You can hardly pick up a newspaper today without reading about the Internet and how it will change the way consumers buy and the way businesses sell. It is important to be able to separate the hype from the reality. That is the purpose of this article.
The most important thing for direct marketers to know is that there is no on-line equivalent to direct mail. You can't buy lists of consumers who are interested in a certain topic. You can't even send e-mail to consumers who congregate in Newsgroups, (but you can send e-mail messages via the Electronic Lettershop , see Jerry Whiteway's Article on the Electronic Lettershop, page 1) which are on-line message areas comprised of people who identify themselves as interested in certain topics, like PC Users, Network Administrators or Programmers. If you do, you'll get flamed. Posting ads in messages on Newsgroups violates "netiquette", or Internet etiquette.
Does that mean you can't advertise on the Internet? No way!
You have to do it legally - that is, in the right place. That place is on the section of the Internet called the World Wide Web. The Web, as it is known to Internet users, provides businesses with an on-line area to sell their products and services. Businesses can place their catalogues, brochures, press releases, pictures, testimonials and other marketing materials on their own "Home Page." That's where you can ask for the order!
The beauty of the Web is that customers select you and find information 24 hours a day from any place in the world. They are in a buying mode when they come to visit. Best yet, they can tailor make a sales presentation that meets their own particular purchasing behavior.
With the click of a mouse button, a reader who is interested in financial software can read reviews about Quicken and Managing Your Money, for example. If they want more information, they might be able to see shots of selected screens, read a detailed spec sheet, or see the names of all the stores in their area that carry the products.
The beauty of the
Web is that customers
select you and find
information 24 hours
day from any place
in the world.
As you can imagine, the ability to place large amounts of data on-line will be helpful for selling to consumers who require a lot of information before they will purchase. If the saying "the more you tell, the more you sell" describes your audience, then the Web is the place to be!
Of course, you don't have to do a brain dump on your consumers. You can allow them to read as much or as little information as they like. By placing "order" buttons on each screen of information, consumers can tell you when they are ready to buy.
By using Home Pages, marketers can save money printing and mailing brochures and catalogs.
Many software publishers have dipped their toes into the Web to see what the action is like. Those companies include giants like Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and Taligent as well as much smaller publishers like Intelligent Market Analytics and Skisoft. They employ different strategies that include allowing consumers to download new software and pay for it on-line or through an 800 number. Some companies are just happy to place information about their company on-line as a public service so consumers can learn about their products. More than 850 software publishers use on-line services to provide customer support as well, helping to build customer loyalty which leads to sales.
The best way to create a Home Page is to hire consultants who can handle the content issues and technical issues.
You'll need to create content for the Home Page that will draw people back for repeat visits. A Web site won't work on just advertising and marketing materials alone. Just as advertising works with repeat impressions, so it is with the Web. The content might include editorial articles that help consumers in your particular field of interest. For example, a publisher of stock market software might print articles about how to buy and sell stocks in a turbulent market; a publisher of real estate software could publish articles about how to select a house or find the best loan rate. Content can also extend its meaning to include services. For example, Daytimer Technologies, which publishes software that allows you to enter appointments has an on-line area that automatically sends an e-mail note reminding you of birthdays and anniversaries.
Next, you have to decide where to store the files. Your company can store the Home Page on its computers in-house, or rent space on the computers of an Internet service provider. The benefits of storing your own Home Page in house include easy access to updating information and control over the equipment. The downside includes having to buy equipment, lease telephone lines and train personnel. If you rent space on the computers of an Internet service provider, you'll have the benefit of not laying out money for equipment, which could run at least $5,000. Instead, you'll have to pay a monthly storage fee based on the size of your files.
Next, you'll need to promote your Home Page address, so your customers can find you. Tactics include posting notices of your Home Page on indexes of Web services and printing the address on your letterheads, business cards, advertisements and press releases. You must do this because it is just plain difficult to find information on the Web. Unless people know you are selling software on the Web, they probably won't ever stumble upon it.
If you've taken these steps correctly, you'll benefit from online marketing. You will never have more of their attention than when their eyes are glued to the computer monitor and both their hands are locked onto the keyboard!
The future looks bright for online marketing. SIMBA Information estimates that $50-$200 million of products are sold online today and that the figure will grow to $2.5 billion by 1998.
Meanwhile, more and more people will get online as computers continue to penetrate businesses and homes. As more consumer computer systems become equipped with multimedia capabilities, (and hopefully, with a standard method of writing and interpreting graphics and sound), marketers will be able to add more video and sound options to their online areas to present compelling messages that will appeal to more of the consumers' senses. Currently, marketers can integrate some graphics and sound into messages using a format known as HTML, (see Internet Primer) but the lack of a graphics and sound format standardization still presents a barrier to both the advertiser and consumer.
Your bottom line question is: will having an online presence help sell more products today and in the future? The answer is yes.
Daniel Janal, is the author of The Online Marketing Handbook: How to Sell, Advertise, Publicize and Promote Your Products and Services on the Internet and Commercial Online Services (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1995).
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