B. The Importance of Planning Internet Marketing

The simple truth of Web communication and marketing is that any information can be communicated to anybody with Internet access at any time. This is good for Web marketers but requires a serious planning effort before any actual Web development work is begun. Of course, this is not the case in most situations. Many Web sites are thrown together with little or no previous planning, and then Web developers are held responsible for the enormous expense and minimal results.

Whether you are starting from scratch or revamping a Web effort already under way, it is never too late to make a plan for your Web communication efforts. Why do this? For two very significant reasons:

Whether you are starting from scratch or revamping a Web effort already under way, it is never too late to make a plan for your Web communication efforts. Why do this? For two very significant reasons:

Without some type of plan, it is virtually impossible to measure the progress, success, or failure of a Web effort.

A lot of options are available in Web communication.

Without some type of plan in place regarding our Web marketing and communication efforts, we have no way to benchmark where we stand at any given point. Unless we are working for ourselves, we will probably be held accountable for a budget and how money is spent on Web communication. A plan helps justify and explain how money is used and the communication it funds.

A plan also gives us a course of action. Because of the technical nature of Web communication, it is very easy to get involved in technology usage issues while losing sight of an overall objective. Technology for technology's sake is a reoccurring problem in the marketplace. As Web communicators, we need to drive Web development efforts toward a communications goal. And to do so we must come up with a goal or series of goals in the first place.

Keep in mind that we are not talking about project management issues in this chapter. Instead we are talking about examining all of the communication options available to us and then developing a communications plan to execute and measure against.

To discuss this concept, I'd like to utilize the traditional journalism model of who, what, where, when, why, and how. This is a formula used by generations of writers to develop news reports. We can also use it to begin planning Internet marketing and communication efforts. In this discussion,

  • Who defines the audience.
  • What defines the information exchange taking place with each audience.
  • Where defines the physical location of the audience members, which may or may not be important.
  • When describes the time issues involved with the information exchange.
  • Why describes the planned outcome of the exchange.
  • How defines the structure and Internet communication applications being used to communicate to the audience.

The first term, who, is probably the most important aspect of such a plan. Since every user of the Internet is a potential audience member, this question must be determined first and foremost. Who are we planning to communicate with? The answer to this question can be defined as an audience, a group of users we wish to communicate with. A myriad of potential audiences exist on the Internet, but here are some likely groups for our efforts:

Current customers. People or companies you regularly do business with using other media to communicate. A relationship already exists.

New customers. People or businesses you didn't do business with before using other media but wish to now using the Internet. This is a new opportunity to build a relationship.

A variety of customers from different products or lines. Some companies sell a variety of products to the same customers; an example could be an office supply company that specializes in products for the legal industry.

A variety of customers from different vertical industries or a horizontal market. Some companies provide the same solutions to a number of vertical markets. An example is a PC maker who sells to all businesses, regardless of industry.

Offer respondents generated in other media. Users who are coming to a Web site to respond to an offer made in a radio spot, direct mail piece, or space advertisement.

Offer respondents generated on the Internet. These users are probably linked to your site somehow from another location. Maybe a search engine, banner advertisement, or another Web site that you have a relationship with was the initiator of the communication.

Shareholders in public companies. Any users owning stock may want to access the Web site belonging to their investment.

Internal employees. An intranet is designed for use by employees of a company. External employees, vendors, and partners. An extranet or private Web site is developed for these audiences.

International markets and consumers. Any company or organization on the Web becomes an international player since the Internet is available worldwide.

What is the next question we must answer in an Internet marketing and communication plan. Each of the audiences listed previously will require a different information presentation and exchange effort. For example,

Current customers are familiar with your company and need updated pricing or technical information and an on-line transaction system to order more efficiently. Maybe they need order status information for orders placed in other channels or a way to change their contact information.

New customers may be looking for products they can't find in traditional channels, like specialty foods or goods, or maybe they are looking for a more convenient way to purchase products, like at amazon.com.

