Business Ecosystems Enhance Marketing

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Like most marketing professionals, you probably think the Web can provide -- if not now, then sometime in the future -- strong benefits for your business, including expansion opportunities, new revenue streams and added customer service.

Most companies have taken their first steps in evolving their existing Web presence by doing more to understand what is happening on their site, such as measuring site statistics. As the more forward-thinking marketers work to align the Web's capabilities with strategic business goals and to fully integrate the Web into daily business practices, these can be viewed only as important milestones.

Serious Web marketers are striving for even greater business benefit: a long-term Web marketing strategy that can provide sustainable competitive advantage over time.

The truth is, the moment your organization successfully integrates existing business practices in the real world with the online "virtual" world, you have achieved a competitive advantage in the short term only. How long before your competitors reach the same point?

To truly succeed, companies must look beyond what works in the real world and begin to harness the Web's unique capabilities. Organizations must expand their view of the Web to consider how fundamental business practices might be altered for long-term benefit. How can the technology open new channels and new markets? How can it solidify and expand a global market presence by partnering with other companies? And how can it create enduring, one-on-one relationships that enhance customer acquisition and retention?

Savvy marketers are embracing these challenges through the creation of new business ecosystems: global networks of interrelated but noncompeting companies that rely on Web technology partnerships to expand into new markets and reach new customers.

These ecosystems are focused on servicing a singular market segment and strive to build a sense of community around a collective Web presence. In particular, companies facing the eventual commoditization of their highly branded products and services and whose investment in distribution channels cannot be compromised are finding this concept highly appealing.

Consider this real-world example of an affinity-marketing network that was conceived by a leading PC manufacturer: This network is targeting the "mobile executive" market segment and provides services and products to individuals who travel extensively and regularly use laptop computers. As each anonymous visitor comes into the network, observed interests can be captured and used to build a profile.

These profiles can be enhanced and shared by all partners in the network, so content can be highly targeted using robust visitor knowledge gleaned over time and a multitude of Web sites. And these profiles are built using anonymous behavior data only, so visitor privacy is not compromised.

How do these business ecosystems work? Let's say John Doe, vice president of marketing for ACME Products, travels extensively for business and owns a laptop. He might come to the Mobile Executive site to check international adapters for his laptop in anticipation of a business trip to Sweden. As he visits the Port Mobile Accessories company page, his interest in international adapters for Sweden is captured in his anonymous profile.

He then might go to Travel Unlimited's page to book his flight to Sweden. Because his profile is available to all participants in the Mobile Executive site, Travel Unlimited can offer him information on flights to Sweden that supply on-board power, so he can use his laptop in flight. It is this type of powerful value-added service that the affinity network offers, creating a sustainable competitive advantage greater than that which could be achieved by each participant individually.

In evaluating your own Web adoption plans, this scenario may seem a million miles away. But it won't be for long. And savvy companies, perhaps even your competitors, are starting to look seriously at how to exploit the Web for this kind of sustainable business advantage.

Now is the time to look for ways to truly leverage the Web for your company. You can start today by capturing Web site visitor data and beginning to understand what your online visitors want and how best to engage, retain, and service them online. Don't miss this opportunity to ensure that your organization captures the hearts, minds and lifetime value of new online prospects and customers.

Diane Elavsky is director of marketing at Engage Technology Inc., Andover, MA, a subsidiary of CMG Information Services that provides products for site visitor tracking, identification, registration and profiling.

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