access to a Web.

Because of the amount of data transferred from a Web site, it could take more than 10 minutes to receive video and sound information if the customer is connected to the Internet by a standard 14.4 modem and a pc.

Therefore, if this is closer to the profile of your target audience, consider establishing a bulletin board service (bbs that can contain high quality images, but avoids the need for sophisticated computer equipment.)

Market your site

Like any other new business initiative, the site must be marketed properly. This is crucial. Otherwise, a considerable investment could be made to establish a site, only to discover that no one is getting access to your site because they do not know it exists.

Therefore, work with an Internet provider who understands the marketing issues related to the technology: how to deploy it, how to reach your audience, how to advertise to your audience.

Modify and maintain

Once you have decided what information you want to display on the Internet, and have hired a firm to build your site, consider your next steps.

A good rule of thumb is to start small. Get the service up and running so that you can evaluate the content and response from your target audience.

This keeps costs and risk to a minimum, and allows you to monitor the results. Once it is proven to be successful, you can add more information.

The Internet opens a range of new marketing possibilities for individuals and corporations, and can be a powerful and cost-effective means of reaching your key target markets.