Now the Internet is a Whole Channel.
This paper is based on a speech delivered by the author on February 12, 1998, at the Venture Talent í98 conference in Bellevue, WA.
The Internet is maturing into a whole channel. That means it is acquiring all the trappings of a channel, with multiple tiers, gatekeepers, storefronts, push and pull marketing, brand building and category domination. In effect, you have to approach the Internet no longer as a derivative channel - that assists other channels - but as its own environment, with what we call Whole Internet Marketing.
The Components of Whole Internet Marketing
There are three key components to Whole Internet Marketing:
The implementation of these components should occur in sequence.
Audience Building - No More Happy Puppies
In the early days of 1996, it was possible to "get the pop" through a clever promotion or two. Internet marketer Annie van Bebber made Happy Puppy the second most-trafficked game site with great promotion and a likeable, useful site.
Those factors havenít gone away. But today, I believe that they are largely wasted without a process for ongoing dialog with both prospective and current site visitors. In other words, you have to stay in touch. This isnít easy, and most companies donít do it. The result is a tremendous waste in prospective audience. How many times have you downloaded software and never heard from the company again - or if you did, it was a generic bulk announcement?
The dialog machine
To ensure that initial traffic generated by effective promotional activity results in loyalty and eventual purchase, Internet marketers need to implement systems that allow extremely sophisticated and personalized interaction with their target audiences.
In addition, they must create a "voice" (a style) that is appropriate to the company, and then apply that voice consistently as an ongoing direct response activity - both in bulk and personalized communications. The voice must be consistent wherever it originates in the organization.
Valuable, Free Information
Iíve written elsewhere (see The Three Pillars of Interactive Marketing) on the importance of providing the constant coin of valuable, free information to attract and keep your audience. That lesson is easily forgotten. The Internet is the ultimate Direct Response channel - but it despises being treated like one.
Stay away from sell-sell-sell. Offer free, valuable information. Studies have shown repeatedly that offers of valuable, free information work best, sales pitches least.
Revenue Generation - Itís The Product, Stupid
Tiny software utility maker Mijenix earns unusually hefty monthly revenue figures from its Internet-based sales. Why is this? According to the principals, itís primarily because their products are Internet sales-friendly. This is another example of the Internet as a Whole Channel. You design and package products specifically for retail, donít you? Then you must do the same for Internet-based sales. And you should look beyond simple "wrapping" systems, and really focus on how your product line should take advantage of the many ways to be Internet-friendly.
You should pay keen attention to your strategy for seeding your audience with product. Go for product adoption and the sales will follow. Go for sales and youíll likely get neither. There are several good working models that I will be glad to tell you about - but thatís for another paper.
Mijenix also does well because it has developed a " voice" closely related to the quality of its products - and has made Internet-friendly product design part of that product quality.
Establish Revenue Before Brand
Internet revenue generation follows audience-building, but, perhaps paradoxically, should come before brand building. Get your audience. Get to revenue. Then attack brand building.
Brand-Building, Secure Your Position
Security and Your Revenue Model
The first part of brand-building is about securing your position. This is closely related to your revenue generation strategies.
For example, Amazon created a web of links from thousands of referring sites that get a percentage for referring business. Go to Vetnet, and their helpful listing of specialized veterinarian books leads - sure enough - to Amazon.
This referral network is a powerful advantage that isnít likely to go away. Itís a major source of ongoing business for Amazon.com, but while the bookseller could probably survive without it, itís a huge fortress against competition. Those links are pretty much hard-coded.
But thatís only the beginning of brand-building. The next area of focus should be category domination, and, coming back to our example, barnesandnoble.com is doing some great work there. For example, theyíve bought into some major sites, like the NY Times.
So, build your fortress based on how you make revenue, then work constantly to ensure your domination of the category.
Category Domination is about planting a flag in a category and holding it. Your domination strategy will be yours uniquely.
With your Revenue Model Fortress and your Category Domination scheme well in hand, you can now build your long-term brand.
Itís clear that brand-building on the Internet is about constant innovation and staying relentlessly in front of your audience. BUT donít confuse innovation and technological change with a change in product focus, voice or message. Those are constants. Insist on reinforcing them.
