Four years ago, I had a conversation with Naveen Jain, founder of InfoSpace. This was before Naveen became a billionaire, so no one was sure yet if he was crazy or a genius. He explained the entire vision for InfoSpace, which offered multiple services, multiple advertising models, and multiple licensing and partnership options. After sitting through a seemingly fractured explanation, I naively asked, “But how will you make money?” Naveen stared, blinked hard, and answered, “Any way we can.”
At the time, it seemed like a mere lack of strategy. In retrospect, it was a smart strategy for a rapidly changing market. Had InfoSpace bet on banner advertising alone, it would have been swimming hard against the current these last few years, like the rest of the flailing banner-driven sites. If it had relied on big licensing deals alone, it would have taken much longer for the demand to get big enough to support itself. A haphazard business model ended up being just right for a chaotic market like the one found on the web.
In advising start-ups, businesses new to the web, and dot-coms in transition, I find this new approach even more relevant now – if not essential – regardless of the business. How should you market? How will you drive traffic? Where will revenue come from? How can you build a brand in a noisy market? Any way you can. The web is inherently fluid; your strategy should be fluid, too.
This requires a new, integrated way of thinking and a new, multidisciplinary kind of marketer. It also requires that you think across traditional boundaries within your company.
- Tolerate no territorialism by integrating your strategy, spending, marketing, message, and service. Your customer service desk wants a phone-based locator service; your marketing department wants a web-based locator service. Get them on the same page, and buy a unified service. Your sales channels and web site may, in effect, compete against each other sometimes; resolve any conflicts by indoctrinating your organization with the “any way” philosophy.
- Your technology is now relevant to your brand and customer connection. Does your web site respond quickly enough? Can your customers get real-time inventory availability on the site? How secure is their data?
- Your marketing now has multiple contexts. Does it translate? This can affect small decisions (for example, a company name in all caps may look fine in print but can seem abrasive online) and large campaigns. (For example, a perfect comic pitch in a TV spot can fall flat when translated to an online ad.)
- Customer communications are now happening any which way. Does your company’s standards of service hold up across all media? Are you responding as quickly to email as you would to a phone call? If a customer prefers phone interaction, do you meet his or her needs?
- Autonomous pieces are now one brand. Your storefront is now a real-life embodiment of the web site; the web site reflects on your storefronts. Do your store personnel agree? Would your webmaster agree? Does the service on your site stand up to your real-world expectations? If a product is out of stock in your mail-order warehouse, but it’s readily available in a store four miles from the customers – would you know that? Would the people running your web site know that and refer the customer to the faster solution?
Your web site, retail stores, sales channels, warehouses, and catalogs no longer live in neat, separate universes. The web should be relevant to every department in your company: marketing, sales, service, support, inventory, and accounting. Take off the blinders, integrate your technology, cross-train your marketing, and start making money any way you can.
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