Think e-business, not website - strategy leads and online presence follows
-- 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
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.
Mathematical models like statistical analysis play a major part
in web metrics