We've all read about Web 2.0 and the impact it will have on 21st-century businesses. Some find the principles life altering, others say it's pure hype. Whichever camp you are in, you can't ignore the fact that business is changing—especially online.
As the owner of an online marketing and design company and a former marketing director at AOL, I've watched the Web grow and change since 1994. I've had to figure out how Web 2.0 principles actually impact online businesses right now so that my customers are prepared.
For this reason, I've targeted five categories that managers need to consider now to keep in step with Web 2.0 changes.
Step 1. Strategy
Take a hard look at your online strategy
Strategy was decidedly absent from 20th-century Web sites. Businesses developed their Web site based on what they knew about online selling at the time—not much. This foundation underpins many Web sites today, both large and small. Many companies dismiss a top-down review as difficult, costly and time-consuming. It's no less costly that a Web site with flat or declining revenues. I'm not recommending tossing everything out and starting over. What I do recommend is that you look at your Web site and see whether the strategy matches what you are trying to accomplish now.
Jason Jennings, in his book Think Big; Act Small, exhorts companies to embrace the qualities that smallness provides—quick improvements, employees close to the problem, and the ability to connect with customers. Identify the problems and make steady, planned improvements.
I use a technique called Mind Maps to analyze Web site strategy. It's easy to learn and cuts through the political barriers that prevent change.
Step 2. Target Markets
Narrow and multiply your target markets even more
Chris Anderson brought us the theory of the "Long Tail" as it applies to entertainment markets. In essence, it says that the future of the entertainment business lies in its ability to target millions of niche markets. This theory, of course, has application for all Web businesses. Narrowly defined demographics and psychographics are a must.
Narrowing target markets and customizing sales packages are the only way to ensure continuing growth. Users of Web 2.0 will expect more specialized sales packages and targeted content. Spend time developing personas that really reflect the customers you are selling to.
Step 3. Content
Analyze your online content like a direct marketer
Start thinking like a direct marketing copywriter... or hire one! Web sites are full of boring, impersonal content that no one wants to read. Generally, boring Web text is surrounded by good-looking graphics that are there to "add interest," but no value. The text quantity increases, and the revenues continue to decrease.
Get a professional copywriter to re-do your content so that it has relevance and impact. This is typically an area where managers won't spend any money. In-house staffers with no copywriting experience generally get the assignment, and it shows. Changing your content into marketing content is an important investment.
Step 4. Customer Relationships
Develop your customer relationship with a detailed sales process
No, this doesn't mean making the sales process overly complicated. It means crafting a sales process that is unique to your company and can't be copied by competitors.
Businesses need to sit down with the marketing and sales teams and create a process that gradually brings the customer into the fold and develops a relationship with your company that your competitors won't have. Generally, your competitors will dismiss this process as not worth the effort, so you will be rewarded.
An online lead followed up with a phone call just isn't enough anymore. No, sending a whitepaper isn't the answer, or at least it isn't the total answer. Start with a free e-book to gather an opt-in email address. Send a monthly newsletter. Invite the customer to a teleseminar. Ask for opinions, etc. Build a relationship using a relationship process unique to your company; otherwise, you become a commodity.
Step 5. Product/Services
Consider how to make your products or services more 'earth-friendly'
This is a growing trend—one you should not or will not be able to ignore. Just as Starbucks Coffee developed "Grounds for Your Garden," an initiative to reuse coffee grounds as compost, so will your customers expect your company to carry its weight. After the recent corporate scandals and rising gas prices, Americans are beginning to demand corporate responsibility.
Start thinking about how you can modify your products or enhance your services to become more socially aware of the environment. Within a few years, this will be a requirement for companies that wish to succeed.