Last year this newsletter published a book review of mine. Net Gain - Expanding Markets Through Virtual Communications, by Hagel and Armstrong. The authors proposed that getting yourself a Web Page is not, of itself, what making a success of your on-line marketing is all about.
What they proposed instead, was creating a community of customers (or users) by providing tools which allow them to interact not only with the host, but with EACH OTHER.
I found the premise compelling, but the book somewhat short on examples. The authors suggested providing "chat rooms" for visitors, information on third-party offerings that complement the host's products -- but that was about it. Their suggestions did, however, lead me to look for devices of this kind on the Web, and some turned up. At www.amazon.com, for instance, the well-known Internet bookseller provides reviews of titles they stock; and go so far as to invite readers to post their own reviews if they choose. Similarly for marketers of classic movies on videotape. This led to another idea of my own, of which more later.
I think the utility of these features -- and their benefit to the profit-seeking hosts of the pages on which they are found -- are obvious. What is also obvious is the obligation this puts on the host, to be honest and even-handed. For example, a collection of uniformly laudatory reviews, of a particular book or film, might suggest a stacked deck.
But the most significant thing about this marketing approach in terms of the sort of economic analysis everyone seems to want to make for marketing on the Net: None of the facilities these Web pages provide for user interactions makes the host any money; certainly not directly.
So what is the point? That is where Mary Houten-Kemp's "Everything E-Mail" comes in. Her story is most interesting.
As she is glad to tell you, the idea for her page grew out of her interest in, and enthusiasm for the possibilities of email as a new mode of communication. As she began collecting information on the subject, it occurred to her that other people might be interested; and that led to the web page as a way of sharing what she had found out.
Something missing here? Right. The business. There wasn't any, at first. It was only after a couple of years, interacting with visitors to the page, that the idea for MailDirector, her email problem solving consultancy, came together.
Perhaps this is why, in my own case, it was not until the fourth or fifth visit to www.everythingemail.net that I discovered there was in fact a company behind it. By this time, of course, I knew that Ms. MailDirector was really into email, and had a good sense that her business concept was well thought out.
This certainly doesn't mean that everyone wanting to market themselves via the Web should expect to spend a couple years trying to figure out the business model. It does, however, point up the potential value of the Net in helping businesses find out what customers are really after, and how to communicate your business's answers to them.
So, if you find this argument compelling, and would like to see what a great Web page looks like look no further than --
As an afterword, my own experience. I do a lot of work with foundries, as it happens, and I'm interested in what industry information is available on-line. For some time I've been maintaining a collection of bookmarks covering the subject; and it occurred to me that other people might be interested in the same thing. So, with the help of a couple of high school kids and a local solutions provider, I've made my private file available to the world at large at:
Where's the profit in this venture? Haven't figured it out yet. What I can tell you, without embarrassing myself, is that it is costing me less per month than a one-inch classified ad in a trade publication.
Give you any ideas?
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