Episode Two: Reasons to WEB

Does the Web Pay?

Do businesses resort to the Web to sell their goods and services to keep up with the Jones'? Is it fashionable? Or is it practical? Does the Web pay? Well, all this depends on your perspective. I have often made it clear that the web is as much an experience for a customer or prospect as any other media. Itís like the perfume counter in the Mall or the pile of circulars that fall out of our local newspapers; however, common sense and, more importantly, an understanding of "people" sense will guide success or failure on the web. This understanding is central to good web design.

But this book is an "avoidance" manual, as I touted in my preface. So, let's find the wrong reasons and approaches to web design based on my own exposure to corporations, which in most areas understand their customers and the people involved in their commerce; but when it comes to the Web, they have taken the "wacky pill."

Some businesses just do not fit the web profile. If you have a tangible product, you do not need this book to tell you that you can use the web to promote, service, sell, collect payment and distribute that product. If you have a service, however, the Web becomes a less tangible avenue - and must be regarded as such. For example, if you deal with business to business information, delivering that information over the web may not increase your sales, but it will decrease your expenses. After all, if requests for service pour over phone lines on the web instead of phone lines to individuals, you can eliminate the manual and physical mouth-piece. If these requests can go against a direct database and be delivered via the web, you can save on all the clerks and postage needed in that process. Using simple email solutions, you could quickly answer questions, solve problems and perform a host of customer service activities. For service, this is the most important web contribution.

So, how do service corporations manage to mangle this simple notion up (to use an archaic and polite term for the better conceived and more aptly applied term - "fuck up.") First, some do not. They are guided by simplicity, clarity, easy web tools, managed expenses and cost-avoidance (that is not letting their technical department or the marketing team run away with the project). Some service organizations such as banks and credit card companies have gotten it correctly. There's no real panacea on the web for them - just increased savings; some good customer service and the use of "old" web programming solutions (bravo), such as UNIX servers, PHP or PERL, JavaScript, HTML and the rules of good web graphic design (simple and lite). Banks and Credit Card companies have long ago recognized that usury and financial servitude of the masses is a better source of income than throwing away blood money on expensive, newfangled, bleeding edge web projects.

Recipe for Web Failure

If you want a recipe for going to the web for the wrong reason and with the wrong service, here it is:

1 tablespoon of Confusion of Profit Channels

2 cups Webification of Old Services

A pinch of Branding

1/2 cup of finely chopped New Product

1/4 cup of Absence of Market Test

(or optionally, 3 lbs. of Over Marketing)

1 lb. braised Electronic Solution to the Exclusion of Humans

1 oz. of Senior Management reading too much on Flights to the Fanciful

The first step toward failure is to announce to the world that you will drive your current customers to the web to the exclusion of all other channels. Then "Confuse the Profit Channel" by regarding these customers as incremental income - new money. You do this by letting your customers know that you are on the Web for their benefit and convenience. The old ways of doing business with us are - 'pooh! Ptui! Yuk! How could you deal with us for 200 years!" After you insult them for their continued business, you then talk yourself into the myth that more people will be using your service on the web than in the past - so therefore, it's new money. We also believe that broken cookies have no calories.

Next, we manage to analyze all our old services to see which ones will work better on the web (usually none), and decide which ones will need to be "sunsetted." Ah! What a wonderful word that is, "sunsetted!" It conjures up visions of geese flying over an idyllic golden backdrop, maybe with some wispy clouds and a lake. "Norman! The looooons! The looooons!" What it actually means is that "Old Veys need to be Egxecuted vor der zake of der progrezz!"

Of course, when all is said and done, customers are -- dare I say it --- "people"; and a portion of them are as human as the "people" who are making the web transition for some major corporation; therefore, there is an aura of acceptance and encouragement from a portion of the population. But most people (customers) want value for money. Some are willing to pay a little extra for convenience; but, "convenience" must be delivered. In many cases, the web experience becomes a cold or confused "mush" of the "non" web experience. It should be simple, clear, fast and immediate; OR it should remain non-virtual, where it belongs.

