During its short existence as a commercial medium, the Internet has appeared to offer a significant opportunity for new companies. It seemed to provide a unique chance for a fresh wave of cyberbrands to challenge the established brands of the real world.
A small number of companies have taken advantage of this opportunity. Among the most notable of these is Amazon.com which has carved out a powerful position as an online bookstore.
Amazon was quick to recognise the logic of associating its offer with the search engine Yahoo. Its “find related books” ad is a constant presence accompanying every Yahoo search, and it has helped Amazon to establish itself as the most easily accessible online retailer of published information.
But Amazon is the exception rather than the rule. Remarkably few Internet start-ups have established themselves as major online brands. Many of those that grew with the new medium are beginning to see their fortunes change as the world’s long-established “real world” brands fight back. The majority of “most visited” Internet sites (Source: Media Metrix) may still be exclusively Internet based companies, but most of these offer services that allow people to access or to search the Internet.
As the Economist recently pointed out, it is no surprise that these companies get a lot of traffic, just as “the pavement in front of a real life row of shops gets a lot of traffic.” Without these companies, the list looks more familiar to the real world consumer – and suggests that the established brands of the real world are transferring their consumer appeal to the virtual one.
Part of the success of global, “real world” brands on the Internet must be attributed to the financial resources on which they are able to draw, both for marketing and for establishing attractive, informative and user-friendly sites. By delaying their arrival on the Internet they have also been able to learn from the mistakes made by the pioneers of cyberspace.
But their success is also a testament to the power of brands to build close and lasting relationships with consumers. For the majority of consumers the Internet remains alien territory.
It is not surprising therefore that as they come online consumers instinctively seek out the brands they know and with which they enjoy a relationship of trust.
For experienced brand builders this provides a satisfying illustration of the value of investing in brands over time.
As a result of their long-term commitment to brands they are finding themselves in a strong position to exploit the loyalty of their consumers.
The real challenge for these companies now will be to ensure that the online versions of their existing services provide genuine benefits, above and beyond their real-world offer.