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|Its quite surprising to see how many people, including some that are not
unfamiliar with the net, assume that net users are a special type of people and that all
do the same things. They are supposed to be "sailing" or "surfing",
constantly wandering on the web looking for this or that.
I hope to be able, in a while, to have some data that can give us an idea of quantities more or less how many people do what. But its pretty obvious that there are many different behavior patterns and "surfers" are a small minority.
A few years ago there was a "net community". There were many differences of opinion and attitude, but the number of people on the net was very small; we felt somewhat special, almost part of a fraternity. That feeling has not disappeared completely, but its obviously diluted as the net becomes more and more "just another way of communicating".
There is growing diversity. Many people use the net only at work, and only for a few very specific purposes. Many use almost exclusively e-mail. Some follow a few sites, lists or newsgroups and once they have found what they want they stick with that and ignore the rest. I know several people that never touch a computer but ask their secretary (or a colleague, or someone in the family, or a friend) to keep an eye on certain subjects and print whats relevant. There are people that bought a connection just because they were curious but after a few disappointing experiments never use it. But, above all, there are more and more people that use the net for a very precise purpose, based on their work or personal interests, and hardly ever do anything else.
A few people go "surfing" and looking around. Mostly newcomers; over time they get bored and drop out or set a pattern of a few specific things of their choice and stick with it.
This makes life difficult and disappointing for anyone attempting to sell (or use) the net as "just another advertising medium". Is it like one more newspaper or television network? Whats the audience, the circulation, the readership? How can I fit this new thing into traditional, familiar standards? Of course they cant; and this makes them uncomfortable and confused.
Of course, on the other hand, its a big opportunity for people and organizations (of which, so far, there are few) that really understand what the net is all about and how it can do things that traditional media cant do. But that takes more time, effort and dedication than most people (and organizations) are prepared to invest.
How many people use the net and how often is not the most important fact or relevant information. Its much more important to know who is interested in what we have to offer. For instance an online library doesnt need to know if a person logs on once a day or once a month. Whats important is that when a person is interested in books he or she is aware of the librarys existence and able to find its website. Im not joking when I say that potential customers for an online service include people that dont have an internet connection. If they are really interested they will go to a friend or office colleague and say "Please lets connect to that site and see whats new" or "Please help me to find this or that".
This means that quite often its important to use tools outside the net to promote a website. Of course "word of mouth" is the most important and effective communication. A satisfied customer will tell friends; and people out there know much better than we do who in their environment is interested in what we have to offer. So will an unhappy customer... and that is why quality of service is so important. But there are also other ways. If I were selling golf balls online, I would consider a counter card in a golf club more important that a thousand banners. If I were selling tennis balls, I would like to be visible in tennis courts. If a food company wanted to attract consumers to its site to read recipes and nutritional information, it should put the web address on the package (this is only one of many examples of how a website can be promoted at no cost).
I think the sooner we forget "total user" numbers, stop chasing "net surfers", and concentrate on the people (online or not) that can be interested in what we have to say or offer, the more effective we shall be in internet communication. Obvious? Yes. But rarely done well, or even clearly explained.
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|I promised to look into the new online bookstore that
opened in Italy on June 3. An interview (in Italian) with Mauro Zerbini, managing director
of Internet Bookshop Italia, will
appear in the July issue of Web Marketing Tools magazine.
Here are some of the most relevant points.
I think this is important, because a bookstore is one of the best icebreakers that can really make e-commerce begin to develop in an environment where, so far, there has been a lot of big talk but very few facts.
The majority partner in BookShop Italia is Informazioni Editoriali, Italys leading company in information management in the book business since 1985. They are well known for their Alice website. They started discussing the idea in 1995 with Internet Bookshop, a now large and established online bookstore based in Oxford, and the project matured gradually over time. Their system is based on the technology and experience of their British partner. The objective is to develop a European network offering books in several different languages.
They are not planning to offer discounts (except for special promotions by publishers). I think they are right. Their strategy is based on service, not price. They are not trying to compete with traditional bookstores, but to be the source for those books that are not easily found in the customers neighborhood. They expect 95 percent on the traffic on their site to be browsing by people who will buy in local shops.
Of course they consider the "export" market (Italians abroad and people around the world that read Italian) very important. They expect that to be 30 percent of their business.
