June 1996

Root Page of Article: Building "Webcentricity", by Christopher Kresser

Establish Online Presence

The purpose here is to develop a virtual presence for the firm. An established virtual presence will enhance the consumer's awareness of the firm and its offerings and demonstrate that the firm is committed to being on "the cutting edge." This was quite simple in the early days of the Web when the number of firms with Web sites was very low. However, as commercialization of the Web proliferates and companies continue to rush to the Web, it is becoming more difficult and more important for firms to distinguish their Web offering from others. The ability of a firm to attract consumers to their Web site is essential to success in this medium. As Jay Sandom Einstein & Sandom says, "you can have a party with the best bartender, caterer, and band around but if nobody knows about it, who cares?" The three primary means of developing a virtual presence are to provide information, to advertise and promote online, and to establish editorial supremacy (or "webcentricity") in a particular category or market.

Provide Information

The historical progression of advertising is based upon information reduction. The economics of print, radio, and ultimately television forced advertisers to reduce the amount of information that could be passed on to consumers. This information was compressed until it was finally transformed into the soundbytes and transitory images which dominate traditional media today. The Internet offers firms the opportunity to provide a potentially unlimited amount of information to their consumers. The consumers who are on the Web are much different that their "traditional" counterparts. This new breed of "wired" consumers is on the Net in part because they demand access to information in an increasingly competitive and globalized economy. Therefore, it is essential to provide detailed, rational information about the firm and its offerings. This helps to create an informed market, increases brand awareness, and gives consumers the information they need to make a confident purchase decision.

Whenever possible and relevant a Web site should contain corporate information about the firm, a link to pertinent online resources, a listing of print publications and references, articles, essays, interviews, press releases, media clippings, industry reports, in addition to information highly specific to the firm and its offering which consumers would have a hard time obtaining elsewhere. It is absolutely essential that all of this information be updated continuously and be presented in an aesthetically pleasing and intuitively navigable manner.

Fidelity Investments describes their Web site as "part of a continuing effort to provide you with the information you need to make informed investment decisions." Their site provides a wealth of information and resources which empower their customers. In the "NewsWorthy" section, Fidelity offers information about new funds, products and services being introduced, upcoming seminars, and reprints of recent articles which have appeared in the press. The "Investment and Retirement Planning" feature provides educational materials and interactive investment planners to help investors create their own portfolio and plan for their child's educational costs and their own retirement.

Advertising and Web Promotion

Editor's Note: the banner at the top of this page is a paid advertisement.

In the early days of the Internet firms had to be extremely careful about promoting their goods online. Internet veterans were especially hostile to its invasion by commercial concerns, and any company which attempted to market its products on the Net could expect to be "flamed" by people all over the world. These days seem to have passed as advertising is becoming increasingly widespread on the Internet. Companies are now using hotlinked "banners" which normally appear across the top of a Web page to enhance consumer's awareness of their presence and attract customers to their own site. These advertisements are sold to companies at a cost ranging anywhere from $10 to $1500 per month. Netscape leads the pack of companies with over 10,052 links (most of which were not paid for). Currently these advertisements are static and uncompelling, due to technological limitations and size constraints. This will change quickly as new technologies and programming languages (such as Java, Shockwave, VRML, etc.) permit designers to create hypermedia advertisements with real-time audio and video and three-dimensional space.

Though there have been no conclusive studies of the effectiveness of this technique to date, Eric Myer of the NewsLink Corporation has conducted a minor pre-study which yielded fairly disturbing results. The referral (or clickthrough) rate for 12 on-line ads studied ranged from 1.40% to 0.36%. In other words, only about 1 in 100 people who saw each of the on-line ads followed that advertisement to the site of the advertiser. If the ads had been billed at a cost per thousand of $15, then the typical advertiser would have paid around 68 cents per referral to their site. This is unsettling because the variance in referral rates could be accounted for by error as much as content, positioning, or design factors (Myer, 1996). Myer's analysis is in fact disturbing. Much more research must be done in this area if advertising in this fashion will continue to be an accepted practice. However, I think that Myer's discussion misses an important point. The objective of the advertiser should be to establish a strong virtual presence. A consumer may see an advertisement and not choose to click on the banner immediately, but the seed has been planted. Because the consumer has complete control over this media environment, he/she may choose to disregard the advertisement at first and visit the company's Web site later at a more convenient time. There is no way to track this progression of events, so any study conducted would fail to address this contingency.

