Your article “Holes in the Net” (MW June 19) raised some interesting points about some recent retailing failures on the Internet, but only told half the story. Firstly, there have been some successes; secondly, there is a real strategic reason for failure: poor branding.
Roger Baird’s article quotes Richard Perkis of Verdict Research in reference to the Net: “It’s still appallingly unfriendly to use. The picture quality of products you are expected to buy needs to improve massively.”
The first point is probably right in many respects. Some sites are unfriendly and rely far too much on techno-gimmickry. However, there are very successful, money-making sites which are pitched firmly to their markets and have created their own brands.
On picture quality, 100 or so years ago, it was not an obstacle to Sears becoming the most successful mail-order company of all time. It created a catalogue that had very few pictures and certainly weren’t high quality.
At the moment, there are few sites that have actually developed their brand so that it works in a new media context, and so they aren’t translating their success from the high street to the Internet. Developing a credible brand on the Net is what will make the difference between success and failure for an Internet retailer, and rehashing a set of graphics with your logo and typeface isn’t enough. A brand on the Net starts with function – what you’re offering in terms of service or information – and then needs to be communicated through aspects like tone of voice and style of interaction, as well as graphics.
Branding on the Internet requires thought as to how your brand communicates with customers. This requires a leap in thinking about a brand and how to make it interactive – much in the way that a First Direct telephonist is the manifestation of the First Direct brand.
Many companies are going on-line without really knowing why. It’s time to stop thinking of the Internet as something just like other media – it is no more like any other medium than direct mail is like TV advertising.
There are limitations to what can be done on the Internet now, but they are outweighed by opportunities. Sitting around and waiting for the graphics to be of television quality means that you’re missing the true power of interactive media – creating a one-to-one relationship between brand and consumer in a truly global market.