A variety of customers from different products or lines. In this situation an on-line catalog of office supply products would be presented for a specific audience of office managers and supply buyers in this industry. Transaction and information exchange systems would be geared toward the needs of this particular audience.

A variety of customers from different products or lines. In this situation a PC maker may want to present different products and pricing for different vertical markets, like specific education, consumer, and business presentations, and then use a universal transaction system for all users if it is possible to do so.

Offer respondents generated in other media. These people are looking for whatever your offer promised and are so motivated by the offer that they have initiated communication to your Internet marketing effort. They require immediate fulfillment of wants, needs, and desires. These respondents are self-qualifying themselves based on your offer.

Offer respondents generated on the Internet are the same as those generated in other media but slightly less self-qualified as they know they can always hit the back button on their browser if your offer does not meet their needs. Some users following a link may be highly interested in your offer as well.

Shareholders in public companies may be looking for current stock prices or more detailed financial or annual reports.

Internal employees will have a number of information needs that are very different from those of customers or prospects, including human resources, benefits, product training, operations information, and contact information.

External employees, vendors, and partners may be looking to continue existing relations and information exchanges using the Internet as the communication channel. International markets and consumers may be seeking information about products or pricing that are not available in their location.

All or some of these different information presentations may need to be included in a comprehensive Internet communication effort. Each audience requires a different approach, but all can and should be served.

Where is a relatively easy question to answer in this process. In front of some type of computer terminal with access to the Internet, World Wide Web, and e-mail service is where this communication will take place. Geography is not important for many Internet-based communication efforts.

However, in some situations, where that communication takes place might be an issue to consider. Delivery of products and services may not be available in some areas. Shipping of products may be priced based on geography. Employees working on a manufacturing floor may not have Internet access at work but can be encouraged and assisted in home access. Doing business with international customers brings in a whole series of issues, including currency, export laws, and shipping.

When is another easy answer with a big catch. The Internet is available all the time, seven days a week. That means a Web site can be accessed "24/7," to use a familiar buzzword. But if your audience requires individual, person-to-person interaction, that might mean a shift in business operations to a 24-hour cycle. If an e-mail message sent in by a customer or prospect won't be answered until the next business day, then that day must be defined for the Internet audience.

The same is true for any type of fulfillment on or off the Web. Due to the instantaneous nature of Internet communication, users expect fast results. Your company or organization must define its ability to fulfil information, products, and services and then execute that fulfillment as promised. If you commit to shipping a personalized product within 24 hours of the time the order was received, then that should happen. If it isn't possible to do so, then it is better to change the fulfillment schedules than not deliver as promised. A broken commitment is no way to begin or continue a business relationship.

Why this interaction is taking place has probably been discussed in the answer to the what question. But a planned outcome for each information exchange with the appropriate audience member helps further define the plan for development and measurement of an Internet marketing effort. This why answer can be a benchmark for Web site activity. If the planned outcome is a sale to a new customer or an information exchange with an employee, then a later comparison of actual sales versus new Web site visitors or measurement of information fulfillment is an excellent tool for analysis.

The answer to the why question also helps further develop a plan for the next question: How do we communicate using the variety of options available on the Internet? The answer to this question will probably involve a variety of technology options and information interface decisions.

Traditional marketing materials used text, graphics, and multimedia to identify, explain, display, and demonstrate products and services. The Internet provides opportunities to duplicate such efforts on the Web. The Web also provides opportunities to capture information using forms processors embedded into Web pages. If each user requires individual confirmation of an order or an answer to a specific question, then e-mail can probably be used. E-mail can also be used to replace relationship-continuing efforts like hard copy mailings and regular phone calls.

If your audience needs access to a database of information, then a Web-based database interface must be designed with the specific needs of each audience participant in mind. A complete sales cycle must be envisioned first and then an interface must be developed that accomplishes the goal of the interaction. The amazon.com Web site is an example of a interface designed to sell products and uses databases behind the scenes to deliver, capture, and exchange information with the user. The whole interaction is designed to facilitate the purchase and fulfillment of products.

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