For deliveries use a mix of courier and mail which they think is the most effective cost-speed combination. They see their "partnership programme" as the most important promotional tool. They are not planning to use banners; theyve figured out costs and benefits and believe that its much more effective to work with sites that actively support their business. Of course they are investing in public relations and getting some press and television coverage (though not yet as much s they deserve).
They are off at a good start. After only one week online they already had 50 orders a day.
Im unhappy with a couple of things. Their site is a bit slow. I think they have some unnecessarily heavy graphics, but they disagree; they admit that a few software bugs need to be fixed. The make cookies "compulsory" (people cant order unless they accept them) and I think thats unnecessary and a bit disturbing. Thats the only reason why I havent yet used their service (but I know some of their early customers and they seem quite happy).
In spite of those weaknesses, that I hope will be corrected, I think their strategy and their organization are very good; and I wish them a great success.
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|On May 10 and 11 there was a convention in Milan about how SMEs (Small and Medium
Enterprises) face the global communication challenge. Not a small event. It was organized
with considerable pomp and glamorous technical resources by Confindustria (Italys
large and powerful federation of industries) and all the large advertising and
communication associations, with the support of several big companies, media and
There were 30 speakers and practically no audience. Scattered in the Manzoni, one of Milans largest theaters, there were about 50 people and very few of those were from SMEs. That could be just a peculiar anecdote... but its one of many symptoms of a big and serious problem.
As usual, most of the speeches were about hype, hope or self-glorification. But a few pointed clearly to problems.
SMEs cant compete globally any more unless they learn how to manage communication more effectively. They have the instinct and the perception, buy lack the discipline and the tools. Product and commercial communication is a minor part of their strategy; they see it mostly as catalogs and sales brochures or think about advertising, which they see predominantly as television, that they cant afford as long as it remains (as it is and will be for the foreseeable future) predominantly a generic mass-market medium.
"Corporate identity" is more important, and needs to be managed more effectively. SMEs understand that service and attitudes are relevant, and that communication is not a matter of using individual media but managing all relationships coherently. They do so instinctively as long as they tread on familiar territory but lack the ability to plan and organize. They dont trust most available services and consultants, because their expertise is based on larger companies and doesnt fit the needs of SMEs. There is a vacuum, and nobody seems to know how it can be filled.
New media, and especially the internet, of course fit the needs of SMEs on a global scale much better than traditional media. But that is not understood. The hype, the overstated promises, the bombastic repetition of huge and ever-growing figures and projections, the emphasis on abstruse technologies, make SMEs uncomfortable: and rightly so. There is a strong need for a new approach, a new culture, to bridge the gap.
The problem is pretty clear. But where are the solutions? I think we need to start from the copernican revolution that was discussed in this newsletter six months ago.
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|There are so many conferences, conventions, seminars etcetera on the commercial use of
the internet that its almost impossible to follow them all. Its also extremely
boring because they are very repetitive and dominated by the usual hype, or by useless
attempts to understand the net with the traditional criteria of media advertising. But
there are refreshing exceptions. One of these was a speech by Roberto Venturini a young man that
works in the "interactive" division of McCann-Erickson in Milan at a
conference on "advertising and the internet" that had a fairly large paying
He wasnt addressing SMEs, but large advertisers. He explained how distressing it can be for them to try to use the net effectively. His point is that developing an effective use of the internet can have destabilizing consequences in an organization.
He starts from the fact that in online communication (even more that in communication in general) everything is integrated; it makes no sense to isolate banners from the context. And even if we concentrate on banners the advertiser asks itself which is the object of communication. Its it my product? Or my website? Must the banner just say something very briefly about my product, or attract people to my site? In the first case, other media are much more effective...
Even if a company decides to use banners as "just another advertising medium" (which of course is a mistake) it faces a number of embarrassing problems.
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|This chart was published by a leading Italian newspaper, Il Corriere
della Sera, on June 8.
Number of students per computer in public schools
A rather grim picture for Southern Europe. Were a long way from a solution of the lost generation problem that we discussed four months ago. And its not just a matter of quantity and equipment. The use of computers in my country is taught mostly in technical schools, while it should be a tool for all, in all disciplines. Its also taught too technically, with a lack of depth on the cultural and human values of communication. This is a challenge not only for the school system but for all the educational environment, including media, on-the-job training even the way in which internet connections are promoted and advertised.
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|Ive quoted other writings by
Gerry McGovern. I like his style, and he has an unusually bright insight in the realities
of the net. Here is an article that he
published in NUA on June 1.