Internet: The Silver Bullet for Businesses?

I find it provocative to analyse the gap between the world of consumer and business.

While my 60-something-year-old parents are telling me how much they like using Facebook and the iPad, there are also many people in the business world asking me what the Internet can do for their businesses, and then telling me they do not believe Internet is working.

They probably heard many success stories about the Internet before, they tried, but didn’t see any great success. So, they didn’t care about it anymore. Internet is no silver bullet. It’s just a channel for connection and communication. If it’s not working for your business, it’s probably due to how the channel is being used rather than the nature of the channel itself.

In my view, the Internet would only work for organisations with people who have a clear understanding of how to utilise and leverage the potential of this channel.

1. Internet is a channel for customer engagement

The Internet is not merely a channel for advertising; it is a channel for customer engagement.

Nowadays, I am still seeing many well-known advertisers rely on online banner campaigns to drive traffic to a fancy Flash website (with no skip button) to force their visitors to watch their TV commercial, before they can see the content of the website. After the campaign, the media agency reports the campaign has received great results with high volume of impressions and clicks.

However, the reality is – most of the site visitors left the website before the Flash finished loading (and, no one has reported the website bounce rate was high). There’s the advertising element to build ‘brand awareness’ but customer engagement was missing.

A good sales person understands and has the competency to engage with her prospects and customers and then secure sales. A bad telemarketer’s sales calls are generally perceived as spam calls that everyone can’t wait to hang up immediately. These principles are applicable everywhere. Likewise, a well-designed website with relevant content for users always sells more products than a poorly designed website with many flashy annoying banners everywhere on the site.

Without putting in place the customer engagement element in the overall strategy, it is very difficult (or almost impossible) to convert the generated traffic to meaningful and tangible outcomes for your business. This is the missing piece of the puzzle of many online campaigns that I have come across.

2. Internet is an accelerator

Internet is a direct communication channel with customers; not only does it create the opportunity to eliminate inefficiency of the middleman but also gets feedback from customers immediately. The process of testing, learning, and optimising can take place in real time. It is an accelerator.

If you’re visiting a bookstore, it’s impossible for the store to change its floor plan and book arrangements according to your preference or what may potentially be of interest to you. But it is possible on Amazon. It is continually learning from me, trying to sell me new items, and optimising its recommendations based on my response. I have been buying from Amazon regularly since 1996; it is so easy for me to spend over a few hundred dollars just in 20 minutes; the speed of spending money has accelerated too.

It may not necessarily be rocket science like Amazon. Sometimes, a simple A/B split testing for the email subject line can easily improve performance over 50 percent immediately.

Many organisations are still making their marketing decisions based on ‘gut feeling’. And, on the Internet, there is possibility to use real-time data to optimise performance in generating revenue, acquiring new customers, and accelerating the growth.

3. Internet is an amplifier

Other than an accelerator, Internet is also an amplifier. Internet is a network of computers, information, and people. The social media empowers customer-to-customer connection and communication on the Internet that enables great ideas to spread – customers can pass along messages/ feedback easily and quickly. With the popularity of social media going mainstream, it is creating a very powerful amplifying effect in both negative and positive ways.

One of the classic examples was ‘Dell Hell’. In 2005, an unhappy blogger posted a series of rants about the Dell laptop he recently purchased that caught the attention of many others who had similar negative experience.

Other examples are the tremendous growth of Groupon and Living Social that quickly grew to millions in monthly revenue. First of all, it’s because they are offering very compelling products – special deals with 50 to 80 percent off on local restaurants, spas, bakeries, or similar merchants. No one would spread a boring message to friends, but for attractive special deals, customers are willing to share them with friends and hopefully get it free if recruited enough friends to enjoy the same deal.

This is the amplifying power, not only on word of mouth, but also customer acquisition and sales.

It Is All About the People

So, “What can the Internet do for my business” is probably not the right question to ask to begin with. The right questions should be:

a) How could I do my business better by leveraging the power of the Internet?

b) Building customer engagement?

c) Testing and optimising to accelerate sales growth?

d) Creating amplifying effect?

For the organisations that smartly integrate Internet as part of their overall business models and strategies, it is possible to see revenue growth multiplying by 10 times or even 100 times per year, and there are many successful cases.

For organisations that only copy tactics from others, without understanding the fundamental principles and have no integrated strategy, they will be disappointed with what the Internet can do for them.

In the end, it is the competency of people and organisations that can unleash the power of Internet, and possibly turn the Internet to become a silver bullet.

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