How A Business Should

Use the Internet in 1997

 Heard a lot about what you should be doing on the net?

Here's an opinion we think you'll find makes sense.

 

While there is no shortage of material written about marketing on the Internet, most of it misses the point. Unless most of your customers are already on the Internet, you can't market on the Internet for the simple reason that your customers are not there. The most creative, compelling advertisement ever invented is worthless if potential customers donít see it, so itís a good idea to direct your marketing efforts to where the customers are.

 

Where Are Your Customers?

The Internet is today mainly populated by "high tech" professionals. It has really only been around a few very short years, and with a very few exceptions, everyone "marketing on the Internet" is losing money. The notable exceptions are those selling products that have a strong appeal to those pioneers already on the Web. Interestingly, high tech toys and pornography are the big sellers.

It is this simple: Unless your target market is "high technology" professionals, it is unlikely you will find enough of them already on the Internet to make putting an ad there a viable marketing expense, so forget putting up a web site. While bulk email can be practically free, unless your market is "anybody who has email," the mailing is usually worthless. A purchased mailing list of the right prospects is a much better investment. You get what you pay for.

Maybe in a few years, when everyone is "wired," it will make sense to focus resources on the Internet as a source for new customers. Right now, the Internet is a very poor source of new customers for most businesses.

 

The Internet is a Communication Tool

That does not mean that you can use the Internet in your marketing. Like mail, media advertising and the telephone, the Internet is a fantastic communication device. It will create a bigger impact on our society and the way we do business than the telephone, maybe more than the discovery of fire. But when? It was almost 50 years between Bell's telephone patent and the first call from New York to Los Angeles. It won't be 50 years before the Internet hits "critical mass," but it certainly won't be this year. It was after everyone had a phone that telemarketing made sense.

 

Historical Lessons

If you were selling widgets back in the days the phones were just rolling out, how do you think you would have done selling widgets if you could give away free introductory phone service with every purchase. Then you gave them your phone number in case they had trouble with their widget, and called them from time to time to see how they were doing, and told them you gave their mom a phone, so they should call her, and thanks for referring her. By the way, who else needs a widget?

You would have sold a lot of widgets, even if you never made a penny on giving away phones. The opportunity you have now is greater by far than this. It is far more efficient, and will permeate in far less time. Because the time the Internet will take to spread through society is compressed compared to the time the telephone took, the sociological forces unleashed will be far more explosive. The telephone made it less painful for families to spread out some. You can call your mom just as easy from New York as you can from Peoria. The phone made it commonly possible to retain close communication across great distances. The next larger social unit, after the family, is usually the work group, those people with whom you are in close daily contact in your job. The Internet makes it possible for the work group to spread out, and blurs the distinction between the "workplace" and "home." The phone was a powerful source of change in society, and the Internet will be more powerful change compressed into a shorter period of time.

 

Catching the Connection Wave

Where will it lead? I have no clue, other than it will be a very interesting and will change the society dramatically. It is uncharted territory, just like today's stock market. The only thing I know is that it looks pretty certain to me that eventually, a very significant percentage of the middle and upper income strata in this society will be connected, and they are not now. This creates a potential .

The Internet is the most effective communication tool created to date on this planet. With it, people thousands of miles apart can work together almost like they were in the same room. A doctor in Atlanta can look at a CAT scan as soon as itís completed in Phoenix.

But it will not be an effective communication means until the right someone is on the other end of the line. There are a lot of powerful market forces that will make this happen. There may be a few recluse cave dwellers someplace that have not heard of the Internet, but not too many. Communication tools, from the pen to the cell phone, have always become common. Being "wired" will become common - it is an unstoppable market force. It is a wave, and the way to ride the wave is to harness the forces that are connecting people to the Internet, and to profit by their arrival. Eventually, your customers will be on the Internet, but they will most likely then be the customers of whoever got them there.

 

More History Lessons

Three things are required for the Internet to become as pervasive as the phone: technology/infrastructure, motivation and guidance. With the phone, the technology/infrastructure phase was over 50 years long. Motivation happened not because it is innately understood that talking to someone over long distances is a nice concept, but that Joe a few blocks over has a phone. Cities were wired a neighborhood at a time over many years. The guidance end was supplied by the operator. "Hi, Sarah. Let me talk to Joe over on 22nd street." Early phones had no dials, you picked it up, turned the crank and the operator answered. (Rumor has it that this was because switching equipment hadn't been invented. I believe it was that Bell didn't want to have to teach people how to dial.) The operators provided the guidance the end users needed to benefit from the technology, they didn't even have to know how it worked. Sarah the operator made it all work.

 

Technology Catch22

 The technology and infrastructure for the Internet is in place. Assuming a middle class and above public, anyone can access the Internet if they have the motivation to overcome the hurdles, the least of which is a $2000 investment in a computer, and the largest of which is lack of any guidance. How long do you think the phone would have taken to catch on if people had to install Windows95, all by themselves, to use it? Technology has advanced so far that the technoids who sell "technology solutions" don't see the catch22 in including a very slick "How To Setup And Use Your New Computer" multimedia CD in the box with a new computer.

