The Marketing Agenda in the Internet Age
Part 1: ‘Why’ your company?
The Internet transforms many things. Not only are business and politics affected, but the personal lives of many people also feel its firm touch. For example, in the Netherlands a large proportion of romantic relationships now begin over the Internet.
The Internet has a lot of influence on companies, covering all elements from focus to business models, management to operations. ‘Focus’ here refers to business strategy and business logic (business modelling): what is it you want, and how can you communicate that to the market? How can you reach your target groups, and how can you interact with them? How do you find the right message to give the market, spread it and then measure its effectiveness?
Management: how do you arrange and organise your operations in an optimal way to ensure both operational and communicative excellence? How do you ensure that your customer does not feel trapped in the complexity of the inner workings of your business? How do you ensure that your business keeps feeling like a small business? How do you deploy new technologies in both marketing and customer interaction? How do you innovate towards consumer-centric orientation and branded solutions?
Operations: in essence, how do you ensure that you ‘do things well’? How do you make sure that your customers get what they order, that complaints are heard and properly handled, that you continue to meet all formal requirements and that customers always get the right bill for what they have ordered and received?
With the advent of internet, even the most ancient of managerial and entrepreneurial questions have been turned on their heads, and new solutions must be re-learned from the perspective of the opportunities of today and with the new potential to be had from such things as e-business, social media, tracking and tracing, big data, RFID tagging and cheaper, faster communications.
That is a tremendous challenge, and therefore also a great marketing challenge! Of course, there is also the question of where to start, bearing in mind also how to keep your company from drowning in new opportunities.
The very first thing you need to understand is how short a time you have to get your message across to a potential customer over the internet. Think about something in the region of seven seconds. You really don’t have any more time than that! This has implications on focus, management and operations, although for focus in particular it means that you have such a narrow opportunity to make your point that you must first understand completely where your true value lies.
Doing business in the Internet era begins first and foremost with brand awareness. After all, what has not been seen does not exist. If you are not seen, you will disappear no matter how much honesty and integrity you have. This is actually a pretty heavy-handed process: the Internet is all about visibility, branding and marketing power. This should be the first item on your agenda. In this digital age the winner takes all: people love a winning image, and will likewise avoid buying from or doing business with a ‘loser’.
Branding is all important in the Internet age. The existence of brand loyalty demands that your business be a ‘brand’, whatever shape or form that takes.
So, step one is to create brand value. What do you want to print on the forehead of your customer? How about “Starbucks” or “IKEA” or “Louis Vuitton”? Perhaps you would rather be a “Harrods”? Are you an ‘exciting, adventurous undertaking’ in the C2B segment or a ‘reliable service’ in the B2B segment? What suits you? How can you communicate your message credibly?
Brand value really does carry your market share, and shining a bright light here is a prerequisite for success. Of course this challenge existed well before the Internet, but branding today is even more important. Without communicating it loudly and clearly, your business will die while still in its prime.
If you know what it is that you want, then the question instead is how you wish to communicate it, whether by TV, newspaper advert or through a more modern medium (will it go viral?). You only need to pursue the latter, however, if it fits your brand’s values. Banks, say, or insurance companies do not necessarily have to: it does not often resonate with their core image. Facebook is not, after all, always the best solution for every situation!
Regardless, you will certainly have to develop new skills when entering the world of Internet marketing. For some key examples, look to search engine optimisation, web design on sound ergonomic principles or social media. You do not only need to think carefully about the ‘what’ and the ‘when’, but will need to fundamentally raise the pace of adjustment in your company. In the Internet world, after all, things change significantly faster.
Now, step 2 is to choose a clear strategy that matches your brand’s values. When choosing your ‘focus’, the strategy for your company, think very hard about what value you offer the customer. What is your core competence? What is it that you want the customer to remember about your business? Why do your current customers choose you over the competition? What is the solution you can provide for the problems of your customers? Also, how can you create a business that fits you?
How should you go about this? How can you even get to this position in the first place? I would suggest going directly to the customer with these questions. Do market research, occasionally take chances, look where your strengths lie and make decisions. Do not however do this only once: by developing permanent market and customer monitors you can build a dialogue. Customers can be kept on board by taking them seriously and promoting the brands they want, doing something with the feedback you receive in a way that also builds your reputation for fairness and honesty. The net promoter score is an example of a tool that can be used in this way. ZARA, a Spanish fashion brand, for example allows the customer to determine the range on offer by means of a smart logistics system that actively connects branding, sales and the more traditional marketing front-end.
When private investors investigate potential investments they are interested in three things in particular: that the entrepreneur knows what he is doing, that they can see him do it and that there are opportunities for future growth. Marketing forms the answer to these questions, making the Internet more important still.
If you can match and oppose these questions with the work you are doing, you are already well on your way to solving the first branding and marketing challenge.
In the next few columns I will take these ideas a little further, talking about business logic, new tools and other features of the Internet Age and what implications they will come to have on marketing. Good luck!
– This article was published november 2012 in the Russian Marketeer’s Digest
Thank you Tatiana Barchuk for the Russian translation!
– Thanks David Alexander Wilkins for the English translation!