The Four Ps Work Well Online

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Great ideas are constructed for the long-term. They hold their value even while the fundamental factors that lead to their formation change. A good example of this type of idea is the four Ps of marketing -- product, place, price and promotion, which have withstood the paradigm shift in the market economy.

The four Ps were developed during a much simpler time when business moved at the pace of the U.S. Postal Service and the fundamentals of the market were well defined and static. Then came the Internet. E-business and online retail have drastically changed the face of modern marketing. Instant communication, instant ordering, ubiquitous media outlets and 24-hour entertainment have shortened the average attention span and made the marketer's job more difficult. Luckily, the modern online marketer still has one constant: the four Ps.

Product -- Just as in days gone by, online product offerings still need to be timely and relevant. To determine what will work, thorough marketing research is still one of the most fundamental steps. Finding out what is selling and who is buying is the type of invaluable research that must be conducted before bringing anything to market.

It is important to query end users and decision makers during the research process. Since the factors that affect purchasing habits are as varied as the people who buy things, getting as much information from as many sources as possible is still extremely wise. This is even truer for online retail since the effective market for online products is the entire planet.

When viewed from a practical standpoint, the Web is simply a new distribution channel. It is therefore important to remember that products or solutions that don't fare well on store shelves, won't sell online. This is why product research is as important as ever.

Here are some other marketing factors that affect online retail:

o Variety. As anyone from Texas will attest, bigger is better, at least when it comes to product selection. In fact, doubling product variety can, in some cases, quadruple sales. This is where the almost limitless showroom of the Web proves its worth.

o Quick response. People use the Web for instant information and quick fixes. It is important that confirmation of the receipt of their inquiries and orders is sent back promptly.

o An enhanced buying experience. The Internet offers value-added features for online retailers. Demos, downloads, quick shipping and follow-ups, combined with product excellence, will assist in online sales and improve the overall marketing effort.

Place. Similar to a corner lot at a busy intersection, a good Web site should stand out. To accomplish this, it is highly advisable to provide something different than the competition.

Integrate your site with phone support, for example. Accessing the Web often is frustrating and almost always impersonal. Intelligent phone support will go a long way toward satisfying impatient or frustrated visitors. Furthermore, customer feedback will help to make a good site even more user-friendly.

Also provide compelling and fresh content. Update the site as often as possible to encourage visitors to return because the site never gets stale. The more visitors return, the more likely they will be to buy. Too many sites become dated, thereby failing to take advantage of the instant nature of the Web. The malleable nature of Web sites means they can be updated and changed almost at whim. A good site should be a dynamic, always up-to-date place to visit.

To further enhance the buying experience, register your visitors and treat them well. Frequent contact with customers will build their trust, creating a loyal customer base.

Price -- Customers are always looking to save time and money. The competition is always only a mouse-click away on the Web, so make sure they can do both on your Web site.

The vertical nature of Web marketing makes it possible to offer highly competitive prices. Frequent promotions, special offers and discounts will strengthen the customer base. The fluid nature of the Web allows for price adjustment whenever it's necessary to maintain a competitive edge.

Market research should be an ongoing process. Note where customers came from, what they looked at and what they bought. If they didn't buy anything, find out why.

The continual analysis of buying patterns allows for the strengthening of inventory in order to meet customer demands. Since information is always current, the costly, wasteful practice of stockpiling is eliminated. Furthermore, exploring the reasons why people didn't buy will assist in shaping future products to better serve the needs of the marketplace.

Promotion -- Understanding your audience is just as important as the audience understanding your business and products. A good Web site is an extension of corporate brand image. Online images should be true to offline brands in terms of design and tone. It is easy to stray from established brands on the Web since it is so easy to change. Take the time to do a proper job of representing brands online.

Web promotions should be closely linked to opportunities in the real world. This grounds the sometimes-amorphous online world to the real world. Take advantage of the ability to make adjustments whenever they are needed. Plan campaigns thoroughly to ensure changes will work.

If used intelligently, the Web fulfills interaction with existing and prospective customers. Ideally, it will augment current sales and will help build for the future. The Web cannot do this alone, however. It takes thoughtful, ongoing work on the part of the marketer to use the Web as a successful, integrated marketing tool.

• Rick Cloutier is chief marketing officer of IHS Engineering, Englewood, CO. Reach him at

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