To someone who has never touched a computer, the task of plugging it in, turning it on, inserting the CD and clicking "play" is so daunting that Microsoft made Windows95 automatically run a CD as soon as it was put in the drive. They need Sarah on the phone to hold their hand during the transition from one generation of communication to the next. It is a requirement. It's also a formula for success.

 Market surveys have reliably concluded that the vast majority of middle and upper income head-of-households want to get on the Internet and intend to do so as soon as they have a reason. In spite of the fact that America On Line, CompuServe, Concentric and others have sent "free sign-on" disks to everyone in the country with an address, the percentage of this population actually on-line is infinitesimal. These companies, along with AT&T, MCI, GTE, ITT, IBM, Microsoft, Sprint and a long list of others are spending billions of dollars promoting the Internet and attempting to get subscribers. For the most part, they are losing money on Internet operations and will continue to do so for some time. But they are willing to pour all this money into it because they do not feel it is at risk. They know people will get connected eventually, and they are able to make the long term investment to capture a share of the market as it get connected.

 This is a demand that creates a great marketing potential. People want to be connected, they intend to get connected, itís not hard and itís practically free to connect them (see above), but they are not connected. No, you canít make money just by connecting them, thatís what all networks are doing (or trying to, anyway.) But you can, in the process of helping them do what they intend and want to do, get them connected to you.

 

Fantasy Future

What would it be like if all of your customers and prospects were on line?

Imagine that all of your customers have email, and log into your web site on a regular basis. There they can find out whatever they need to know about your products, services, position, programs and policies, maybe check their account or order status.

 If you have a last minute promotion, today, youíd have to hit the phones, do an emergency mailing or some other time consuming, expensive procedure. In our fantasy, all you would have to do is send out an email message to all your customers, and put a notice on your Web site. It would also be much easier for your customers to refer.

E-mail

Instead of the phone interrupting you constantly, most of your business is done by email. It has most of the advantages and none of the disadvantages of both of todayís most common business communications means: the telephone and the business letter. The telephone is fast, but produces no record to speak of and both ends must have a phone in their hand at the same time. A letter automatically makes a record of the communication, but is painstakingly slow, usually takes a secretary to type and does not lend itself to the depth of communication a telephone does.

 E-mail, on the other hand, is fast (arrives within minutes), produces a record, does not require both ends to communicate at the same time and costs practically nothing. It also lends itself to more in-depth communication than a letter while eliminating both the inconvenience of phone tag and the expense of a stamp.

 

Customer Service

Today, when a client has a question, they pick up the phone and call you. A receptionist answers the phone and tries to get the person who needs to answer the question on the phone. If the person is already on the phone, the receptionist takes a message. If the client is anxious or in a hurry, the receptionist is now in the critical position of being the focal point in maintaining your company's relationship with the client. (More than one customer has been lost by a receptionist.) It's not hard to imagine your customer calling the competition and asking them the question. Since acquiring a new customer is the most expensive part of operations for most companies, this can be a costly error.

In our fantasy world, your customer would log on to your Web site, click on "Product Information," then on the product name, then maybe on "Frequently Asked Questions." If the answer is not there, the customer can click on "Contact Customer Support" and send an email message.

A few seconds or minutes later, a soft tone sounds on the Customer Service Representative's computer. The Rep clicks on the message, and sees the customer's question. The Rep types an answer to the question and it is emailed to the customer who has it a few minutes later. A few other magical things happen automatically. The customer's record is updated with this transaction, and a record is made. The question and its answer are also automatically added to the "Frequently Asked Questions" database, so it never has to be answered again. The customer is happy and the company's knowledge base is documented one step further.

 

Newsletter

How often should you send out a newsletter to your existing clients? The answer is the same as "How often do you want your clients to think about you?" Composing, printing and mailing a newsletter is very expensive both in terms of hard costs like printing and mailing, and soft costs like executive time.

In addition, the process is time consuming. What if you want to let your customers and prospects know about something NOW and the newsletter is not scheduled for two weeks? Within an hour you can have an email message in the hands of your entire public. It can include the whole message or just a teaser and like

To find out more about our new Widget Gizmo, click here: http://www.ourcomany.com/Gizmo.html

Clicking on the link (the underlined part) would start the client's Web Browser, log onto your site, and load the page that you want them to see. This page could include complete information, or have button's to download a file, listen to an audio message, or have them purchase right from the Web Site.

The lapsed time between the bright idea and the first sale can be measured in hours instead of days and weeks.

