I was in a planning meeting a few weeks ago for a seminar on small business. None of the “marketing gurus” in the meeting wanted to address the Internet in the communications portion of the seminar. They wanted to put it in the technology section, along with fax machines, cell phones and other hi-tech business tools. That is when it dawned on me (the epiphany) how clueless people really are when it comes to the Internet. Treat the web like a fax machine and you will get fax machine results – treat it like a communications tool and you will open up to a whole new realm of opportunities and communications channels. Fax communication is linear: one way, one time, tangible. The web is non-linear, abstract in its delivery, and non-tangible. Fax is technology driven, while the web is communications. It can be thought of as an extension of the human voice: two-way communication in real time across the globe.
The Internet is about relationships, both formal and informal. The formal side plays to the strengths of the traditional mindset: agreements, advertising contracts, non-competes, trademarks and so on; the informal side is what keeps ulcer medicine in the filing cabinets of the people who think they have it all figured out. No one has it figured out, and that’s the nature of the Internet. The web is like an amoeba, morphing dramatically from one day to the next, changing its course as market forces demand. People have been led to believe there is a success formula for the Internet. “How to” books can teach you how to build a website, how to market via e-mail, how to get placed in search engines, how to this and how to that. The basic problem is that you cannot “how to” the Internet. Websites and e-businesses succeed not because someone has discovered a magic marketing formula, but because of intangibles characterized by words like “buzz” and “stir.”
The web has thrown out what we used to define as long-term goals. How can you set long-term goals when everything around you is changing on a daily basis? If, however, you determine to increase the value of your company by servicing your customers better, or developing ways to keep employees satisfied, then no matter how the world around you changes, you will be able to keep up.
The Internet is the perfect tool for increasing value. For example, you can create multiple websites to accomplish different tasks. You might develop a website to improve employee satisfaction by giving employees a place to find out what’s new in the company, check out their 401K plan, inquire about health insurance, submit suggestions for improvements, etc. Another site may be set up for vendors to find out about proposed projects they might want to bid on, or check the status of invoices. Customers wanting to place an order should be able to get real-time feedback and confirmation instead of sending a form into cyberspace and hoping it will reach its intended destination. A streaming media “video clip” can get the attention of potential customers so they will investigate the site further and see on-line product demonstrations. You could set up several marketing sites targeted for specific market segments. A “how to” book telling you how to set up a single website doesn’t give you any idea of the true potential of the Internet.
Wake up or you will be put out of business. Continue to think tangibly and you will have your lunch handed to you by some 3 week-old startup with a 20 year-old at the helm. It’s happening every day. Do not be fooled or lulled to sleep by the sagging stock market – that is a completely different dynamic and another discussion altogether. One has no logical bearing on the other. The businesses you read about in the stock report may go under today, but tomorrow they will just break apart into a hundred other variations of the same company, and will magically reappear as your direct or indirect competitor.
You can throw time, money and people at the Internet all day long, but at the end of the day, if you think it’s a fax machine – you’ve been wasting your resources. If all you do with the Internet is check your e-mail twice a day, you are not an Internet company. If you had a retail store, would you only open the door to customers twice a day? You must make the Internet a vital part of your organization by emphatically embracing these principles and being very passionate about creating an organization that will survive a good Internet site. You must commit to living and breathing the web mindset. Success is all about communications, working at the speed of thought and thinking outside the box.