Communication is the very heart of marketing, and for years companies have fashioned communication strategies based on print, radio, and TV media to broadcast their message. But times are changing. In this Internet era, Renaissance Hotels and Resorts uses QuickTime VR to establish the atmosphere of its facilities; Sony provides downloadable audio clips of its latest CDs; and Quantas makes downloadable software available for itinerary management. These firms are but a fraction of the companies recognizing the Internet as an all-purpose communication medium for interacting with a wide variety of stakeholders. They know they must manage their brands and corporate image in cyberspace . They also know the Internet is not just the Web, but a range of technologies that in combination can be a potent marketing strategy.1
As organizations stampede to the Internet, they find there is not a systematic way to examine opportunities and relate them to available Internet tools. What is absent, in particular, is a cohesive marketing strategy that applies Internet technologies. Integrated Internet Marketing (I2M) is a structured approach that combines marketing strategy with Internet technology. I2M promotes creation of a strategy that synergistically exploits the range of Internet technologies (such as text, audio, video, and hyperlinking) to achieve marketing goals.
There are two key questions companies should consider before establishing an Internet presence. Firstly, how many existing or potential customers are likely to be Internet users? If a significant proportion of a firm's customers are Internet users, and the search costs for the product or service are reasonably (even moderately) high, then clearly an organization should have a presence; otherwise, it is missing an opportunity to inform and interact with its customers. The Web is a friendly and extremely convenient source of information for many customers. If a firm does not have a Web site, there is the risk that potential customers, who are Web savvy, will flow to competitors who have a Web presence.
As organizations stampede to the Internet, they find there is not a systematic way to examine opportunities and relate them to available Internet tools.
Also, what is the information intensity of a company's products and services? An information-intense product requires considerable information to describe it completely. For example, what is the best way to describe a CD to a potential customer? Ideally, text would be used for the album notes listing the tunes, artists, and playing times. Graphics would be used to display the CD cover; sound would provide a sample of the music; and a video clip would show the artist performing. Thus, a CD is information intensive; multimedia is useful for descriptive qualities. Consequently, Sony Music provides an image of a CD's cover, the liner notes, a list of tracks, and 30-second samples of some tracks. It also provides photos and details of the studio session.
Those two parameters can be combined to provide a straightforward model (see Figure 1) for determining which companies should be using the Internet. Organizations falling in the top-right quadrant are prime candidates because many of their customers have Internet access and their products have a high-information content. Firms in the other quadrants, particularly the low-small quadrant, have less need to invest in a Web site.
Along with other environmental challenges, organizations face three critical strategic challenges : demand risk, innovation risk, and inefficiency risk. The Internet, and especially the Web, can be a device for reducing these risks.
Demand risk. Sharply changing demand or the collapse of markets poses a significant risk for many firms. Smith-Corona, one of the last U.S. manufacturers of typewriters, filed for bankruptcy in 1995. Cheap personal computers destroyed the typewriter market. In simple terms, demand risk means fewer customers want to buy a firm's wares. The globalization of the world market and increasing deregulation expose firms to greater levels of competition and magnify the threat of demand risk. To counter demand risk, organizations need to be flexible, adaptive, and continually searching for new markets and stimulating demand for their products and services.
The growth strategy matrix  suggests a business can grow by considering products and markets, and it is worthwhile to speculate on how these strategies might be achieved or assisted by the Web. In the cases of best practice, the differentiating feature will be the Web is used to attain strategies that would otherwise not have been possible. Thus, the Web can be employed as a market-penetration mechanism, where neither the product nor the target market is changed. The Web merely provides a tool for increasing sales by taking market share from competitors, or by increasing the size of the market through occasions for usage. The U.K. supermarket group Tesco is using its Web site to market chocolates, wines, and flowers. Most British shoppers know Tesco, and many shop there. The group has sold wine, chocolates, and flowers for many years. Tesco now makes it easy for many of its existing customers (mostly office workers and professionals) to view the products in a full-color e-catalog, fill out a simple order form with credit-card details, write a greeting card, and facilitate delivery. By following these tactics, Tesco is not only taking business away from other supermarkets and specialty merchants, it is also increasing its margins on existing products through a premium pricing strategy and markups on delivery.
Alternatively, the Web can be used to develop market, by facilitating the introduction and distribution of existing products into new markets. A presence on the Web means being international by definition, so for many firms with limited resources it offers hitherto undreamed of opportunities to tap into global markets. Icelandic fishing companies can sell smoked salmon to the world. A South African wine producer is able to reach and communicate with wine enthusiasts wherever they may be, in a more cost effective way. To a large extent, this is feasible because the Web enables international marketers to overcome the previously debilitating effects of time and distance, negotiation of local representation, and the considerable costs of promotional material production costs.
