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Businesses urged to get with the program
By Rhys Stacker

BUSINESS leaders who feel they are maximising the potential of the Internet were given a reality check at two recent seminars in Perth.

Director of successful real estate aussiehome, Charlie Gunningham, told seminar delegates that, while there was great potential for the Net to be used as a cheap, effective marketing tool, WA businesses were failing to capitalise on the opportunity.

Mr Gunningham said although it was important for business leaders to ascertain what they needed in a website before taking the plunge, developing a successful web strategy didn’t require bucketloads of money and months of research.

It was vital businesses had a clear idea of their expectations from a website before committing time and money to site development, he said.

"There are websites and there are websites. Some businesses want high-level flash graphics that advertise their brand. Others, such as, wanted to be able to give customers the information fast, so you build a database-driven site with simple, fast loading graphics," Mr Gunningham said.

He cautioned businesses to research exactly what they wanted out of their website, and what it needed to do for their customers, before going to IT professionals.

Mr Gunningham took the side of IT professionals, who he said had often been unfairly portrayed as "rip off merchants" in the past. He said it was foolish to believe hiring a good web design company would solve a company’s web strategy problems.

"I think that way of thinking is not as common now since the crash, where a lot of people got overexcited at what they thought websites could do for them," Mr Gunningham said.

"But there are still people who think by hiring a good IT company the world will be rosy.

"It is up to the business to know who their customers are, what they want, what the company is delivering to them and why they would want to come to your website."

Mr Gunningham extolled the virtues of including e-commerce applications into a website. He said the site would not necessarily generate revenue from B2B transactions, but it did have the potential to save costs.

"I believe about 90 per cent of the successful websites at the moment are the B2B websites that are delivering cost savings between businesses. It allows you to order supplies online, which is an efficient way of doing business," Mr Gunningham said.

"A lot of big companies are using the web in this way, internally, using an intranet to order and keep track of supplies. They can streamline a lot of processes there and it seems to be working very well."

8M Communications managing director Thomas Murrell said businesses were failing to take advantage of the marketing opportunities afforded by the Internet.

"Business people are more wary and cynical now after the crash," he said.

"But what they don’t really understand is how to harness the power of the Internet as a marketing tool."

Mr Murrell said consumers were becoming cynical towards marketing techniques in the print, television and radio media and suggested permission marketing was the next step in reaching consumers.

"We’re finding consumers are becoming more and more cynical to marketing efforts," he said.

"The average person gets bombarded by about 1500 marketing messages a day. With permission marketing, consumers are happy to give out their email addresses to obtain more information on a product or a service."

However, Mr Murrell said it was important not to over-rely on the Internet to communicate with customers and clients.

"It’s starting to swing back the other way, where people really appreciate a phone call. Just yesterday I phoned two clients and both of them said ‘look, I really appreciated the call,’" he said.

"On the other hand, if your are regularly communicating with them via email, because it is so cheap to do so, then you are continuously keeping in touch with your clients and developing a relationship."

According to Mr Murrell, marketing a website using on and offline techniques didn’t have to be a costly exercise. Including web addresses in marketing material such as business cards could be just as effective as other forms of advertising, he said.

"It still blows me away the amount of people who neglect to include their web address on their business card, or their brochures," he said.

Courtesy of WA Business News, 9th August 2001.

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