 

Marketing

How often do you actually do surveys? Of course, many survey's are best done in person by a skilled survey technician who can evaluate the tone of the prospect's answers and opinions. However, the Internet lends itself very well to the collection of information. Survey's on demographics, interests, recent purchases and the like can be invaluable marketing data. Experience on the Internet has shown that prospects are happy to tell you what they are interested in and will fill out a quick survey form if they think it will help you provide what they are interested in.

 

Customer Community

Connections are like rabbits -- put a few of them together and pretty soon they have multiplied. The more there are, the faster they multiply. If there is something that interests your customers, there is a likelihood it will also interest many of their connections. How easy would it be for one of your customers to refer if all they had to do was send an email message to their friends that says,

Hey, you have to check out the new Widget Gizmo at http://www.ourcomany.com/Gizmo.html

By connecting your customers, you are creating an on-line community that will create endless possibilities for you to control your market.

 

Getting Your Customers Connected

To make the above fantasy come true, you have to get your customers connected. You have to harness the building wave of connection and help it along by simply aiming it at your customers. That, of course, is the big trick.

The step most "Internet Marketing Consultants" seem to miss is that you can't use the Internet to get people connected to the Internet. (These are the same guys that put the "How to Use a Computer" CD in the box with the computer.) The key word is Transition.

You have to use conventional marketing techniques to get your customers connected. And we can thank AOL, CompuServe, AT&T and the others who spent many millions of dollars to assure us that simply mailing out a disk that connects them to the Internet will not work.

We can also thank these valiant Web pioneers for spending all that money to let everyone know that they should be connected. Now all of your customers know they should be connected, they just don't know why.

If you give them a reason to get connected, you will benefit by all of the advertising, marketing and PR that all those other companies have done. Thatís nice leverage, and down below you'll see how you can go about doing it.

What would motivate your existing customers to install a Web Browser and check out your Web site?

It won't take much if you have the "secret ingredient." Assuming they have a computer with a modem already, all you have to do is offer them something they want. Since we addressing your existing customers, you should already know something about what they want. Ask your customer service people for the most commonly asked questions. Someplace in your organization is information your customers would like to have.

 

 The "Secret Ingredient"

What's the "Secret Ingredient" that will allow you to succeed in getting your customers connected when AOL, AT&T and other with much deeper pockets than yours have failed? AT&T should have read their own history. In trying to be the catalyst on the second communication revolution, they forgot what they did the first time. They left out Sara, the Operator.

Hold My Virtual Hand

Your customers want to be connected, and they want to be connected to you. (Otherwise they would not be your customers and you would not be selling anything.) If you supply the motivation and the same kind of support that Sara gave them while they were getting used to the phone, you'll have a winner.

It's the transition to the new technology that is difficult. The old, familiar technology of the telephone must be used to help your customers make the transition to the new technology.

Once we have a message and a reason for your clients to log on, we include that in a promotional mailing with a logon disk and a phone number to call for instructions. The operation of inserting the disk into the computer and installing the Web Browser is so easy that you would think no one would call the phone number. You would be wrong if you thought that.

Holding Hands is Not Technical

The typical call goes like this:

Customer: "Hello. I have this disk that says, 'Put disk in drive A and type 'setup' and press [Enter].' What should I do now?"

Technician: "OK. Put this disk in drive A, then type 'setup' and press [Enter]."

(Brief pause.)

Customer: "Now it says I need to pick an e-mail name that's less than 12 characters."

Technician: "OK, what would you like your e-mail name to be?"

You get the idea. Your sales staff or customer service staff can handle the vast majority of these calls. Some may actually need real technical questions answered, so you need a resource for these, too.

This call is the secret to getting your customers on-line. The typical call would end something like this.

Technician: "Great, you can see our Web site. Click on "Forms" to get that form you wanted, and it will be downloaded right to your computer so you can print it. I'll send you our newsletter to test your e-mail, and you send me e-mail to let me know you got it and if you have any questions."

You now have a connected customer. The fantasy is coming true.

 

How We Can Help

 

We work with you to design a basic Web Site for your company that will promote connectivity with your customers. Many Web Developers think of a Web site as an electronic billboard. We think of it as a communication center and switchboard.

 

We provide the computer hardware and software, the Internet Connection and the all of the technical know-how.

 

We help you design an initial promotion to you customer base to get them connected, and we provide the log-on disk to include in the mailing.

 

We will handle all the technical questions or problems your clients may have in getting connected, and we'll work with your sales or support staff to ensure that they seem like wizzards to your clients.

 

We'll keep your site updated with your latest information and make sure you know of every opportunity the Internet offers to improve your bottom line.

 

While you can easily find someone that will build you a Web Site for a lot less money than we will charge, no one else has the capability to offer our full "Connect Your Customer" program.

With our combination of conventional marketing background, technical expertise and customer service experience, we can make your Internet Adventure a profit center instead of a money pit.

 

 Copyright © 1996 Jerry Riggin, Clearwater, FL ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Contact: Jerry Riggin (813) 724-8006 jriggin@cris.com