Keeping Web site attractive
By Paul Entin, as published in Mercer Business, 1996
Your company has recently unveiled its web site, secured a mention in the local newspaper and invested handsomely in new technology. Now what? In the excitement of going on-line and the zeal to do it quickly, too many companies fail to recognize the full potential of the internet as an income-generating part of their marketing communications program. In the midst of leaping on the bandwagon, proper planning in the context of corporate goals and marketing objectives may have been overlooked. The promise of new customers foretold by your web site developer now may seem far from possible. In reality, even in cyber-reality, the internet offers a wealth of opportunities for new business development in virtually any industry.
The key to transforming these opportunities into revenue lies in the ancient axiom of the advertising profession, "People read what interests them and sometimes it's an ad."
If your web site is a graveyard of corporate press releases, brochure copy and other self-promotional materials, few people will visit and far fewer will be interested in returning for more of the same. An effective web site, like most good marketing materials, provides information for consumers to use in making informed buying decisions. Companies that provide well-crafted content that addresses the needs of their clients and prospects position themselves to capitalize on their investment.
Goodyear, for example, provides seemingly objective educational information focusing on tire wear and care, driving tips and advances in tire technology. Fast facts on the famous blimps keep it fun. Via the internet, Goodyear is inexpensively positioning itself as a quality supplier of long-wearing, high-tech tires, in touch with the needs of the consumer. Like Consumer Reports, the Goodyear web site is likely to be consulted each time a tire purchase is needed. And at the time of purchase, drivers who have visited the web site may be more likely to perceive added value in Goodyear tires.
Many users of the internet are college educated professionals and academics who envision the information superhighway as a conduit to learning. Blatant sales messages are frowned upon. By offering an informational resource and creating a learning environment suitable for your industry, your web site can blur the distinction between what is considered advertising and what is considered editorial. Unlike television, which clearly defines programming from commercials, the internet rewards marketers who tread lightly on that fine line.
Lerman Container Company, for example, a manufacturer of plastic bottles for the cosmetic/personal care industry, provides on its web site in-depth information on government regulations impacting the development of and packaging with plastic bottles. Including data on child resistant closures, specifications on bottle dimensions, materials and other topics, the web site provides packagers with everything they need to know to package their product in plastic bottles. This easy access to information makes the entire R & D process seem simple for the packager and opens the door for a dialog early in the buying decision cycle for Lerman. Once the decision is made to package in a plastic bottle, Lerman has probably already been consulted via e-mail and is likely to be hired as the manufacturer.
With regulations, materials and design capabilities ever-changing, the Lerman web site is well-positioned for consideration as the first resource consulted during packaging design research. It should be noted, however, that maintaining that position will require both vigilance and an aggressive commitment to regulatory research. Should any of its information be found to be outdated, the integrity of their entire library may no longer be trusted as accurate.
This example underscores the fact that many companies are ill-prepared for the realization that in developing their web site, they have perhaps unwittingly embarked on a new business--publishing. As competitive as retail, healthcare, pharmaceutical, finance and other industries are, few companies in these industries understand how to succeed in the competitive world of publishing, let alone publishing on the internet. Maintaining the accuracy, timeliness and value of information on the web site, and providing enough of it to keep viewers coming back, requires a constant flow of new articles, white papers, tips and other content. It may also require hiring staff writers, a graphic designer and a programmer. Don't try to find all three abilities in one person. Many good artists don't write very well, many writers don¹t design well and some programmers I know have trouble with English. Generating income via the internet requires a long-term, sustained commitment, which may translate into an investment in people before significant tangible returns are realized.
Armed with an appealing web site brimming with useful information, it¹s time to attract people in your target audience. Promoting your web site drives its potential profitability. Without a high profile, planned promotional attack, your web site is but a book in the New York library with no corresponding card in the catalog, and few ways for your message to be found. The most important promotional tools are listings in search engines. Numbering in the hundreds or more, search engines, directories and indexes are the most common methods used for locating relevant web sites. Most cost nothing to be listed.
Opportunities for free publicity also exist in newsgroups and mailing lists. Subject-specific electronic discussions, newsgroups and mailing lists number in the thousands and those related to your industry should be closely monitored by your sales and marketing department. When the discussion encounters a subject area addressed by your web site, it is not improper to suggest a visit. Blatant advertising, however, is not acceptable and could cause long-term damage to your reputation. Paid advertising on other relevant web sites, sponsorships of e-zines and newsletters and other promotional vehicles exist for building name awareness and attracting visitors. Of course, traditional print and broadcast media can play large roles in attracting viewers to your web site, too.
It's important to consider your web site as just one more medium for delivering your sales message, albeit a powerful one, with an astounding global reach, 24-hour service and instantaneous sales capabilities. Your web site will not replace existing marketing efforts, but, if properly designed and executed, it can enhance your efforts in traditional media and actually increase the impact of your entire program.
To achieve the same success on the internet that your company has achieved in traditional media (or better!), be sure to apply your positioning strategy and the goals of your marketing plan to your presence on the internet at the earliest stages of planning and development. And remember that it's valuable information that will attract viewers to your web site and open a dialog for sales.
--Paul Entin is president of epr, a full service marketing and PR firm based in Hunterdon County, NJ.
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