Why Net needs a marketing vision

The future of e-commerce looks much more promising now that Web responsibility is passing to marketers. They are focusing the Net on consumers, and making it pay its way, says John Shannon

Europe’s marketing departments are increasingly taking over responsibility for their company Websites, according to a study conducted by the Internet Marketing Research Centre in Belgium.

The research found that in Belgium alone the number of company Websites run by marketing departments has increased from 11.5 per cent a year ago to 20.7 per cent.

Internet consultancy Nua says this desire to fuse marketing and Web responsibilities on the part of European companies is in keeping with the trend in the US. Earlier this month the US company Zona Research recorded that the number of marketing executives responsible for corporate e-commerce strategy had risen from 15 per cent in the first quarter of the year to 28 per cent at the close of the second quarter.

The shift reflects a growing awareness of what the Internet can achieve. It is in stark contrast to the early days of e-commerce, when Websites were frequently constructed with little thought for their purpose and relevance. Now companies are learning to apply the same rigorous marketing disciplines they use for all other commercial activities to the development of Websites. They are also turning to consultants schooled in the disciplines of marketing to help them develop Web strategies which bring real commercial and brand benefits.

Clive Cooper, the Brand Futures Consultancy’s founding partner, says his organisation is increasingly being asked to look at the future of Web projects from a consumer perspective. Unencumbered by the technophilia of pure e-commerce and Web consultants, his team of brand and marketing experts applies sophisticated consumer intelligence and marketing knowledge to help clients identify and unlock the true potential of their online activities.

“We are doing a lot of thinking about how the Web will change consumer shopping behaviour,” he says.

“It is clear that there are areas where the Web really comes into its own – such as individual specialised buying where visual and aural stimulation are important. In other areas where service is key, for example, traditional retailing techniques are obviously preferable. Success will depend on companies knowing their product and their consumers and integrating their online and traditional activities so that each enhances the other.”

As the number of Europe’s households accessing the Internet continues to rise, Websites are fast becoming accepted, not as a novelty, but as a familiar part of everyday life for millions of consumers. For them the wonder of new technology soon wears off – to be inevitably replaced by a need for tangible benefits.

John Shannon is president of Grey International

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