Without infrastructure, you’re courting disaster

Julie Forkan is vice-president of sales and marketing for UUNET Canada, a Toronto-based business-to-business Internet Service Provider. Using the Internet to market a company, a product or service offers opportunities that have simply never before existed. The Internet offers a...

Julie Forkan is vice-president of sales and marketing for UUNET Canada, a Toronto-based business-to-business Internet Service Provider.

Using the Internet to market a company, a product or service offers opportunities that have simply never before existed.

The Internet offers a medium with worldwide coverage from a single source, expanding the potential audience beyond anything previously available. If approached correctly, a successful e-marketing campaign can cultivate valuable relationships with a wide-reaching base of well-informed, willing consumers who have an available budget.

There are two distinct approaches to operating Web-based businesses: e-marketing, that is, using Web sites as online brochures where people look to the Web site for information and then call the company for further action; and e-commerce, the full integration of back-office systems with online purchasing and customer support.

While integrating e-marketing with e-commerce is not required, it can create a complete customer relationship cycle, bringing in the highest revenue at the lowest cost.

The benefits of e-commerce opportunities are clear. In 1998, online retail Christmas shopping revenues tripled over 1997, and at least the same can be assumed for the season just passed. By the year 2002, business-to-consumer sales are expected to reach US$37 billion, and business-to-business sales are expected to reach US$842 billion. Numbers of this magnitude are put forward by all the major industry analysts, including Forrester, Gartner, IDC and Jupiter.

Even products that are not sold primarily for a Web-based audience are backed up by Web sites and related technologies. Today, there is rarely an advertisement, brochure or even business card printed without an accompanying Web address.

What differentiates the Internet from traditional marketing media are its global reach and its capacity to develop intimate and specialized relationships with consumers. This is achieved not through static Web pages that simply regurgitate material from print product catalogues and other collateral, but by using a complete toolbox of online resources to seek out, capture and retain the interest of potential customers.

These tools include: a dynamic Web site that can identify users and respond to their historical behaviour by altering its structure to suit the user’s tastes; consumer purchases linked to a database for follow-up online communication; moderated chat and e-mail interest groups; updates to software products; and fast access to online communities of shared interest.

For best results, all of this must be done within ‘privacy’ guidelines well understood by both online companies and by consumers visiting the sites. Most consumers are very willing to provide information if they believe they benefit by doing so. It is the unauthorized use of personal information that creates most consumer backlash.

All these elements facilitate rapid market research, and the capacity to understand the unique behaviour patterns and needs of each customer. For example, a company producing a new line of clothing can, with very little effort, begin developing market research and customer relationships well ahead of product rollout. Patterns can be displayed at the company Web site and feedback cultivated from potential users. Users can be drawn to the site through strategic links with other corporate Web sites, including those pertaining to recreational products, sporting events and so on.

There are also numerous Web sites, chat sites and newsgroups dedicated to virtually any topic. Opinion leaders in these forums can be identified and targeted with early product release for evaluation and review. The combined effect of these tactics will bring consumers to a Web site, generate interest and develop long-term relationships.

For this scenario to work, certain critical elements – all relating to the quality of the marketer’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) – must be in place. Underlying each aspect of the e-marketing toolbox are facilities available through the ISP. Depending on the scale of the marketing strategy, there are a number of service checkboxes that require scrutiny. Of these, bandwidth and security are critical issues.

For example, tying online marketing strategies to a product launch date is a popular and wise decision. However, it raises a significant concern: Can the ISP support a sudden spike in user activity? Nothing will sink a product launch more quickly than a Web site that crashes on its opening day because of user overload.

On the Internet, more than in any other medium, investing in outreach without investing in the supporting infrastructure is courting disaster. The ISP must be able to rapidly scale up its services if it’s to meet sudden and dramatic increases in user demand. Many ISPs can do this on a local scale, but what if the target market is global in scale? Does the ISP have global facilities that can be brought to bear?

The need for bandwidth is matched by the need for security. If the marketing strategy is tied to online purchasing and collecting demographic information about potential customers, the authenticity and security of that data is a paramount concern. Inadvertent leaking of a customer’s personal information will kill a project. Developing consumer trust requires the best security measures available. It is crucial to both partner with an ISP who can offer secure transactions and to work with a Web site developer who understands how to keep the Web site data secure.

Security also has another element – systems integrity. Because customers make purchasing decisions quickly, it is imperative that the Web site and marketing software be available for use ’24-7.’ This demand for high-availability computing services can be solved by locating your Web site at the ISP’s data centre, where your site is monitored continuously and is directly connected to the ISP’s high-speed backbone.

The ISP assumes the responsibility for managing the computers and ensuring they are up at all times. Some ISPs are even assuming the responsibility for managing the applications themselves or are teaming with system integrators to provide a turnkey solution. You and your staff still have full access to the site through remote technologies, but your staff does not need to worry about the day-to-day operation of the equipment.

The best tools and infrastructure will not in themselves guarantee the success of an online marketing campaign. The Internet is constantly evolving and it is crucial that along with a rock-solid infrastructure, marketers adopt creative and unconventional approaches to reaching their customers.

UUNET, an MCI WorldCom company, offers a comprehensive range of Internet services to businesses, online service providers and telecommunications firms.

Also in this special report:

- It’s a whole new ball game: As consumers become more comfortable doing business online, marketers must come to grips with the new challenges that are now facing them p.D17

- Integration can break online shopping barrier p.D20

- Future’s bright for online newspapers p.D22

- Solutions offer Web marketers customer data boost p.D25

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group