The Web Is Past Its Prime

OK, I know some people are going to call me crazy. Others are going to just plain ignore me. And still others will get fighting mad over what I’m going to say in this column. It’s my opinion that the use of the web as a key marketing tool has passed its prime and may even be on its last leg.

Although the use of the web is always growing, and its acceptance in the commercial arena picks up a little steam every day, I don’t believe it is the number-one interactive tool that most businesses will use in the future.

This distinction is owned by email and its future hybrids. The only hope the web has to survive in the marketing arena is to change its whole essence and become something that it currently is not. Here’s how I justify my premise.

Pull vs. Push

Among many of its unique qualities, the web has one specific trait that can’t be found in any other marketing medium: It’s a pull medium. That means you must gather your audience and bring them to your web site. You must forcibly drive traffic to your site.

In essence, you must market your marketing vehicle in order to get people to see your message. This is quite rare in the world of marketing. No one will see your marketing message via your web site unless you first pull them there. You need to spend marketing dollars and resources in other venues in order to get the amount of traffic needed for a successful web site.

The most successful web sites (besides old standby portals) have spent huge dollars in non-Internet venues to get and retain traffic levels, i.e., to drive people to see their web marketing message.

A great case study for this is Monster.com, which experienced the largest traffic increase in history when it advertised on the 1999 Super Bowl. It had to buy TV ads to get the desired traffic levels. It couldn’t really succeed by just having a web site and hoping people would visit.

In contrast, all other traditional media (TV, radio, print, and direct mail) are push mediums. You have a marketing message, you buy the eyeballs (or ears) you need, and you spin it to them. It’s a subtle difference, but very real.

Email is a push medium. You can work an opt-in email list and hone it to perfection. You can contact your list members as you see fit, reaching them when you want to reach them. You can use your list to drive traffic to your web site to buy a particular item, but it was the email that acted as the true marketing vehicle. As technology keeps evolving, these transactions may take place right in the email, leaving no reason to drive anyone to your site.

Passive vs. Active

Marketing managers, at least the good ones, are proactive. They like to take the reins in their hands and make the magic happen. They are outside-the-box thinkers who dream of creating the next big buzz, spinning their message to the desired audience.

If you give them a choice of either waiting for the right person to see their message or delivering a message when their audience wants it delivered, I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that the second option is the winner.

The natural passivity of the web will drive marketing people to find another solution for their online sales efforts. Case in point is the story of Williams-Sonoma.

This company was very late to the party, launching its first online effort in 1999. Its first effort wasn’t to build some crazy, expensive web presence, but rather to utilize opt-in email as a marketing tool to expand its market presence.

As a result, Williams-Sonoma was able to build an effective online channel. Its online campaigns experienced up to 13 percent response rates and resulted in general sales increases. This wildly successful effort made it a believer in web marketing, but success had very little to do with the passive web and everything to do with the active email capabilities.

To say that the web has absolutely no future in marketing may be facetious. It will always have a place as a supplemental medium.

But to say the web is the future of marketing is way off base. The web has to be retooled to become a true force in the marketing vanguard of the future. It must shed its passive shell and take on the qualities of email. If it doesn’t, email technology will evolve and leave little space for the giant we once knew as The World Wide Web.

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