A finer-grained approach to market development is to create a one-to-one customized interaction between the vendor and buyer. CNN offers customers the opportunity to construct a personalized news service by specifying topics of potential interest. Thus, the customer adapts the Web site to his or her needs. Even more advanced is an approach where the Web site is adaptive. Using demographic data and the history of previous interactions, the Web site creates a tailored experience for the visitor. An adaptive music site, for example, will try to discover what type of music the visitor likes so it can recommend CDs. Web sites will increasingly and electronically watch profiles to create virtual communities, or at least groups of like-minded people who have similar interests and taste.
Any firm establishing a Web presence, no matter how small or localized, enters global marketing in an instant. The firm's message can be watched and heard by anyone with Web access. Small firms can market to the entire Internet world with a few pages on the Web. The economies of scale and scope enjoyed by large organizations are considerably diminished. Small producers do not have to negotiate the business practices of foreign climes in order to expose their products to new markets. They can safely venture forth electronically from their home base. Fortunately, the infrastructureinternational credit cards (for example, Visa) and international delivery systems for global marketing (for example, UPS)already exist. With the addition of Internet advertising, global market development becomes a reality for many firms, irrespective of their size, location, and time.
The Web is also a mechanism for facilitating product development, as companies who know their existing customers well can create exciting, new, or alternative offerings for them. The Sporting Life is a U.K. newspaper specializing in providing up-to-the-minute information to the gaming fraternity. It offers reports on everything from horse and greyhound racing to betting odds on sports ranging from American football to snooker, and from golf to soccer. Previously, the paper has been restricted to a print edition, but the Web has given it significant opportunities to increase its timeliness in a time sensitive business. Its market remains unchanged bettors and sports enthusiasts in the U.K. However, the Internet enables it to do things that were previously not possible, such as hourly updates on betting changes in major horse races; downloadable forms for further spreadsheet and statistical analysis by serious gamblers. Most importantly, The Sporting Life is not giving away this service free, as have so many other publishers. It allows prospective subscribers to sample for a limited time before charging for the online service.
Finally, the Web can be used to diversify business by taking new products to new markets. American Express Direct uses a Web site to go beyond its traditional travel services business by providing online facilities to purchase mutual funds, annuities, and limited stocks. The diversification here is not particularly far from the core business, but it is feasible that many firms will set up entirely new businesses in entirely new markets.
Innovation risk. In most mature industries, there is over-supply of products and services, and customers have a choice, which makes them more sophisticated consumers. If firms are to continue to serve these customers, they must give them something new and different; they must innovate. Innovation inevitably leads to imitation, and imitation leads to more over-supply . This cycle is inexorable, so a firm might be tempted to get off. However, choosing not to adapt and not to innovate will lead to stagnation and demise. Failure to be as innovative as competitorsinnovation riskis a second strategic challenge. In an era of accelerating technological development, the firm that fails to improve its products and services continually is likely to lose market share to competitors and maybe even disappear. To remain alert to potential innovations, firms need an open flow of concepts and ideas. Customers are one viable source of innovative ideas, and firms need to find efficient and effective means of continual communication with customers.
Internet tools are used to create open communication links with a wide range of customers. Email can facilitate frequent communication with the most innovative customers. A bulletin board can be created to enable any customer to request product changes or new features. The advantage of a bulletin board is that another customer reading an idea may contribute to its development and elaboration. Also, a firm can monitor relevant discussion groups to discern what customers are saying about their products or services and those of competitors.
Inefficiency risk. Failing to match competitors' unit costsinefficiency riskis a third strategic challenge. A major potential use of the Internet is to lower costs by distributing as much information as possible electronically. For example, American Airlines uses its Web site for providing frequent flyers their current air miles. Eventually, it might be unnecessary to send expensive paper mail to frequent flyers or to answer telephone inquiries.
The cost of handling orders can also be reduced by using interactive forms to capture customer data and order details. Savings result from customers directly entering all data. Also, because orders can be handled asynchronously, the firm can balance its work force because it no longer has to staff for peak ordering periods.
Many Web sites make use of FAQs to lower the cost of communicating with customers. A firm can post the most frequently asked questions, and its answers to them, as a way of expeditiously and efficiently handling common information requests that might normally require access to a service representative. UPS, for example, answers more than 40 frequent customer questions (What do I do if my shipment was damaged?) on its FAQ page. Even the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list is on the Web, and the FAQs detail its history and origins, functions, and potential.
