British businesses must tap into Web’s potential

Large US companies are dashing to join the Web and develop online marketing strategies. But in the UK we still seem unsure that online information is really for us.

A recent survey conducted on behalf of law firm Eversheds (MW October 30) reinforced suggestions that a toe-in-the-water approach is being adopted by most British businesses marketing themselves on the Web.

A low-budget Website, bereft of animation or graphics, managed by IT companies rather than Web design agencies or in-house marketing departments, appears to be the typical state of online strategy.

In particular, the survey found that only five of the 111 respondents said it was worth spending more than 5,000 to develop and maintain a Website using Web design agencies, with 15,000 the maximum being spent.

The results appear to reflect two contradictory trends on Web strategy so far as British business is concerned:

Many very small companies are benefiting from the Internet. A plethora of bucket shops and one-man-bands selling Websites (not design and consultancy services) can deliver simple sites with limited marketing applications very cost effectively.

The fact that budgets at the upper end of the spectrum are so low indicates that many larger companies underestimate the opportunities online marketing present.

I’d still like to imagine we are about 18 months behind the US in our use of the Internet for business and entertainment – and catching up fast.

The Internet is already proving attractive to dynamic smaller UK business players which, in common with their US counterparts, see it as an essential “corporate leveller”. It’s the larger UK companies and brands which seem to be dragging their heels.

Yet, if UK plc did get off the fence, it would have easy access to all the world-leading British skills in design, advertising, service and finance which would create an explosive influence on the Internet.

So why don’t UK businesses take online marketing more seriously? A few are doing so very effectively – but not telling anyone else about it. Why would they want to announce that they are achieving a lot in a medium rivals are ignoring?

This is not to advocate blind enthusiasm, unlimited budgets, nor indeed to say that all companies and brands will achieve sufficient benefits to justify aggressive online strategies.

What major brands need to understand is that, though the Internet offers significant opportunities for some and lesser ones for others, the online battle with rivals must be considered with the same seriousness as conventional market battlegrounds.

Maybe I and our US cousins have got it all wrong. Maybe a minimal investment in information channels is the most canny approach to the global market. But somehow I don’t think so.

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