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Think e-business, not website - strategy leads and online presence follows (Cont..) e-business strategy

-- Vinny Alex

At its core, a strategy must answer the following seven questions:

1. What is our current business mission and vision? How will an online presence help achieve this?Amazing though it may seem, many organizations have no idea why they should be in the internet, except that the latest management consultant recommended it. It is important that any initiative (online or offline) needs to finally link up to the business vision. This linkage will also affect what the website will be expected to do.

2. Who is my target product market?In addition to understanding the target market in demographic and psychographic dimensions, an online strategy also needs inputs on the online behavior patterns of the target audience. How often and how long do they spend online? What sites do they frequent? How much do they spend online? Such understand can often mean the difference between online success and failure. Buyer anonymity, ease of purchase and ability to easily 'shop around' all play a role in ensuring that online buyer behavior is often very different from conventional offline behavior.

3. What is my value proposition to them?While the internet adds the convenience of reaching out to an audience unrestricted by geography and time, it also 'depersonalizes' the shopping experience. Subsequently, factors such as 'friendly shop assistants' and 'friendly neighborhood ambience' are far more difficult to replicate online. This means that unless there is a clear value proposition to the customer, it is all too easy for a customer to switch from organization to another. After all, your competition is only a click away, and that's just as far as you.

4. How will I reach out to them?Until amazon.com came along, banner advertising was considered to be the best way to make your target audience aware of your existence. Amazon changed all that with their 'affiliate program' and all of a sudden, banner advertising got intelligent. So dramatic was the program, that Amazon soon hit No 1 on the e- store popularity charts (and has remained up there pretty much since). Google estimates that there are over one trillion web pages on the internet today. Unless there is a clear plan to become visible to your target audience, the website will be doomed to cyberspace oblivion.

5. What will they do once they come to my site?As the study by Gartner showed all to clearly, good navigation and the ability to find what one is looking for, quickly and with minimum effort is still notable by it's absence. Although technologies such as XML and self learning programs now make it easier to predict what a visitor will probably be looking for, effective implementation of these technologies in a manner that substantially improves user experience on the site is still some way off.

6. What technology options should I opt for?One final aspect that any strategy must address is the technology aspect. With Microsoft, IBM, and Sun all offering the moon (and the stars as well, at a minimum upgrade price!) one must choose ones technology platform with care. Conventional Java / JSP and ASP programming is definitely on it's way out, being replaced by technologies such as Microsoft.Net, J2EE and Zope which allow for highly scalable solutions. Web Services now give us the flexibility to provide a customer a downloadable 'storefront', which sits on the customers PC and enables him to buy products from a number of different websites, without even having to move from website to website. It would certainly be wise to look at these technologies that provide a promise of stable, long-term customer relationship.

7. Define the Roadmap for improvementIt would, at best, be naïve and at worst, be suicidal to show all your cards upfront while planning for an online presence. The internet has speeded everything up to near instantaneous speed, and this goes for replicating business models as well. As your website becomes successful, you can be sure that with a few months, there will be a slew of copycat sites that do essentially the same things you do. In order to ensure the competitive edge, you must plan for a Phase 2 during the initial planning stage itself. In addition, you need to keep a close watch on key metrics such as the number of unique visitors coming to the sites, conversion rate and the total returns through the site. These inputs need to go into the planning for Phase 3, which is probably the phase that will focus more on aligning the site to the user needs and adding the 'bells and whistles' to the site.

Think E-Business

 
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