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MarketLoop #2, November 1996

Best Practices in Web Marketing

Today's marketing environment is marked with a proliferation of new communications and distribution channels. As this trend will continue in the future, it is vital that marketers clearly understand how these different channels best operate so that they can build their own tailored communications and distribution approaches. Only by doing this can they create the best competitive advantage for their products and brands. It is important that the approach to marketing on the Web is seen as part of the total marketing mix and as such, it must be integrated to function alongside the other factors within the mix. The Web as a marketing medium should be used to add value to the brand in a way which cannot be achieved through other media.

The World-Wide Web is a relatively new medium for marketing but we are already beginning to develop an understanding of what works and what doesn't. The immaturity of the medium means that we are learning. Best practices for Web marketing will be an evolving discipline.

As with any other medium, the strategy is key. There must be a clear purpose for the site. What is it supposed to achieve? Who are its target readers? We have already seen Web sites where it is not clear whether they are aimed at consumers or the investment community. If you were communicating in the press, for example, you would use a different approach for different audiences and the same should be applied to the Web.

A follow-on point from strategy is that once you know what the site is designed to do, you must have some criteria for judging its success. An obvious factor could be sales or leads generated but, in view of the medium's infancy, other factors such as degree of learning achieved could also play a role.

When it comes to the actual execution of the Web strategy, the first point to remember is that it is important to take advantage of what the medium offers and not simply try to adapt existing executions so that they fit on a computer screen. The Web can achieve many things that cannot be done in press copy or in a television commercial just as press or TV has other advantages over Web marketing. Within the marketing mix, each individual medium must have a clearly defined role to play as part of the total. Further to this, the global nature of the Web may suggest a global positioning and a brand with a multi-local positioning may have some difficulties in this area.

The Web is an active and not a passive medium. This means that the consumer can become more involved than with advertising and the site should be seen as marketing and not simply advertising. This involvement can take many forms but ultimately it should allow a closer relationship to be developed with the consumer. Examples of consumer involvement are varied and they range from the possibility of downloading samples of music or films to being able to track a courier package from your desk. Some sort of consumer response is an essential part of any Web site and it is crucial in developing a dialogue. This tends to take the form of a feedback form or free-form e-mail areas. Don't forget that e-mails must be answered!

Content versus "flash" is a contentious issue and has seen much debate. The development of technology allows many creative treatments to be used on a Web site. While it is important that the site looks good and offers involvement for the user, any leading technology should be used with a purpose to it. The fact that a site makes intensive use of the latest technology may allow an impressive press release to be written but it may detract from the real value of what you are trying to say. In short, use technology to fit in with the strategy and not for its own sake. The Web is really an information medium so aim to provide this and do not hide it behind bells and whistles. On the other hand, you may wish to "future-proof" the site to some extent by catering for those with the latest technology. This leads in to the next point.

Download speed is crucial. The speed of connection varies from extremely fast to relatively slow depending on the modem/connection speed, time of day, number of people accessing the site, etc. Furthermore, the content of the site affects download time and the larger the files are, the longer they will take to download. The user will not wait for a slow site to download, especially if the cost of the telephone call is an issue, and so file-intensive sites will only be available to those on a very fast connection. The answer to this is to ensure that the first page downloads very quickly otherwise you have lost the user. Once this is on screen the user can then choose from options which affect the speed, such as opting for a text-only site or graphical. If there are a lot of unnecessary images, applets or animations to download, this will effectively block access to the site for many users.

Do you want users to return to your site after the first visit? If so, you must provide an incentive for this. This should be through regular update of the content or different promotional devices. The reverse also applies in that if your content is seen to be out-of-date it will deter users from coming back. Returning to the last point, if your site is slow to download or if the content is uninteresting, there will be few return visits.

Do not be afraid to provide a few links to elsewhere on the Web or relevant Usenet newsgroups. This is part of fitting in with the Web culture. Users will surf out of your site but, if your on-line strategy is good, they will surf in as well. Users could come from any corner of the globe so be prepared for responses outside your traditional target market.

Through the Loop is in the process of developing Best Practices for Web marketing for individual clients. Some of our consultancy assignments are creating workshop sessions to produce a strategy for web marketing.

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