Updated April 2102. Originally published in “The Marketing Intelligence Blog”March 2010.
I more than occasionally hear or read that modern web-based commerce makes marketing and brand building irrelevant, even obsolete. Arguments from the the e-commerce contingent seem to center around 3 sentiments (apologies if I over simplify):
1. The web, and all the personal electronic communications tools attendant to it, are so easy and accessible that there is no longer a need for marketing to build a bridge between sellers and their customers.
2. The breadth and the anonymity of the web make it unnecessary, and largely impossible, to identify and speak to specific customer segments and their concerns.
3. Web commerce moves and changes so quickly that no marketing or branding effort can keep up.
Always open to new ideas and a new slant on things, I’ve thought a fair amount about the issue of marketing and e-commerce. Here’s where I come out:
1. The web is a very efficient tool for OUTBOUND communication. You can broadcast your message just as quickly as you can assemble it, at a nearly insignificant cost. The big question mark, of course, is how to focus the content of your message to address the concerns of potential buyers, and where to broadcast your message so that it gets seen and acted upon by people who matter to your success.
2. The web can be a very inefficient tool for INBOUND communications. While there’s essentially no limit to the amount of information out there somewhere in the web-i-sphere, actually finding it is an often cumbersome and frustrating exercise for your potential customers.
3. The web bombards your potential customers with nearly limitless options. Your message competes for your customers’ limited attention span not just with other products like yours, but with every other distraction that email, TWITTER, FB friends, and GOOGLE can put between you and your customers’ Dollar$.
4. The web is a wonderfully efficient vehicle to educate and motivate interested prospects you’ve already made a connection with.
5. The web is a wonderful TRANSACTION MEDIUM for motivated buyers – except of course, when it isn’t. Web commerce work well for standardized products / services that customers can confidently buy sight unseen or for items that consumers can preview at brick-and-mortar stores. In other cases, e-commerce is nearly useless. Imagine, for example, the inefficiency of buying candy bar or a can of paint thinner over the internet instead of the local Stop-and-Shop or big-box home center store.
So …. The web and personalized electronic communications provide powerful new avenues for suppliers to broadcast their messages and educate interested prospects, and for motivated buyers to execute their purchases, but …
To the casual or uninformed shopper, it offers vast but undifferentiated ocean of information, nearly all of which is irrelevant and distracting to their purchase decision process.
The real key for the success of your e-commerce business is to identify the sorts of people most likely to want your product or service, and then, to build your own database of potential customer to focus your outbound communications upon.
Bottom Line? Web based businesses need market just as much – perhaps substantially more – than their brick-and-mortar cousins. Identifying which consumers are your most likely to spend their $$$ with you, learning where you’re most likely to find them in the electronic communications universe, and understanding how to make your message stand out amid all the clutter are quintessentially marketing functions. Businesses that ignore these principles are headed for failure, regardless of their venue.