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IN NET ADVERTISING, THE CUSTOMER IS STILL KING

What is so fascinating about online marketing is not how the old rules don't apply, but rather how they are not applied even when they are appropriate (''Branding on the Net,'' Marketing, Nov. 9). Somewhere in the mad rush to advance the technology that drives the Internet, almost the entire industry has made the determination that the audience must be made to fit the technological model, when it should be the other way around.

This error has technology departments wasting time and money on ''improving'' banner ads and has marketing departments whining that their campaigns online have not met expectations. The most ridiculous assumption is that somehow, when a person sits down in front of a computer screen, thought processes become completely different from what they were before. Yet this is how most Internet marketing plans are determined.

I'm currently incorporating additional advertising models into my Web site that pay more attention to the desires of the audience than to the available technology. This has resulted in additional focus from the audience, better response online, and the flexibility to get more traditional responses (such as in-store traffic, phone calls, or participation in a promotion). This is based on an old marketing rule: Understand your audience, and the attention will follow. Even in the new, frantic Internet advertising industry, that's a rule well worth following.


Jim Brody
Mystic, Conn.

Ellen Neuborne and Robert D. Hof do a great job of highlighting the problems with Internet advertising, but they did not go into much detail on the impact that transactions have on branding. The successful Internet marketers mentioned in the piece--Yahoo!, AOL, and Amazon.com--all have one thing in common: Each is truly interactive. Customers can get the information, or buy the product that they need, in real time.

Real interactivity is the answer Internet marketers are seeking. And with new technologies, this banner ad space will become more valuable, not less, as the authors write. The next-generation banner is more like a ministore--a blend of advertising and E-commerce. These new E-commerce sites expand to allow consumers to request more information, chat in real time with a customer-service representative, request telephone callback, or simply purchase a product, all without leaving the original Web site they were browsing. I'm betting that some advertisers may replace expensive, hard-to-measure Web sites with ministores soon.


Tom Burgess
CEO
9th Square
Newport, R.I.

What traditional companies need to understand about building a brand in cyberspace is simple: Put serving your customers first, for real. The Net is the ultimate word-of-mouth vehicle. The reason Amazon.com Inc. has been so successful has everything to do with the fact that early adopters tried it, liked it, and told hundreds or thousands of their cyberfriends about it.

Amazon.com offers great prices, great service, and a unique ability for customers to communicate with each other. What other company has encouraged its customers to post comments about products--positive or negative--in a prominent position? Is Procter & Gamble ready to let customers' unvarnished opinions about the latest soap be publicized for all to see? How about Chrysler opening up its minivan product-description page for owners to post their likes and dislikes?

Those who haven't participated might be surprised how fair and accurate such information tends to be. Recently, while car-shopping, I posted requests for recommendations and warnings about the car dealers in my area. The consistency of responses amazed me. When five different individuals write to praise dealer X and five others write to complain about dealer Y, then the information becomes compelling.

All of this scares the pants off traditional marketers. Companies that are committed to quality, value, and service have nothing to fear. Companies that only pretend to be, watch out!


John T. Horner
Morgan Hill, Calif.


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Updated Nov. 19, 1998 by bwwebmaster
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