The marketing departments of large corporations have always been mandated with creating an integrated, brand-focused customer experience across all customer touch points. These interactions span elements such as sales channels, call centers, customer service and advertising.
Soon the Web will be an added channel to the portfolio. Here is a checklist to guide you through some key issues to ensuring brand success online.
Control the Web in your organization. Many marketers do not own the Web experience and are forced to listen to the anointed Web gurus in their technology or e-commerce departments as they claim, like Al Gore, to have invented the Internet. These departments soon will be recognized for what they should be: another marketing channel like direct mail or call centers. Technology personnel will return to their customary role of supporting internal enterprise initiatives rather than dictating customer-focused channels like the Web.
The information technology staff would not be involved in a direct mail campaign and similarly should not control the Web distribution channel, either. The long-term view of technology simply clashes with the short-term “campaign” objectives of marketing. While marketing must be nimble and customer-focused, technology implementation and management by its nature is methodical and procedural.
Bottom line: Boot IT from any customer-facing initiative and take ownership of the Web.
Familiarize yourself with the battleground. Take a day to surf the Web, and brace yourself for one of the most underwhelming tours you will ever take. Make notes of the sites you like, the ones you do not like and the reasons why. You will find crowded pages, complex links or lack of informative or educational content – all the reasons why most Web sites should be removed. Have colleagues with different tastes do the same, and most likely you will agree on a quick and dirty plan to the basics of delivering a customer-centric experience.
Bottom line: Do your homework and understand the online environment.
Follow your marketing instincts and outsource. Technology departments are like armies that accumulate weapons with unlimited budgets. Most have had a hand in building and managing the Web, which is why the Web as a whole is a major disappointment and about as welcoming to outsiders as the Pentagon. Marketers prefer to outsource to those organizations with the requisite expertise, and they have more than 50 years of proven success with outsourcing to common suppliers like ad agencies, direct mail houses, database marketers, public relations, promotions and distribution channel partners. For marketers to have the flexibility and adaptability to win on the Web they must insist on buying vs. building if they want to be quick to market and responsive to customers.
Bottom line: Look for marketing suppliers that can provide rapidly deployable technologies with no installation or ownership required.
Avoid the temptation for one-stop shops. People who claim to be able to help you with everything from direct mail to your Web presence are delusional or seeking extra ways to drain your budgets. Take a portfolio approach and seek specialists in areas like engaging, retaining, upselling and acquiring certain customer sets online rather than simply building pretty Web presences. Quiz potential suppliers: Do they provide strategic insights into the behavior of online users in your segment? Can they analyze customer interactions with your site and provide insights on customer behavior?
Bottom line: Seek suppliers with a specialty suited to your needs and encourage all suppliers to challenge your views of your brand vision online.
Deliver a customer-centric experience. Ask your customers, “What do you want from me?” Surely it is not the snoozefest of product-focused Web presences proudly offered by most Fortune 1000 corporations.
The dot-coms have raised the bar in terms of providing rich customer experiences. Fortune 1000 marketers must follow suit by providing the ancillary services, tools, content and information to help their learning and shopping processes that customers have come to expect. Marketers must engineer a rich, customer-centric online experience that engages the customer rather than simply pushing a product. This will allow you to begin a dialogue outside your limited product set.
For example, small businesses engage in more than 50 management processes. Delivering support information to address these key management issues demonstrates that you understand their wide range of needs and paves the way for you to perform “contextual commerce,” the process of enticing individuals to purchase by educating them on their needs. In the future, one factor of brand success online will be the percentage of “total mind share” of a customer that a brand could engage.
Bottom line: Provide your customers with a rich, relevant Web experience by asking them what they want or by outsourcing to someone who already knows.
Avoid dot-com wolves in sheep’s clothing. You would not encourage your PR firm to get its name included in a story on your company. Your outsourced call center does not answer the phones with its corporate name. Why would you allow another brand to engage your customer at your Web site?
Trying to deliver a quick fix to enhance your Web presence by seeking a free deal from a dot-com is a recipe for disaster. First, your brand suffers as the dot-com flaunts its own brands to your existing customer relationships. Most of these dot-coms prey on desperate corporate marketers and siphon their customers at virtually no cost. Consider the look on your CEO’s face as he wonders how you let 25,000 customers slip away to a dot-com, potentially never to return. Consider the real possibility that third parties either would offer service levels inconsistent with the corporation’s or encourage the customers to visit them directly, bypassing the partnering corporation entirely. The dot-coms could disintermediate the corporation by introducing competing brands via their own banner ads or other offerings.
Bottom line: Pick your partners carefully.
Focus on integrated marketing, not technology. Technology is a commodity and has never been responsible for winning any marketing war. Look no further than the technical superiority of Apple vs. the market dominance of Microsoft. Forget the technology tools and instead review your offline channels to help win the Web war. America Online proved that direct mail was a key channel in persuading people to get online. Review your sales, direct mail, call center and customer service channels for opportunities to get your customers online before someone else does. Ensure that your offline offers and newsletters are compelling before integrating them into your online channels. Give people reasons for wanting to hear from you by offering direct e-mail channels and viral marketing capabilities that enable customers to tell colleagues. Make the Web customer-friendly with live customer service.
Bottom line: Provide an integrated experience for customers, both online and offline.
Marketers must use their instincts when taking over the Web channel. No one tool or medium will deliver victory or defeat, but the fluid interaction among all of them can help win the war.
Start by reviewing everything from how decisions on the Web were formerly made internally to how your offline channels now interact. Seek ways to get in your customers’ heads to ensure that you’re ready to keep them online once you get them there. Do not drop the ball by having a Web presence that is a cave painting when it could be a da Vinci.
The winners of the brand war on the Web will be those marketers who can intelligently increase the percentage of their customers’ mind share on the Web. These victors will not commit the errors of their predecessors, who thought building bigger contraptions internally was the answer.
• David Ceolin is CEO of Digital Cement, Westboro, MA. His e-mail address is [email protected]