Some corporate organizations approach the web as their opportunity to educate their customers to appreciate the new technology. Actually, most "people" could care less about the technology. If you can deliver a good service in the same place that I receive my news, my hobbies, my family pictures, my finances and my games, I might be interested. Offering me "clever" technology, puts me to sleep. In fact, there is really no business to business (B2B) equation on the web. It's business to an individual; which changes the entire approach. The interest in what you want your customer to do must appeal to a unit of one individual within that organization. Color scheme, free offers, clicks, navigation, patience with speed - all depend on a variable that is a wide as the Himalayas. Therefore, if you want to fail utterly, design the site the way you currently do business and ignore the fact that you're pissing off nine out of ten people who matter. Make your navigation "single minded" instead of redundant. Choose your graphics to appeal to white male heterosexual gym-bunnies. Use interactive forms based on ASP (Active Server Pages) to assure the slowest possible response. Require the user to upgrade their browser to allow you to do business, after all, they should want the latest technology, shouldnít they. It takes little effort to assure failure; BUT, it cost more to do so (yippie!); as all the above requires expensive complications. I will speak to each of these items in later chapters.

So, you are now calling your old business, new business - and you are pissing off new people in your old business with old services that should never seen the light of webbery OR have been webified in the old, fashion way, with technical staff (main-frame technical staff) in tow. Now, add a pinch of "branding" so the customer can remember the bad experience and shudder everytime they see your logo. I devote an entire chapter on the "branding" experience (an experience you will think I am fibbing about; but, is based on one hundred percent truth, names changed to protect the branded innocent; or guilty in this case).

Secret Marketing Opportunities

Next, you put on your cap and decide you need to have a WEB product. This is something new, completely devised to make you money on the web. This takes a deal of creativity, something you might be lucky to have; but, also takes a deal of capital, which you can invest from all the cost-savings you expect to realize when you get rid of all those service agents. Right? There are two approaches to this subject.

1 - Ask your customer what they want to see on the web.

2 - Don't ask your customer what they want to see on the web. Surprise 'em.

One is called - marketing; the other, "no marketing". The simple approach, or I should say the correct "web" approach is to offer "FREE" information, simply accessed to assure the customer returns to your site, because they found the experience pleasurable and useful (and free). FREE stuff needs to be developed by the cheapest means. However, FREE is a marketing football. If it's FREE, it has no value traditionally. That's because, in the B2B world, businesses can never realize that FREE stuff is valuable. If itís worth getting, it needs to have a price. Of course, the web is not B2B; therefore, the rule of FREE=worthless does not apply. But, we'll ignore that and charge $200.00 for something "people" will flock to for free (and in that case also see your products and services); and at that price, effectively reduce traffic for it to zero. "Of course they'll take it if it's free," the veteran of Marketer will state. "$200 for a business is inexpensive!" But web visitors from businesses do not think that way. They think, "what the F--k! What a rip off! I hate this company and will never come again!!!" (1/2 cup of Branding will also give them future forewarning to run in the opposite direction of your logo).

Letís get back to new businesses on the web and what they should be. Any good web designer will tell you that a game or quiz; OR access to some news on your service industry with a little cartoon is very new. Or better still, a FREE class or glossary go a long way to an individual's appreciation for the business they give or might give you. Yet, I have sat in meetings (long, long meetings) to brain storm on everything to creating entire "widget" applications to delivering "muff-muffs" in email format to an untried and unappreciated muff-muff consuming public. I can still see the white boards filled with diagrams on how the information would flow, be formatted, reformatted, networked, servered, severed, painted, set to music, costumed and presented in three acts at the Metropolitan opera -- whoops! That's Wagner not the web. But I have often stated that many of these projects were Grand Opera instead of Operetta. Most should not have been at all.

One good opportunity, usually missed by the Wagnerian loving marketing/technology crew is that Market prototyping on the web can cost "pennies." But if you can't spend a gazillion dollars on prototypes and manage to complete it, with at least twelve test groups, then it cannot be taken seriously. I am frustrated by the huge expense involved in marketing the old fashion way by ignoring one of the web's most important opportunities. "Throw away" programming.

There, I said it! Hundred of technocrats, no thousands, have just felt their well deserved ulcers kick-in. Because you can hire a community college student and partner them with an assistant business manager, you can with ease create prototypes of the "Grand Opera" - in a week or two. A dozen friendly customers can give you their opinion; and if that opinion stinks, you can cut your losses (not what you've already spent, but what you would have) and move on to the next bullet point of the planning meeting. If they love it, hire the Community College student full time and give them the next bullet point to develop.

The 100% Electronic Chair (XXQ Corp.)

