The Internet is still considered a marginal advertising and brand-building medium, but it won’t be for long: worldwide ad revenues are predicted to rise to $5bn (3bn) by the year 2000, despite some panic reports at the end of last year that growth rates had fallen.
“TV and radio never evolved this quickly,” says Kannan Paul, director of electronic media consultancy BFKP, a joint venture with Bamber Forsyth.
While it is true that today’s Internet users are predominantly university-educated, higher middle income men with jobs in the IT industry – which makes the medium particularly appealing to companies in the technology, car and financial sectors – that is no excuse for other companies not to think laterally.
One successful site is for Boots the Chemists, a chain whose store customers are 80 per cent female and whose Website, launched last summer, is packed with information on health and beauty issues.
“We use the site to encourage more men to visit the stores,” explains Stuart Ross, Boots group marketing development manager. “We have a fathers’ discussion forum and information about exercise for men. The split of visitors to the site is about 50:50 men and women.”
There’s no doubt that the Net can be used to build brands, but only by avoiding several heinous crimes. The first is thinking that the job of designing the Website should be left to the IT department, when it should really be in the hands of marketing experts.
Helen Bales, interactive media expert at design agency Wolff Olins, says: “Sites are produced by people with technical know-how, but not the necessary design or marketing skills.”
And having set up the site, it can’t be left to stew. “You must have a mechanism, team and structure in place to keep updating it,” she adds.
Wolff Olins designed the Website for mobile phone company Orange, which went live last summer. “Orange didn’t want to launch it until there was a properly planned publishing schedule,” says Bales. “There is now a monthly rolling update of all the information on the site. Press releases are put on to the site immediately they are released to other media.
Michael Martin, creative director of Online Magic, adds: “A well-designed Internet site can make a small company look big and important, while a bad one can make a big company look insignificant.”
Online Magic designed the sites for Boots, Manchester United – “a leading-edge club that needs a leading-edge site”, says Martin – and Channel 4, among others. “Eighteen months ago, Channel 4 had a little site that no one knew about, with a couple of Equinox transcripts and a very forgettable address.
“Now it is a wealth of interactivity. It has the listings and press releases, but it also has support for the social programmes, and when things like the Tour de France are on, it carries a lot of information and a forum where fans can chat to each other and to the programme presenters. It’s a platform for Channel 4 to develop new content out of the copyrights it already owns.”
But Gavin Roach, senior consultant in network computing solutions at IBM, guards against another common crime: getting “over-fancy with pages”. This is where it is essential to consider the target market. “Developers have the biggest, fastest machines and the ability to use things like Shockwave for animation, RealAudio for sound and Quicktime for video, but customers – particularly home computer users – may not have all this.”
Users can quickly grow frustrated waiting for pages to download and may swiftly hop to another site, possibly never to return. But this can be avoided. New media specialist Global Beach lays great emphasis on the technical side of design.
“There are many ways of building a picture that will result in different file sizes,” explains creative director Clive Jackson. “For Porsche, we fitted a 40-second TV ad onto one floppy disk. The jaguar’s head on Jaguar Cars’ site does not take long to access, although it fills the screen. So the site looks well-designed and represents the core values of the brand – quality, high technology, commitment to research and development – and it performs well.”
But the worst sin committed by Net newcomers is failing to integrate the site with the rest of the marketing effort, and omitting to let anyone know that the site exists. This latter doesn’t just mean sticking a Web address in the closing shot of a TV ad, but making constant connections between the different strands of marketing.
Michael Crosson, director of international interactive services at Premier Magazines, says: “Companies will spend millions in developing a Website and nothing in marketing it.”
“If the ad campaign isn’t linked to the Website, customers won’t bother to write down the address,” says BFKP’s Kannan Paul. “The site must bolster the advertising and be context-sensitive. It can’t be detached from everything else.”
The site must then contain the information promised in the ad. “When the Vauxhall Vectra was launched early last year, the Website was very much part of the overall campaign,” says Roach. “You could go to the site and play a video of the TV ad or find out about dealers. During Euro 96, Vauxhall ran TV ads pointing to the site, which contained news about the championship. Now it also has information on the whole Vauxhall range: users can request brochures or organise a test drive.
“The site also has a tax calculator to work out company car expenses, and a link with Trafficmaster, so users can zoom in to see what traffic flow on certain roads is like when planning journeys.”
Similarly, the Cheltenham & Gloucester has a mortgage calculator that helps visitors work out what monthly payments they can afford; Orange offers a service whereby you can send messages to Orange phones from its site; and Federal Express in the US allows customers to track the progress of their parcels by dialling into the site. All these elements are valuable to users and encourage them to revisit. To be successful, a site should be valuable, interesting, original and entertaining, while not losing sight of core brand values.
“Some sites merely duplicate information that can be found elsewhere. By all means, put the contents of your brochure on the Net, but do it in a useful and informative way,” says Chris Perry, managing partner of marketing and technology consultancy DNA Communications.
“Zanussi’s site, for example, contains a database that points potential customers towards the products they want and tells them where stores are,” he says. “It also emphasises the manufacturer’s commitment to leading technology and product development with the Zanussi Gallery of Design &
Innovation, which highlights good sites to be found elsewhere on the Web.”
Perry adds other ways of pulling customers in: “Games, puzzles or competitions can be used to add emotional value to the brand. Zanussi sponsors the British bobsleigh team and runs a bobsleigh game on the Net with prizes for the fastest entrant.”
Pete Brady is chief executive of Clearwater Communications, whose Crosswater company designed the Bertie Bassett site. “The site is quirky and different,” he says. “There’s a puzzle to play for which you can win a T-shirt; random visitors who register are sent Liquorice Allsorts; there’s a screensaver that can be downloaded; and you can send e-mail to Bertie.”
In this way, the site makes full use of opportunities offered by the technology of the Web, to create a totally new medium, which cannot be treated as a mere extension of other forms of communication.
Mark Wilson, creative and technical director at The Wire Station, designed the FT News Profile Alert site, which went live recently. “We had to work out how to take material developed for a static, linear medium to the Net, and how to represent the FT’s brand values without it looking like the newspaper,” says Wilson. “There are no pink backgrounds, but there are elements of the colour. It has a clear, high-quality layout with 3D icons representing the different sections.”
He adds: “Working in a non-linear medium is like taking Alice in Wonderland, tearing out all the pages and then putting them back together so you can read them in any order. You have to rethink the whole thing.”
“It’s important to appreciate another way the Web differs from other marketing media,” points out Trevor Diamond, account director at Lime, the new media division of Tequila UK. “It’s not an intrusive medium. You don’t hit consumers; they come to you.”
“Indeed, as prospects, not suspects, they are very open to any brand-building activity,” concludes Colin Gounden, Conduit Groupware Solutions managing director.
“Your site will be viewed by those who already have an interest in you. Offering interaction allows you to gather data on them in a passive way. All you have to offer them is an easy next step in progressing the relationship they have with your brand.”