Even with advertising, the problem of attracting potential consumers to a Web site is like finding a needle in a haystack. There are a number of Web promotion activities which should be employed by a firm in order to reach the desired audience and invite them to visit their site. The first and most important at this time is to include the Web address in all of the firm's print publications, manuals, and advertisements. It is considered essential to register the site with a variety of search engines and directories, since they attract the most consumer traffic and are the favored method of finding anything on the Web. Though most directories and search engines do not charge for a listing, the registration process can be a confusing and time-consuming even for those who are familiar with the widely varying standards and requirements of each of the 300+ search engines. Another very popular and extremely effective technique is to make an announcement introducing the Web site on all the newsgroups and mailing lists which deal with subjects relevant to the company's products and services. Sponsoring other Web sites, content, and services is also a good idea.

It is really quite amazing that most firms took the time and spent the effort to go through these steps by themselves initially. Web promotion is a difficult and lengthy process, and like traditional promotional activities, is best left at the hands of professionals. There are now many companies which provide Web promotion services to clients; unfortunately, choosing the proper company can be almost as frustrating as doing the promotion yourself! The Multimedia Marketing Group, who also moderates the Internet-Sales Discussion List, has a service called "WebStep Traffic & Impact Building" which makes the following claims: makes your Web site easy to find, widely publicizes your Web site, dramatically increases your traffic, maximizes your online sales. They offer five levels of service designed to meet the needs of home businesses to major corporations. Among the services provided are a printed "Guide to Sales and Marketing via the Internet/WWW," development with keywords and descriptive statements for your site used by search engines, Elite 30 registration (top 30 search engines), Top 100 registration (top 100 search engines), sponsorship of the Internet-Sales Discussion list, a press release announcing your site to over 200 media contacts, and appropriate newsgroup and listserv publicity.

Editorial Supremacy or "Webcentricity"

Another effective method of establishing a Web presence is to achieve editorial supremacy in a particular area of interest to consumers. This approach has also been referred to as webcentricity, reflecting an attempt to create a branded, central resource on the Web which is dedicated to the selected topic. The idea is to offer a wide range of information and services in the context in which the product is consumed (Hoffman & Novak, 1996). This content, which is constantly changing, will in turn continuously attract a large audience of potential consumers to the site.

The information is not necessarily exclusive to the product being offered. The intention is to provide content which is relevant to the product area in general, rather than the product itself, in order to continuously attract an interested and informed audience. This strategy is indicative of the traditional contempt of Internet savvy consumers towards online advertising and marketing. Because consumers are in total control of what they see in this media environment, it is not enough to simply create a Web site which only seeks to promote the product. Consumers will only visit this Web site when they have a very specific interest in a company's offering. However, if the Web site provides useful, compelling, and continuously updated content in addition to information about the product, the company gains the ability to rifle-shot the message to consumers who fit a particular profile. Qualified consumers are worth the added charge to get the information to them. (Goldstein & Ross, 1996)

This strategy is partly illustrated by Ragu's Web site which is entitled Mama's Cucina (Mama's Kitchen). Mama, the classic Italian grandmother, provides a broad spectrum of information of interest to Italian food connoisseurs. Mama's Italian Cookbook contains recipes, a cooking glossary, and a pasta glossary. Goodies from Mama includes coupon books for Ragu products, kitchen wares, and Mama's Kitchen t-shirts for sale. Visitors to the kitchen can brush up on their Italian in the Learn to Speak Italian section, which contains Real Audio sound bites of useful and humorous Italian phrases. Mama also gives visitors to her kitchen a chance to win a family reunion by entering a contest on the site. Though this site does contain some information about Ragu, the recipes and other cooking tips rarely call for Ragu products. By providing recipes and other useful information about Italian cooking, Ragu intends to establish brand awareness among consumers who have demonstrated their interest in Ragušs market area by their presence at the site. This approach is non-intrusive and is thus believed to be the favored method of marketing a product on the Web. --

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