The Web is the umbrella technology that can provide a single interface to each of the technologies described in Table 2. The hypertext feature of the Web enables links to be created within a document or to another document anywhere on the Web. This supports rapid navigation of Web sites. The multimedia capability means a Web page can display graphics, videos, play sound, and show animations, as well as support for online forms and multiple windows. The Web is the means by which a company can use a variety of Internet tools to interact with customers and other influential stakeholders. It can shape and direct the dialogue between an organization and its stakeholders. To a large extent, an organization's Web site defines the organization by establishing an enduring image in the mind of stakeholders. We maintain that organizations need a cohesive approach for using Internet technologies for communication.
The interactive and multimedia capabilities of the Web, combined with other Internet facilities such as email support for personal and mass communication, present a range of tools for interacting with customers. Furthermore, the Web can provide an interface to back-end applications (for example, databases and expert systems technology). Consequently, the Internet offers an excellent basis for a variety of marketing tactics, which permits the development of a model for Integrated Internet Marketing (I2M).
I2M (see Figure 2) is the coordination of Internet facilities to market products and services, shape stakeholders' (customers in particular) attitudes, and establish or maintain a corporate image. The central idea of I2M is that an organization should coordinate its use of the Internet to develop a coherent, synchronous marketing strategy.
The Web offers a unique way to shape corporate image because it provides a means of communicating with so many stakeholder groups. For example, most organizations are interested in the ambiance or atmospherics their establishment creates for the customer, where the term "atmospherics" refers to a retail environment. The Web provides an opportunity for customers to experience an organization's atmospherics without actually being there.
In the same way, the Web provides new opportunities in terms of signs, word of mouth, personal experiences, and public relations. Traditional marketing theory and practice have discovered it is very difficult to manage a corporate image so the identical image is communicated to every stakeholder group. As illustrated in Figure 2, the Web provides a powerful tool to assist managers in communicating a unified image.
The I2M matrix (see Figure 3) can be used by firms to search systematically for opportunities for using the Internet to support marketing strategies. The concept is that each cell of the matrix is a focal point for brainstorming. An interactive Web-based version of the matrix2 can be used to stimulate thinking by showcasing how organizations are using a particular cell. Thus, clicking on the cell at the intersection of "atmospherics" and "asynchronous text" would jump to a page containing links to organizations using asynchronous text to establish atmosphere. Apple, an example for this cell, has established a bulletin board, EvangeList, to keep the faith of Macintosh aficionados. Postings to this bulletin board evoke an image of a feisty Braveheart valiantly fighting the Sassenachs (also known as Intel and Microsoft).
Because we often learn by modeling the behavior of others , linking I2M cells to existing Web examples should assist managers to identify opportunities for their organization. Furthermore, by providing a variety of examples for each cell, creative behavior should be aroused because each example can be a different stimulus. In another sense, the interactive I2M matrix is a precursor of a hybrid publication, combining traditional print with Web pages to convey more effectively the intent of the article. If advertising is succumbing to the problems of traditional media, then maybe the same fate awaits print publications because we cannot adequately represent some ideas in a purely print medium. The concepts of integrated communication apply to all forms of communication, not just that between seller and buyer.
Some organizations have intuitively grasped the central theme of the I2M model. Benetton, for instance, uses several Internet technologies and, with a different twist on integrated communication, uses its Web site to communicate with a variety of stakeholders (customers, investors, journalists, and store owners). The most obvious characteristic of the Benetton Web site is its reinforcement of the Benetton image. The United Colors of Benetton theme is echoed in the images and fonts used for signage. Benetton goes a step further in reinventing signs, its distinctive ads are sometimes used to convey the purpose of a page.
In a variation on word-of-mouth, Benetton publishes messages critical of the company's ads. This fits with Benetton's somewhat confrontational, in-your-face advertising.
The Benetton site is a source of considerable information. Benetton ads and press releases for campaigns since 1984 are retrievable. Journalists can sign up to receive electronic notification of future press releases or establish a personal press basket for storing releases and articles. Investors can download a copy of the financial report and view a video of the annual financial meeting, with audio in English or Italian. A search engine provides rapid access to available information.
As transactions are conducted more and more electronically, a firm's Web site will be its defining image and the main point of interaction with many stakeholders. Consequently, firms must ensure they take full advantage of the technology available to maximize their impact.
A systematic approach, using the I2M matrix and modeling the behavior of others, provides a framework for designing and implementing an effective Web site that takes full advantage of the Internet tools. Integrated use of this technology, however, is not enough. An enterprise with a jumble of different page layouts and icons communicates disorganization. The collective image of the Web site must communicate the overall integration and message of the organization. Not only must use of Internet tools be integrated, but a corporation's entire Web presence must be cohesive in order to communicate a consistent message to stakeholders.
1There is always some delay between the completion of a research project and the publication of the findings. This delay is exacerbated by any study based on an analysis of Web sites because of the speed with which the content and design of these sites changes. Some of the sites reported in this study will have changed by press time. However, the fundamental principles on which this article is based have a far more enduring life.
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