Of Babies and Bath Water…

Few doubt that online commerce is driving the U.S. economy and will drive the global economy well into the 21st century.

The online marketer, armed with a basket of new acronyms, proclaims the new dawn. Anyone with four or five years of online experience is a veritable sage of cyberspace, and numerous articles are written on online marketing. Unfortunately, many of these articles seem to lack a basic understanding of marketing, or give the impression that somehow online marketing is entirely different from traditional marketing.

In many ways, powerful online technology allows for techniques not possible with traditional communication media – changing the distribution of goods and services, marketing communications, and pricing. We must be careful, however, that when we discard old methods in favor of new, we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

It is time, perhaps, to identify the ways in which online marketing is similar to traditional marketing and the ways in which it is different. Where better to start than with the principles of marketing?

There are only four principles of marketing, two functional and two operational.

Customer Need

“Man’s necessities are few, but his wants are endless.”
– Josh Billings

If there’s no need for it, the best quality of product and marketing won’t help. Traditionally, this is the greatest cause of new product failure. And market research doesn’t help much if the product is new, as research is not very good at revealing latent needs.

Internet technology promises to reveal a host of new, unfulfilled needs – the marketer’s dream – as well as new, more efficient and more effective ways of satisfying existing needs.

AOL and Yahoo are prime examples of businesses built on satisfying new needs that didn’t exist before the web. Amazon.com and Travelocity, of businesses built on satisfying existing needs in a new, more efficient and more effective way.

Brand Difference

Why should people buy or use your product or service rather than a competitor’s? Market economies are competitive. Your brand must have a reason for people to choose it instead of someone else’s.

For a period of time, simply being first is enough – but eventually competitors with a more powerful “reason why” will prevail. We used to call it a Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

The web site creates a whole new opportunity to generate perceived differences between competitive offerings. The front end, speed of delivery, interactivity, and personalized communications are all ways in which the web site may differentiate brands.

It is at times of change that traditional brand shares experience rapid shifts. The evolution of the web site as a marketing instrument is just such a time of change, and we can expect the market share of historically dominant brands to dwindle rapidly if they don’t handle the change effectively.

So it is no longer sufficient to consider the question “How does my brand differ from my competitors’?” We must also ask ourselves, “How does my web site differ from my competitors’?”


In science, it’s called Occam’s Razor. In marketing, we call it KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). It’s a compelling principle that applies as much to web marketing as it ever did to traditional marketing.


Focus, or concentration of effort, is the fourth and final principle. This is a tricky one. What might be a breach of focus for one marketer is not for another.

The core concept is: Rather be like a compressed spring, rich in potential energy, than a stretched spring, covering more ground but weak and vulnerable. Focus means striving to dominate an area – whether geographic, behavioral, demographic, or psychographic – that is small enough to fit your resources. Niche marketing is an example of the application of the focus principle.

The web substantially enhances the importance of the focus principle for small business. In the coming years, the opportunity for niche marketing of new products, and of variations on existing products, will be tremendous.

So we see that the traditional principles of marketing hold for Internet marketing. Careful consideration of these principles in respect to our own businesses and plans will provide valuable insight and direction when developing or modifying our web marketing plans.

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