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Don't think the World Wide Web is right for your company? Think again.

While we've all heard the hype about how the Internet and World Wide Web can, will, or should change our lives and the way we do business, the reality is that it is still an unknown entity and an untapped opportunity for a majority of busi- nesses.

Establishing a Web site has helped Dukane Corp.'s Ultrasonics Division achieve one of the company's most critical objectives: reaching an extensive customer base that is geographically dispersed and needs up-to-date product information. This was an especially complex task.

In February 1995, Dukane Ultrasonics decided to establish a Web site. In a sense, we asked ourselves the question: If we build it, will the customers come? To address that issue, we established a presence within the Online Marketplace, an electronic forum bringing together buyers and sellers of manufacturing and industrial goods and services.

The Web site gave us a fast, cost-effective means of publishing our product information. Product announcements and specifications, training workshops and trade show activities could be published quickly and changed easily. We also found that the information was reaching a broader range of new customers who came to the site looking for manufacturers of plastic assembly systems.

While it is difficult to quantify a return on our Web investment, many more people are aware of our products and capabilities than before. While cautious at first, management now encourages exploring other ways the company can use the Internet.

If you're still wondering if the Internet is right for you — or if you're ready to make the plunge — here are some lessons we've learned:

Focus on content and presentation. Sites that don't provide users with what they want and need to see, or that don't structure the presentation of their information in an organized manner, are ineffective. Focus your site around the most important corporate and product materials, and organize materials in a way that's easy to understand and find. Don't forget to include contact information for your customers, in case they need more information or want to make a purchase.

Determine your criteria for return on investment. Reducing costs and increasing the bottom line won't happen overnight. For many organizations, just providing existing customers with current information and/or gaining recognition among new prospects is sufficient return.

Articulating the criteria will help you decide on the objectives you'll want the site to accomplish.

Don't overlook the opportunities your existing customers represent. The Web isn't just about reducing costs or expanding your marketing reach, it's also about transforming relationships with existing customers. Over time, as you learn about a customer's interest in a particular product or manufacturer, you will be able to notify customers of a product upgrade or special pricing from a supplier.

Secure management buy-in. Help management understand the benefits of a Web site and discuss reasons the Internet is a tool to be embraced, not feared. Explain the benefits to your customers, as well as your company, and provide examples of how the Internet may be able to enhance, or possibly replace, existing sales and marketing efforts such as direct mail.

The Internet and the World Wide Web are here to stay because they create very real business benefits.

The potential audience is huge, yet companies can narrowcast (as opposed to broadcast) messages to various targeted audiences. And customer feedback or relationship building can be immediate because of the medium's interactivity.

Those who take the traditional approach to the Web as just another marketing medium will probably be disappointed. But for those who recognize the Web as a technology to transform relationships with customers, prospects, suppliers, and even employees, value and opportunity are theirs for the taking.

Chenoweth is supervisor of technical communications at Dukane Corp.'s Ultrasonics Division in St. Charles, Ill.