Offline A pause in navigation

A Train to Mars

April 1998
disponibile anche in Italiano

  Giancarlo Livraghi
For other comments on internet marketing
see the Netmarketing online newsletter


A man goes to the railway station and wants a ticket for Mars. They tell him that there is no such destination. He insists... after a long discussion, it turns out that there are a few distant places called Mars, or something similar, that can be reached by railway; but not the one that he has in mind. Confused and disappointed, he goes away grumbling. He doesn’t realize that there was a train leaving for Littletown, only half an hour away, where there was something going on that he would have found quite interesting. In the meantime someone has called from New York; but he was so busy with his trip to Mars that he forgot to switch on the answering machine. His wife thought he had left and went to the movies (or so she says when she comes home, with a wily little smile on her face). The American was in a hurry... he got fed up, called a competitor and made a deal.

Just a tale I made up? Yes. But reality is even worse. Because there are people that believe the miracle peddlers and buy a ticket for Mars, pay a fairly high price, get lost in the middle of nowhere and have to hitchhike home - and maybe find their spouses or companions unjustly, but understandably, suspicious about their absence.

Where can such things happen? Right here, around us, when dealing with the net.

Of course most people and companies, when someone tries to sell them a ticket for Mars, decide that they have no time to waste, as so far there isn’t even a base on the Moon. But a few get hooked; and their sad stories become a deterrent even for people who should buy a ticket to Littletown - or a not-so-expensive air fare to New York. (Of course I don’t mean, literally, any specific city; opportunities can be almost anywhere next door - or in the vast, busy space between Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley).

The delusion-disappointment spiral is one of the main reasons why business on the internet is not taking off. But the peddlers of trips to nowhere aren’t giving up: they continue to sell the impossible, and sometimes they even seem to believe their own fantasies.

The solution is quite simple. Let’s take a train to Littletown. What I mean is: why should we care if internet users worldwide are 60 million, or 100 million, or whatever? In any case, we can’t reach them all - or any large numbers. But if we forget the number fantasies and concentrate on realities, we can discover that a 200 people community is very important for us. That can be true in the case of e-commerce as well. But why should we assume that it has to be e-commerce? Or a website? We can get to wonderful Littletown by train, bus, car, bike or hot-air balloon. Probably one of our friends knows the way and can give us a lift. What I mean is: there are many ways of using the net to make our company more successful, as long as we understand how it works - and concentrate on people and relationships, not just technologies.

The other solution is just as simple. Let’s cross the ocean. Let’s go where there is a big online market, and growing. Of course it’s fiercely competitive, but that shouldn’t scare us. Italian companies, large and small, have a remarkable record of success in the toughest export markets. They know how to find a "niche" or develop a point of superiority. The net is just a tool to do the same thing more effectively.

There is an added advantage. If we succeed in America, or anywhere in the world, we gain experience and knowledge, develop economies of scale, build the resources that will allow us to be the pioneers in our home market.

Is it difficult? Conceptually, it’s very simple. But in practice it needs a lot of dedication, commitment, consistency and patience. And the instinct, the intuition, the understanding that we can develop only by living daily in the ever-changing texture of the net. I think it’s going to be hard to be successful on the internet for people that don’t genuinely enjoy the experience.


Home Page Gandalf