Why big budgets won’t guarantee Net success

Huge online marketing budgets are a smokescreen for what really makes a Web brand prosper – an understanding of this new medium, says Colin Mills

If you had just landed on Earth from Mars, you would be forgiven for thinking that the marketing services industry is gripped by a phenomenon – the .coms have landed. Almost daily there is an announcement of an e-business launching, backed by big marketing budgets. Even if we weren’t all born yesterday, we would think that a few of the headlines announcing online start-ups may be a touch misleading – “trotter.com to launch online pig castration business with £20m” is tough for even our industry to believe.

Nevertheless, we all know that the Internet market is one we ignore at our peril.

The rush for expertise in online marketing is on – agencies want to offer the definitive service in planning for and evaluating the successful launch of a Web-based business. Even the Government continually assures non-believers that the quick route to corporate apocalypse is to be a Web-avoider, and recently introduced Alex Allan as their “Internet czar” who’d like to teach the world to surf.

But success on the Net is not guaranteed – just showing up does not mean you will win. A commercial model around which the business plans for many Internet companies are built often demands quick growth. But these companies forget that many consumers are nervous about the security of the Net – they will not transact unless they trust the brand they are dealing with.

The Internet brands that survive and prosper in this new age of retailing will focus on understanding what the e-consumer wants, not what they think they should have. Throwing money at an idea will not mask the value and viability of that idea. And online marketers need to beware of the self-proclaimed kings of the jungle – media owners.

For many years, advertisers have had to contend with a media market in which prices have risen at a rate way ahead of the increases they are able to justify to their consumers. It is essential for all advertisers, and particularly new entrants, that this advertising sector is not used as a smokescreen to hide the real demand for media time and space.

According to Media Monitoring Service (MSS), Internet businesses have invested a total of about £50m in media advertising so far this year. If you are launching a Web-based brand, the challenge you have to meet may not be as intense as you are being led to believe.

To many of us, the level of demand that will be created by Web entrants is of little importance – the real issue is how our understanding of this new medium can add value.

Devising a communications plan for a virtual brand is not subject to the normal rules. The sales platform offered by a computer or TV screen demands different thinking, new relationships with media owners and more creative approaches.

Whatever technology may permit, the best ideas will prevail.

Colin Mills is managing director of Carat

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