Dot-Coms Need to Sell, Not Brand

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The year 2000 may be remembered as the year marketers at many dot-coms got spoiled, slapped on the back and then abruptly slapped on the wrist with a ruler.


For a while, they had the luxury, given to them by the CEO and supported by the board, to sell a brand, an experience or even a company mascot.


The marketing line got fuzzy and morphed into traditional advertising and branding. Young marketing executives who were not skilled in direct marketing, but who were given overall marketing and advertising responsibility for their dot-coms, began to apply the principles of advertising and branding to all their efforts.


One reason this did not work is that general advertising and branding campaigns simply prepare prospects for a sale at a later time and place, usually through media impressions delivered by television ads, print ads, billboards, etc. General advertising allows the buyer to choose the time and place where he buys.


This strategy seemed acceptable because the dot-coms thought they had the luxury of time. Heck, they were not making sales, but their stock prices kept going up, management was getting raises, the employees were throwing Nerf footballs around the office, and the board said, "Spend more." But the customers were not buying.


As the cost of sales grew with every Super Bowl ad and NASCAR sponsorship, Wall Street grew tired of the spending and the losses. IPO windows were slammed shut. Stock prices fell fast. Marketers had to regroup with limited budgets and bruised egos.


Marketing efforts in 2001 must make money, not merely build brands or generate leads. To make money online, dot-com marketers would be well-served to revisit the tired but true discipline of direct response marketing.


Direct marketing tells the buyer when and how to buy and prompts him to do it now. By focusing on "right now" selling and by testing different offers through multiple campaigns, direct marketers are better prepared to measure the results of their efforts and to make adjustments.


Direct marketing is a better fit for selling Web-based services than general advertising and branding are because, like the Net itself, direct response marketing offers interactive experiences and instant customer feedback.


Now that dot-coms realize they do not have the luxury of unlimited time or money to build their brands slowly, they are starting to understand that their marketing efforts must be designed to start the selling process with the first communication with their prospects. An old direct marketing saying reminds marketers, "Tell me quick and tell me true, or else my friend, the hell with you." This is especially good advice for dot-com marketers.


As pressures to get marketing results build quickly, marketers are shifting efforts from the shotgun advertising/branding approach to a more disciplined and targeted strategy. The newest buzz is about "relationship marketing." Relationship marketing is the newest thing in the dot-com world, though good direct marketers have been practicing this for years.


In relationship marketing, goals are defined not necessarily in terms of volume, such as the number of site hits, but more in terms of value - the value of the relationship with the customer. No matter what the "new" marketing methods are being called, the message is clear.


It is high time for responsible marketing that delivers paying customers - customers to whom a company can sell multiple products - and tactical campaigns that produce higher response and conversion rates, while providing cost


efficiencies.


The Net offers an opportunity to participate in perhaps the purest form of direct marketing ever. It is a medium that delivers instant sales, lead generation, cross-selling opportunities and the ability to capture customer data quickly. It also has proved to be a medium in which marketing strategies must be built around customer behavior, not just products and services.


In 2001, expect a shift in dot-com marketing - from a product-centric focus that is married to branding and general advertising methods to a focus on building strategies around the customer and incorporating direct marketing disciplines.


The time has arrived for dot-com marketers to fix their fundamentals and to move toward creating customer experiences that are designed to sell - and sell now.


• Tom Flanagan is managing partner at Tybio Inc., King of Prussia, PA, offering comprehensive business strategies for the Internet era. He can be reached at tom@tybio.com.
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