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Using Web Technology as a Means to Strengthen Competitive Advantage
Many companies underestimate the value of using their websites to gain a significant competitive advantage in their given markets. Most businesses only use their website as a means of displaying their company profile, product listing as well as things like their contact details and email address.
Alex Margarit on the danger of “preaching to the converted”. [http://alexmargarit.com] illustrates some of the ways in which a company’s website, when used as an effective Internet Marketing Channel, can increase its competitive advantage.
It’s pretty safe to say that managers should always view web technology in light of the entire marketing mix rather than just as an extension of their existing advertising efforts. I’ve seen this happen again and again and so it’s my duty to try to highlight some of the ways a website can positively impact each of these elements of the marketing mix:
Ways to increase your distribution networks may be using the web portal to increase logistics, create new marketing channels (eg affiliate channels) or provide better or faster product delivery to customers. However, be careful when creating new e-commerce sites because it is important to do a thorough analysis of the online market for your product to ensure that you are also competitive with other competitors on the Internet. Internet retailers such as Amazon are growing in size and dominance and should be considered when planning an online strategy. Affiliate marketing channels can also be another thing in terms of getting traffic to your website. New marketing and information channels are easily established by creating an affiliate program in which other companies list your website URL on their pages, which in turn can equal more traffic for your website. Look at your current business offers; Can you increase or strengthen these channels using effective and relevant links?
The growth of Internet access is inevitable and companies are advised to start the web advertising function as soon as possible. The reason for this is that “staying power” is very important as more and more people start using the network. Firms that have been around the longest and that have high levels of connectivity will always maintain a huge competitive advantage over new entrants. Once a company’s web page has established a decent ranking and is visible on other relevant websites, the ability of companies to use this coverage to reach new domestic and international markets can be very powerful. The success of large Internet advertising campaigns is well documented. For me the last US election was a real eye-opener as Internet marketing played a dominant role in mainstream advertising campaigns with significant amounts of marketing messages being sent to audiences via the Internet.
Email marketing lists are also a great way to stay in touch with your customers and using them effectively can provide a valuable marketing and information channel. The benefits are two-fold with marketers’ ability to use them to increase brand awareness while strengthening customer relationships. Newspapers and other marketing can be used to inform customers about new products or services as well as provide them with relevant information designed for value and a “good read”. A word of caution, though, make sure you clearly state your privacy and anti-spam policy so you don’t violate anti-spam laws. You will need to get the customer’s consent first and also provide an opt-out link so they can choose whether they want to receive your communications.
In addition to overseeing the product portion of the marketing mix, an Internet portal can significantly strengthen your existing product offering. There are many ways a website can increase your product offering, from offering new products related to the website to setting up affiliate programs. Providing better services that strengthen the core product appeal is an important way to effectively match products to customer needs. This often involves creating secondary or ancillary products that can be sold or provided for free. These additional offers can help generate higher, sometimes passive income as well as increase a company’s potential differentiation. Here are some ways your company can do this:
1. Establish a knowledge base that your customers can access, include an FAQ or question function that allows your customers to ask you for information. This helps them to use the service better or more efficiently.
2. Using a feedback form where customers can provide feedback on their needs and product recommendations can help you determine valuable information about your customers’ needs.
3. If you have a product that is difficult to operate, providing free training or support can help your customers overcome the difficulties.
Many firms actually charge their customers for the support department so you have to look at the current competitive situation to determine if this is something you can implement. Either way product promotions can include increasing the availability of products and services by placing order forms and support forms on your website.
Automating some of the company’s functions using web technology often equates to significant savings in operating costs – provided you do it right of course! For example, having an effective internal order form can reduce sales staff costs. Because online ordering doesn’t require a sales representative to take the call and then efficiently turn it around, it costs a certain percentage of the employee’s time for the inquiry. Encouraging customers to use the web form as opposed to other means of ordering the product may be an effective means of reducing these costs. Ways a company might want to do this is by offering a “better deal” to Internet customers to reflect the cost of staff reductions in the price. Also, this can help establish a pattern of online behavior in your customers that can sometimes translate to other online company functions such as support pages.
These are just a few ways in which an effective online strategy can turn your small website into a virtual expense and income generating machine. I encourage you to make the most of what you have and remember that the constant evolution of new web technology is always beneficial if you decide it may or may not be for you. Naturally, not all web technology is suitable for every company and it is important to be aware that continuous development can be expensive both in terms of time and in terms of development and other infrastructure costs. Effective development research as well as cost, change and market analysis is very important to ensure that the benefits of any change do not outweigh any real investment costs.
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