Often, one of the worst contributions of the technology team to these proceedings is their insistence that the solution be 100% electronic. The web is a collection of old technologies mixed with new advances. It is also a "people" place, primarily. 100% electronic, means "I wanna fail and fail BIG." A mixture of email, pages, databasing, people review and routing, people speaking on telephones, people doing people things, is the best solution for web applications - and the least expensive; as it implements fast and begins producing results.

What I am about to tell you is astonishing and is the truth about a project I was involved with for over five years as my company partnered with another. It was the other - anonymous company we'll call XXQ Corp - that had this raging great idea to make money in a non-traditional market.

Without revealing specifics, the idea was to allow small businesses to sign-up for XXQ Corp's traditional services on line at a discount. XXQ Corp decided not to do any marketing at all on the new segment. I was asked to map out a solution for one portion of the overall proposed service. It all sounded good to me; and as a "rogue", I pieced together an inexpensive solution, which used a combination of electronic and manual processes. These was immediately rejected, because all solutions on this project needed to be 100% Electronic. Fine. I liked my solution and applied to my own web job. The result was an investment of $1,000 and revenue return of $1.8 million. Nice ratio, don't you think? But alas, I tangent.

XXQ Corp's project team consisted of a staff of more than twenty programmers, two technical managers, 3 project directors, 15 departmental representatives, 12 partnership consultants, 1 partnership coordinator and a top dog, who's very suggestion was a command. Since our company was charging XXQ Corp for our participation, our considerable forces were at least accounted for on the budget line. With such forces, the Pyramids could be rebuilt. Communications were paramount consisting of several high-level meetings at XXQ Corps headquarters and weekly conference calls. The Requirement documents alone for this project rivaled the King James Bible, and like the Bible, greatly opened to interpretation.

The system was built over the course of eight months, producing a prototype which supported the three customers who tested it. There were some problems, so for the next eight months, the system was retempered, by new people, except top dog, so it was like building it again from scratch; then, it was built again from scratch, for an additional six months. The system actually garnered twelve customers after four years, and after five years a place in the Guiness Book of World records for the biggest technological boondoggle since Touch N'Smell Graphics on the Web.

Jaundyce vs Jaundyce: The New Bleak House

What we have here is a typical case of bringing services that have no place on the web to the web. It is an example of how technocratic budgets can toss away dollar after dollar if they get the chance to do so. It's not their fault. They were born to it. I blame the executives who, like little boys at a magic show, fail to recognize smoke and mirrors. And that's the last ingredient in the recipe.

Someone needs to put his or her foot down. If someone at XXQ said, "What in hell's name are you guys talking about! We never made money in that marketing segment here on the earth where we walk and squawk daily. How do you expect us to turn a dime there with a 100% electronic solution?" Instead, for some mysterious reason, known only to God and conscience, the project went on apace and apace and apace ---- and guess what. You guessed it. As of this writing, it is still going on. Itís like the old, Victorian law-suit, Jaundyce vs Jaundyce in Dicken's Bleak House. Know one knows what itís about, except it's there to bleed funds dry until there's nothing left, even for the royal executioners - the banks!!

So, in summary (don't you hate last chapter paragraphs that begin that way). I'll oblige again - So, in summary, if you want to definitely fail on the web:

    1. devise a new product that no one wants;
    2. price it to loose money;
    3. assure that the expense of development will erode your overall profit line;
    4. install a project structure that will keep this sink-hole going for years;
    5. and, prepare a good closing statement for your trial.

Just think how many third world country budget's you could supplement with the cost-avoidance of such a project, and write it off as a charitable donation.

If your core service has thrived without the web, it will continue to thrive. If the competition goes to the web, and they eat your shorts, then your services should have been there; but, in most cases, the web will eat their shorts and you have a free source of marketing research on the matter. Attract visitors to your site - entertain them and use the lowest common denominator to snag the most number of prospects. Give them puzzles and information and access to FREE stuff Ė which is new and novel. Rely on the judgment of that wild-ass, tattered jean, blue-mohawked web designer you hired rather than old paper-pushing Market Nitpicker and the "I see the future" Technocrat. The wild can be tamed - and they are hungry. The sedate are sedated and are on creative diets. They have their place - brochures and main-frames - but the Web? Give me a break - and yourself one as well. Happy decision making, hopefully in the shower, where the steam will clear up every eventuality.