SUPPLEMENT: THE INTERNET; Brands and the World Wide Web

Content is what matters most, said the Web experts at Marketing’s interactive forum

Content is what matters most, said the Web experts at Marketing’s

interactive forum



There’s a window of opportunity for brands to get a foothold on the

Internet - and it’s closing fast.



Felix Verlade, of multimedia group Hyperinteractive, reckons the window

will stay open for two years - and we’re already several months into it.



Verlade was one of more than a dozen experts in new media and marketing

who took part in a unique debate as part of the Multimedia ’96

exhibition at London’s Business Design Centre last week.



Marketing and its sister title, Campaign, organised three days of live

debate which covered every facet of marketing through new media.



Inevitably, much of the talk was of the Internet and, specifically, of

the World Wide Web. With so many brands dipping a toe into the water,

what would make the difference between a successful site and an also-

ran? There were many answers (see our fact box for some of the best),

but most important was ‘content’.



Early efforts by brands often amounted to little more than an electronic

brochure. But what incentive would a potential consumer have to visit a

site like that? Brands need to offer value, which can mean merchandise

but more often means information that can’t be accessed as easily

anywhere else.



That’s where Verlarde’s ‘window’ comes in: it’s those brands which

already have marketable alliances, such as Snickers and Euro ’96, that

can offer consumers something they’ll really want to see - while at the

same time getting a brand message across. There are still many areas of

opportunity for brands to create sites with good content, but as more

and more sponsorship deals are signed, the gaps get smaller.



So far, our panelists were in agreement. But there was fierce debate

over how to get the best out of a Web site. Verlarde argued firmly that

publicising a Web address (URL) in other media was a waste of time. If a

site was good enough, people would find it, and dragging them in through

heavy promotion simply muddied the water and made it difficult to

discover how effective the site itself was. What use is an advertising

medium that needs to be advertised itself, he argued?



Others disagreed strongly. In these days of integrated marketing, the

World Wide Web has a specific role to play as an information carrier, to

stand alongside other media such as press and TV. It makes perfect sense

to publicise a Web address as the place to go for more detail.



So what of the future for the Web? A show like Multimedia ’96 was bound

to be biased, and sure enough there were plenty of proponents of the Web

as the future of advertising. Others were less ambitious, but no less

positive.



‘I think it will stack up alongside other media as a powerful tool,

yes,’ said Chris Perry of DNA. ‘But do I think it will replace TV? No.’



How to keep them coming back



Our panelists were asked for their advice on how to make sure visitors

keep coming back to your site once it’s running. Here’s what they came

up with:



* Research - Marketing on the Internet is no different to any other

marketing activity. It can only work if you know which audience you’re

aiming for and what you want, stressed Mike Cobbe of Cobbe Smith Terris.



* Content - It’s simply not enough to carry information about your

brand. You need information your audience wants - and that usually means

paying for it. Since there’s a finite amount of really useful

information about (news, sports results, reviews and listings are

popular), brands with a long-term future on the Web need to forge

alliances with information providers now. As Belinda Mitchell Innes of

Carat Interactive pointed out, the best way is to leverage a sponsorship

you already have to provide fans with a Web site they really want to

visit, as Snickers has done with Euro ’96, for example. Would people

really visit just to find out more about chocolate bars? Our panel

didn’t think so.



* Interactivity - This is the whole point of the Web, isn’t it? Yet many

sites simply don’t offer enough interaction with the user. Looking at

pictures and reading text isn’t enough. many successful sites have

discussion groups where users can air their own opinions, but for legal

reasons it’s important to control what appears in them.



* Response - Some brand owners make the mistake of assuming that once a

Web site is set up that’s all they need to do. But users want fast

response, and it’s essential to have the people available to reply to e-

mail, fulfil orders and generally stay on top of things.



* Funding - All this costs money, and the consensus was that it’s

impossible to create a good Web site for anything less than pounds

30,000. Then there’s the ongoing costs of servicing it (see above).

Don’t start what you can’t afford to finish.



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