Okay. I really, really, really meant to write a serious article this week on the future of online business and how technology is influencing that future. I really was…
But that was before I spent an hour and a half fighting my way to the office through a 12-inch “dusting” o’ the white stuff, regaled by panicky newscasters and terrified by idiots blasting by me at 60 miles an hour. My mood, as you can imagine, is not as sunny as y’all have come to expect. So now, secure in the belief that misery loves company, I’ve decided to share with you my latest top-ten hit list.
These observations don’t come out of the blue. No, my antennae have been up over the past few weeks as I’ve been doing research for a new client who’s decided to enter the e-commerce fray with a new product.
In my research, I’ve been calling a lot of interactive companies both big and small, trying to discover what they look at when choosing new software, as well as how they see the future of online business shaping up for themselves and their clients.
I learned a lot of useful information but suffered what amounted to the audio equivalent of third-degree burns from the hype and jargon I had to endure. Is this what their clients have to put up with? Do they really believe the stuff they’re spouting? Yikes!
But it’s not just the companies I called. Everywhere you turn – and every time you turn on the TV – the hype about e-commerce and e-business comes faster and more furious than a horde of sugar-crazed pre-teens at a “Free Pokemon Day” in the mall. It’s got me ticked, ticked about ten things in particular:
- The definition of e-commerce: Is anyone out there really sure what e-commerce means anymore? At one point, e-commerce meant selling things online with secure transactions. Now it seems to mean anything that has to do with doing business online that’s too complicated for mere mortals to understand.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone tell me that their site was “e-commerce enabled” because they managed to patch together an email form for customers to use to get price quotes. And don’t get me started about most of the e-commerce TV spots out there today. Does anyone really care that the woman in the latest Microsoft commercial has done something wild with her “ERP”? I don’t want to know. Let’s get the definition straight so we all know what we’re talking about.
- E-everything: Which brings me to another peeve – the “e-ifying” of every possible business term in every language, everywhere. Huh? Hasn’t the web become such an integral part of nearly everyone’s business that we’re not talking about e-business anymore… we’re just talking about business? Sure, slapping an “e” at the beginning of every other noun in your business plan may impress your mom and the drooling senior members of your board, but it dilutes important distinctions that used to make sense. The web is part of business, period. We don’t need to muddy the waters with impenetrable cyber-wannabe jargon.
- E-strategy: However, the most particularly bile-raising term that’s been flipping my stomach over lately is the whole unbelievable boom in “e-strategy” (also known in less hip circles as “web strategy”) companies. If you believe most web-builders’ sites that I’ve seen lately, you’d think that the world’s b-schools have started stamping out graduates faster than a Chinese counterfeit handbag factory.
Look: Just because you know how to build a web site and have a whole year of experience on the web doesn’t make you an “e-strategist.” Sure, there are some very capable practitioners out there (look at the work Sapient and Razorfish are doing), but quality work is less than easy to come by. Stick to what you know.
- Everyone’s a consultant: What’s with everyone being called a “consultant” these days? Is there anyone doing any actual work out there? When I need some Java written, I don’t need someone to consult about it… I need a programmer. Heck, some of my best friends go by the title of “consultant,” and I’d be afraid to ask them advice on lunch.
- Partners: Have you noticed how many companies want to be your “partner” these days? “Partner”? What they really mean is that they want to be able to sell you stuff again and again. That doesn’t sound like a partnership… Where I come from, we call those polecats “vendors.” I’d hate to think what they call their significant others if this is what they think constitutes a “partnership.”
- Instant search positioning: Listen to me: Getting your site to show up first on a search engine does not mean sending an email to the search engine or submitting your site. It doesn’t even mean paying some yahoo $29.95 to submit it to 500,000 search engines and directories. Have you ever examined a list of who those shysters are submitting your site to? You’re lucky if most of your dough doesn’t go for placements on “Billy Bob’s Link List.”
- The term “pure play”: Unrelated to everything I’ve spewed about so far is my irritation with the term “pure-play.” “Pure Play Web Over!” screamed headlines after the AOL/Time Warner merger. “We’re strictly a pure-play major media property,” say the cyberd00ds from your neighborhood startup.
Huh? Oh, I see! What you mean is that you’re operating out of your mom’s house with a distributed network of six fraternity brothers on modems! No company exists only in cyberspace: Business is business. Cluttering up the landscape with stupid jargon ain’t gonna help anyone.
- Marketers who think they’re techies (AKA over-stepping your field of expertise): Just because your company operates on the web doesn’t make you a technical genius. You may have learned some terminology, you may have even done a bit of HTML with your Microsoft Word export function, but don’t even begin to think that you’ll know how to handle complicated legacy system back-end integrations if you haven’t got the technical chops. Don’t BS. It doesn’t do anyone any good. Programming is as hard as good marketing strategy. However, there is something just as irritating…
- Techies who think they’re marketers: Look. Marketing is hard work. Design takes special skill. Just because you can configure a router while brushing your teeth doesn’t mean that you know how to market your way out of a McDonald’s wrapper. No matter how complicated your systems, no matter how elegant your code, no matter how robust your solution, if it’s on the web, it still has to communicate. Don’t turn up your noses at what the suits and artists do. It isn’t “making license plates” (as Neil Stephenson puts it). It’s just as tough as your work. Listen to what they have to say. And, finally…
- …people who have no idea what “branding” is: I recently sat through a conference where a nice young woman from a major interactive firm made the following statement: “We think that branding is vital. We know it’s important to our clients. That’s why we put their logo on every page we design.”
Arrrghhhhhhhh! A brand is NOT a logo! “Branding” is a lot more than repeating a mark on every web site page. A brand encompasses the entire experience that a customer has with a company, starting with design and moving through copy, user experience, customer service, the products, the packaging, etc.
“Online Branding” isn’t just making the executive decision to put a logo on a page, it’s every place that the border between customer and business is crossed. Calling it anything else cheapens the discipline and dilutes real branding work in the marketplace.
Whew! That’s it, and I feel a lot better. Now if I can just get home without wrecking the car, I’ll be happy. See you next week!