Nearly a year ago, in issue 21 of this newsletter, I quoted some comments by Roberto Venturini about why companies are uncomfortable with the internet. He updated his views in his speech at the Internet Marketing Workshop organized by the Italian Federation of Industry on March 20-21, 1999 (a collection of materials presented in that meeting, in Italian, is available for download on the mktg.it website).
He isn't a world-famous scientist or a "father" of the net. But he is a "voice from the trenches" a young executive dealing daily with the practical problems of companies trying to operate on the internet, in an "underdeveloped" market like Italy; and he has the guts and honesty to report the realities of his experience. Here are some of his comments.
It's difficult to take a snapshot of a fast-moving, fast-changing phenomenon like the internet. This inherent complexity is made even more complex by messy media coverage, inflicting on the public an overload of sensationalism and rarely providing simple and factual information. The picture is blurred and confusing, especially for companies that need to understand how this new tool can be an opportunity, a risk or an indifferent factor for their business.
The internet can soon become a key tool for companies, because of its potential and its efficiency. On the other hand.... the development of marketing and communication activities on the net can be destabilizing.
If we set up a neutral institutional site or an online catalog (and don't tell anyone) we can be quite comfortable. We have no advantages but no problems. Things are quite different if we develop some real action on the net. As soon as we begin to analyze the project we find a host of collateral effects on our way of doing business and organizing our company. .....
The language, the techniques, the approach to our customers in traditional media are radically different from communication on the net. The expectations are different, the tools and the style are not the same. ...........................................
To use the internet effectively we must learn new skills and open our minds to a new vision.
If we plan to use the internet to promote our company and our products, our first problem is not how to organize a website. Our problem is how to make our target understand that we are there, where we are and above all why they should invest time and effort to come to us.
Online communication (as all communication) needs a sound strategic approach. The internet isn't a magic wand that allows us to do without the basic principles of marketing and communication.
If we are in the business-to-business market, our target is probably limited in number. If we manage to get in touch with the key people in the companies we want to reach, we must try to involve them and get into a dialogue with them. We need to open a two-way communication channel, open a door to feedback, listen and reply to their requests.
If we are in the business-to-consumer market, it's dangerous (and can have a negative impact) to close the feedback door, refuse interaction. If the real strength of the internet is building a relationship with the consumer, it doesn't make sense to operate on the net as we are in the habit of doing in traditional media.
[To communicate online] is to establish a two-way relationship with customers (or potential customers.)
Hence the opportunity (need) to integrate communication .... to develop communication, offers and solutions tailored to our customers' needs ... The internet makes all of this possible; but the project begins to become complex and to reflect on all of the company's marketing.
Being online, being interactive, generates new problems. We are giving our customers an opportunity to talk to us, to ask, to compare. By entering this environment we accelerate a process of new market dynamics and customer empowerment. ..... We need s strong base, not just of programming, technology or graphics, but above all of strategy in marketing, communication and company organization. ...........................................
Often only the crumbs of human resources and time are assigned to the internet. In a world where results are measured in the short term, the attention is focused on more familiar tools. ..... The internet is still perceived as an experiment, its potential is not understood and it's not perceived as a window of opportunity that, sooner or later, will close. It's the typical syndrome of "if none of my competitors are doing it that means that it's not worth doing".
If companies don't think it's important, they don't train their own management to understand this new world. Management will evaluate web marketing according to its experience with "traditional" media and probably won't understand the available opportunities. So we allow our competitors to move ahead of us with a tool that we don't want to understand, in a territory that we fail to control.
Now let's assume that, against all odds and a great deal of resistance, we've been able to push our project through. We're online. What if they come to see us? Simple. They enter our site. And our company is naked. ...........................................
An internet site can have infinite depth and contain every possible piece of information related to our company, our products, our services. It it's shallow, visitors will wonder why. Do we have nothing to say? Do we have something to hide? Can't we do any better? Don't we want people to interact with us? Why? If this is the way they feel, we can be in serious trouble. Especially if our competitors have useful content online (such as prices, technical information, customer service).
We should either be on the internet well or maybe not at all. Setting up a "token site" can do more harm than good.
To be online "well" is to provide high content service to customers/users. Give information in depth. Offer customized solutions. Give answers. Present our company and our products thoroughly. Satisfy needs and desires. Provide an incentive for purchase.
Traditional distinctions are blurred; a website is a place for direct marketing as well as sales promotion, public relations, corporate and product communication, pre-sale and post-sale service. Everything is contiguous and continuous, there is a constant overlapping of marketing and communication variables. It's not like the things with which we are so comfortably familiar advertising or a catalog.
It needs a relevant investment of sound thinking and the integration of several different competencies.
An internet project cannot be the work of one person.. It needs teamwork. ..... That's an added complication: we need to involve people from different departments, with different roles, responsibilities and know-how. ..... Another problem is the lack of net experience in our company. If we want the different people to contribute (or al least not be bottlenecks) we should give internet access to everyone, encourage people to use it, provide specific training (on net marketing rather than technology). .....
Resistance is to be expected within the company opposition to change.
If we want to operate seriously on the net we must interfere with company structure, organization of work, responsibilities and competencies. (In the case of electronic commerce, we must also integrate sales systems and logistics into the process.)
Even when we have been able to bring together the company's operations and, with considerable effort, set up a site, we need to update it. So we must re-involve everyone again, make people understand that it's an ongoing project, a never-ending task, a continuing commitment of time and resources.
It's a taxing process. An added burden while competition is fierce there are more and more things to be done with fewer people, money, time and resources to manage our business.
To adopt the internet as a strategic tools for our marketing we need to change structures, procedures and philosophies. Break the status quo. Give up "business as usual". ...........................................
After all, the real problem for companies may not be adopting or not the internet, but more broadly accepting innovation and adapting to new market conditions. It would be useful, in any case, to re-think the company. With or without new communication media, there is a need for leaner organization systems, greater flexibility, faster response to a changing environment. ...........................................
So... is the internet a danger for companies?
It can be seen as dangerous because it forces the company to re-think its way of doing business, of being on the market, of being competitive. In one word, to change.
The real danger, however, is that competitors may learn to use the internet effectively before we do. If (as many of us think) the internet will become a relevant reality, many companies that are successful today could be embarrassed tomorrow. An inability to adapt may mark the decline of several leaders; they could find their turf suddenly invaded by innovative outsiders.
Change is uncomfortable. Adopting the internet as a strategic tool is a difficult task and a risk. But in the next five years meeting this challenge could mark the difference, for many companies, between growth and decline.
back to top