7 traits shared by winners on the Web

January 4, 1999

BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

What separates the best from the rest when it comes to Web marketing? And, what are the best practices?

Why are Cisco, Amazon.com, Kraft, CDNow, Netscape, Yahoo, iVillage or AOL out front of the competition?

What each one of these winners does right can be summed up in seven points:

  • They put their customers first
  • They stay competitively vital
  • They're committed to content
  • They're community oriented
  • They bring childlike creativity to the business
  • They're extraordinarily communications savvy, and,
  • They remain aggressive, enterprise-wide adopters & integrators of technology.

Customers First
The best Web marketers really put their customers first, not their own bottom lines, although the bottom line seems to benefit. Take business-to-business e-commerce giant Cisco Systems, Inc. CEO John Chambers grew a grass roots customer service and product information bulletin board service into a multibillion-dollar revenue engine. San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco's success wasn't planned. The executive team organically sensed and responded to customer needs.

Cisco's point of brilliance: Executives listened to their customers' desire to share information on-line and they built their Internet site to serve the demand.

Cisco's Internet capability is so good, it received online customer satisfaction scores of 4.2 last August (on a five point scale). Not bad for a system that saved the company several hundred million dollars by selling and distributing all their software updates online versus putting them in paper boxes.

On the retail side of e-commerce, there are many marketers who put their customers first. Everyone's heard of Jeff Bezos'Amazon.com, who's easily navigated Web pages, helpful customer shopping suggestions and comprehensive search engine (along with customer-written book reviews) make it a best-of-breed winner. But, visit Kathy Riordan's Kraft Interactive Kitchen Web site at http://www.KraftFoods.com

At Kraft Interactive, busy people can get real help preparing dinner tonight because Kraft has organized their database with the customer in mind.

Or, visit my favorite web site, CDNow.com, where a pair of 20-something brothers, Jason & Matthew Olim, thought "customer first" in a way the local record store never imagined. Frustrated that the local record store couldn't teach them about jazz great Miles Davis, the Olim brothers founded a Web marketing company that provides customers with all the musical knowledge they desire, as well as real-time sampling of musical tracks before they buy.

If you're going to be best-of-breed on the Web, be sure you think about your customer first.

Competitive Vitality
- Take CEO Jim Barksdale's company, Netscape Communications Corp., based in Mountain View, Calif. They're a paragon of competitive vitality. They defined the landscape of the Internet with their first version of Netscape Navigator. They gave their product away to establish market penetration, gain trial and develop an installed base. And they courageously took on the Microsoft Goliath in the marketspace, in the market- place and in the court of public opinion as well as in the corridors of government power and the courts of law. -

Netscape fell behind David Filo and Jerry Yang, the founders of Yahoo, but are fighting back with new innovations, such as their own portal, Netcenter. A soon-to-be-released version of their new browser software will be as customizable as "My Yahoo." Watch for the latest version of Netscape to one-up the competition by allowing surfers to enter ordinary English text (no more "www" or ".com") where you normally type your URL, and still get you connected to your favorite Web site.

Best-of-breed Web marketers have endless competitive vitality, like Netscape.

Committed To Content
Talk about content, visit Yahoo and see where you can go. Or, visit any one of the portal sites and see how access to content is aggregated and organized for the customer's advantage. But don't stop there. Daily newspapers have always been best-of-breed content providers at the local level. Check out the next tier of information aggregators at newspaper Web pages such as Boston.com (Web site of the Boston Globe). Newspaper Web pages provide users with local information they've never dreamed of having before.

There are many specialized niche providers who are committed to content. As examples, look at business information providers as Hoovers.com and Arthur Andersen's Knowledgespace.com. They're subscription services that lead the way in delivering business users with timely information on demand. Or, go to iVillage's Parent Soup for insights on raising your kids.

Check your level, quality and commitment to content if you want to assess whether you're best of breed.

Community Oriented
Speaking of iVillage, CEO Candice Carpenter is a best-of-the-Web practitioner who lives by the mantra, "Web success depends upon being community-oriented." Lay the foundation and cornerstone of an electronic community like iVillage's "Better Health" and the community's users will put up the electronic framing, the walls and the roof-and may even cut the electronic scrubs and mow the lawn. For example, trained, unpaid volunteers staff iVillage's chat communities and enable iVillage to deliver a powerful audience to cyberspace advertisers who pay real dollars to reach iVillage's upscale, female audience.

Does your 14-year-old want to create a discussion group to share views on the relationship between Star Trek Voyager television characters, The Doctor and Seven of Nine (two of the more popular characters, for you non-Trekkies)? Paramount Pictures has done a nice job of building a Star Trek information site (www.startrek.com). But, many teen-agers want to create their own Web pages and invite others kids to cybersurf over and check out their work.

Tripod.com is a best-of-breed provider who tackled this opportunity. Join Tripod and they'll give you a set of easy to use tools that will make creating your own home page a snap. It won't be nearly as tough as assembling those Christmas presents, thanks to Tripod's commitment to a community orientation. Not only will Tripod's members help you develop your Web site, they'll stop by to share their views.

Speaking of community builders, let's not forget Steve Case's America Online. AOL has become so ubiquitous you almost forget to mention their overflowing chat rooms.

If you're building a sense of community online, you're mirroring the best in the business.

Childlike Creativity
Many sites show awesome creativity. But, creativity, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. When the rest of the Web was galloping toward complex home page graphics that were slower than mud to down load, Yahoo showed creative brilliance. Rather than follow the herd, its designers created a text-rich home page that was quick to download and click through. This bit of insight alone may have made Filo and Yang millionaires.

What best-of-breed Web entrepreneurs share is a fearlessness about creativity - a willingness to be different and to take risks. A fearless approach that children typically have before they begin kindergarten and start learning the rules.

If you want to be among the Web's best you'll need to source the fearless creativity of your youth.

Communications Savvy
In attacking Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com has a major disadvantage: Their name. Who wants to type a long URL into their computer? And who can remember just how to spell it anyway? Sites like Yahoo, Amazon and AOL became top dogs because they understood the fundamentals of marketing communications.

Recall that AOL used consumer products marketing techniques ("carpet bombing" promotion) to get trial and gain their initial installed base. Yahoo practices brand equity building almost as well as Coke. And major new sites like Snap!, a new portal, have television advertising budgets that rival McDonald's. If you plan to be a Web leader, you'll need to have the marketing communications savvy of a Nike.

Aggressive, Enterprisewide Adopters and Integrators of Technology
Toysrus.com is my latest favorite example of this critical trait. Listen to Deborah Kimball, general manager of electronic commerce and creator of the new Toys R Us Web site. She'll tell you that getting the entire enterprise, from operations and distribution to the technology infrastructure linked and integrated is as important to Web success as having a cool, easy-to-browse Web page. Come December 12, when the Christmas rush peaks for Toys R Us, that enterprise-wide technology integration will be sorely tested.

The winners in Web marketing need to motivate, mobilize and integrate the entire company behind the technology in order to achieve Web marketing success.

What does the future hold in Web excellence? While it's still anybody's guess, one thing's for certain: Change. For a hint at what tomorrow's Web leaders will do, consider what Mark Tonnesen, director of customer advocacy at Cisco, says: "The web is just the connection to draw customers into the enterprise. We're headed to a more interactive experience with customers, voice, data and video all integrated. Today you can come to a Web site and get an experience. In the future you will reach out and talk with someone from the company."

Tomorrow's best-of-breed Web marketers will enable live, interactive communication between customers and real people, online. Better make that point No. 8.

Michael Krauss is a partner with Diamond Technology Partners in Chicago. He can be reached at news@ama.org.

 

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