Remember CompuServeís Wow!? The business online service went after the consumer, when they should have reinforced their value to business. I guess the trap was that they could do it, technologically. But that didnít mean they should have.
Instead, use the Net to re-energize your brand. "To keep a brand alive over the long haul, to keep it vital, youíve got to do something new, something unexpected. It has to be related to the brandís core position. But every once in a while you have to strike out in a new direction, surprise the consumer, add a new dimension to the brand, and re-energize it." Scott Bedbury, the marketer behind Nike and now Starbucks, in Fast Company.
Your Whole Internet Strategy
OK, all the above is very necessary, but it doesnít translate to specifics. What to do?
The Big Idea
First, strategy. You need a big strategic idea that the whole company can get behind that reinforces the USP (Unique Selling Proposition) of your product(s), and which translates into owning your category.
Hint: this idea usually revolves around what you can give away for free.
A McAfee ad says "some people think theyíre stealing our software". The companyís policy of REALLY GIVING IT AWAY FOR FREE helps them maintain a solid market position.
Even in this enlightened age, you will be bitterly opposed in your company for giving away things for free. Yet that is what you must do. And donít give them away as crippled product - all youíll do is create a market awareness opportunity for the next guy.
Sure, your strategy needs to lead to revenue. Work it out. Then execute the Free Product idea boldly.
A client of ours couldnít get their great product noticed until they made a version available for free. Bang, that week they got onto Jesse Berstís Anchor Desk, distribution 1.5 MILLION.
There is probably only one shot at being the information resource for your segment. Youíre a nuts & bolts manufacturer. You become the information resource on nuts & bolts. Control that spot and you can be as altruistic as you like - youíre in the catbird seat.
If someone already took the top spot, then find a niche. What about STANDARDS ISSUES concerning nuts & bolts?
Itís a public service thing. But it reaps huge rewards in goodwill, audience and market share on the Net.
What to do - Free Product or Free Information? Both, of course, if you can.
Avenues of Inflow
Next, you need to work out your avenues of inflow.
For example, a client of Lassoo Interactive's is in the Virtual Reality Authoring tools business. Whatís their avenue of inflow? The current VR worlds, of course.
The Amazon.com associates network is a brilliant thing. Try to put that to use.
A software utility company needs to be all over the shareware sites, especially CNETís Download.com and ZDNetís Launch Pad. The launching of a product to get The Big Hits is an art form these days.
At Lassoo, we tell our prospective clients to imagine having 22 people on their staff doing online marketing. They always laugh because no one has that kind of bandwidth devoted to online marketing. Face it, you never will.
The Internet is a one-to-one market that has to be communicated with on a mass basis. Thatís a contradiction that means you need to be resource-heavy, yet your management tends to think of the Internet as an automated environment. Thatís why youíll never have the resources you need.
That system I mentioned earlier under "the dialog machine" - that alone is a massive undertaking to get underway. Gary Brooks, who oversaw Altavistaís Internet marketing, tells me he had three people at Digital handling their communication machine, and no way could he find even one spare person to do the job at his current company. Heís far from alone. So, donít reinvent. Get an Internet marketing agency in to help you manage the channel. That means you can then extend your reach out into areas your competition may not have gotten to yet.
The Internet Is About Real People
My last point is this: when youíre doing Internet marketing, youíre talking to real people out there.
A company weíve been talking to in the herbs business has modeled its typical customer. They call her Heather.
A new-wave consumer, Heather is information-hungry. She peruses the racks at the health food store, and discusses herbs with her friends and her chiropractor.
Heather is a great customer. She wants all the information youíre willing to give her. She is going to leap on your website.
Today, weíre all a little like Heather. Weíre information-hungry.
So the next time you look at your Internet marketing ideas or someone elseís, ask yourself if YOU would be interested in this as a consumer. Because the person you talk down to may be yourself.
Itís a good thing that the Internet came along, because, as an eclectic, I found my place in it.
Hiring eclectics for your Internet marketing does work - if you have process to back it up!
But the Internet is a total outside-the-box environment, and I hope it will remain so for a long time.
And may you have huge success in your Whole Internet Marketing.
Copyright © Riggs Eckelberry 1998 ALL WORLD RIGHTS RESERVED
Any part of this article may be reproduced so long as copyright is acknowledged and a link to the writer's email address is included.