All under control? Web site polished. Intranets and extranets humming away nicely. Plans for electronic commerce in place. So, what have you got to be worried about?
?The thing that is really beginning to frighten people is the cost of content management. That?s the fear factor.? says Diane Charlton, managing director of Fusion Interactive, which is part of the contract publisher TPD, and Web site developer to Microsoft, Apple and Gateway 2000. The problem is that, as the possibilities of the Internet expand, the standards go up and the costs spiral.
?The technology is ahead of the content,? admits Charlton. ?It?s even ahead of the direct marketing disciplines. What you can do in terms of measurement is still something they would dream about.? We?ll only really be able to measure the effectiveness of the Web, Charlton believes, when the ability to generate the content catches up with the technology.
So, it?s vital to have a strategy for managing the content for your Web site. It doesn?t have to be all that whizzy. Some of the most compelling sites have the simplest approaches to content management.
Polonet relies on the small but highly motivated polo-playing community to keep its site up to date. Similarly, Gateway 2000, one of Charlton?s customers, majors on the fact that its customers are comfortable with technology: being able to configure a PC precisely before placing an order for it is a real benefit to them.
But the simple approach only works if there is a strategy behind it ? a clear place for the Web in the overall marketing campaign and a way of co-ordinating Web content with advertising and in-house management information systems.
This requires a plan agreed with the Web site developer to bring the content maintenance tasks in-house ? so the cost will not run out of control, and an explicit choice to be made between buying software to equip a site for secure commercial transactions or using what is provided by the major Internet service providers like BT and Uunet.
Sites like those set up by Gateway 2000 and Channel 4, are upping the ante. Not necessarily in terms of expenditure (although it is no longer unusual for companies to spend $3m to $4m on Web activities), but in terms of what they are delivering to the business.
However small or large your investment is, if you are serious about it, you will want to see that the content is meeting the needs of its target market spot on. If it is not driving them back for more, it is not doing a proper job for your business.
Subject: Roxton Sporting?s Polonet
Activities: sports clothing specialist
David Hughes, polo manager at sports clothing specialist Roxton Sporting, says he got the idea for the site on a trip to the US. ?I was at Palm Beach talking to some Americans,? says Hughes. ?They already do a lot of their organising on the Internet ? flying in their horses, sorting out who?s playing ? so when I asked one of them why he played at a particular club in England, he said: ?Because they?re on the Internet ? that?s how I organise my life?.
Hughes thought he could see the idea working at his own club back in the UK. ?Most of the guys who play at Edgeworth are in the City. They?re mainly 30-45 year olds who?ve made some money and are now patrons of the sport. They are used to tapping into computers for prices; they talk to each other using email, so it was a natural progression.
On the site, known as Polonet, visiting players looking for a ride can post their availability on the riders? database. Clubs who send in match reports and results get the right to the advertising revenue from their bit of the site. Prices in Roxton?s catalogue (for the mallets, helmets and picnic hamper every polo player requires) are updated by the managing director?s personal assistant when she changes them in Roxtons? polo shops. Around a quarter of the site is taken by Roxton?s retailing activities, the remainder being dedicated to the needs of players at the 30 or so UK clubs. Hughes is trying to position the site as the first port of call for the international polo community.
?The professional clubs are still in the Dark Ages when it comes to technology,? says Hughes. ?When they do emerge, I want my site to be there.?
Hughes says that the Polonet site was developed with help from ISP Epinet using Icat transaction software. He is keeping the cost of updating low by doing most of it in-house.
?It?s expensive if you use a company like Epinet,? says Hughes. ?They charge by the hour. So we set up sections of the site that we can update ourselves.? The flexibility of the Icat transaction software makes this possible because it is not tied to the content.
?With Icat we have the capability to change the catalogue prices from the office,? says Hughes. We haven?t so far ? I?m not computer literate but my PA will spend a couple of hours at Epinet being trained so we can do it ourselevs. Then we can change it quickly, if necessary. Hughes says the main reasons for price changes are the shipping costs ? many of the goods are brought across from Argentina ? and changes in the exchange rate. Updating the site will be carried out at the same time as prices are updated in the shop and Hughes has managed to keep the direct costs down.
?The Icat system is quite expensive to put in,? he says. ?But it?s the only one to give you a shopping basket and the checkout feature, which we liked a lot. Epinet did quite a lot for us as we?re their first Icat customer. Putting the whole catalogue on the Web cost us between #5,000 and #6,000 ? around #3,500 for the Icat software and #1,500 for the photographs.
Subject: Channel 4
Activities: television company
Consultants: On Line Magic
?There are some ponderous Web offerings from big business in this country,? says Sophie Walpole who runs the Channel 4 Web operation. ?You cannot be corporate in this medium. Just look at last year?s sites; they?ve spent all that money and now they?re dead.? Walpole, who has a background in Teletext, says it is vital to keep Web sites moving.
Channel 4 is spending around #500,000 a year on its Web site to do just that. The channel started with a very clear idea of what it wanted the Web site to do.
?It had to promote the programmes,? says Walpole, ?get some interaction going and be somewhere for hard copy information, like the annual report. The priority is to build a relationship with people on the Web and get them to watch the programmes.? They are currently receiving more than 100,000 hits a day for their coverage linked to the ?Wanted? show and the national basketball championships.
Walpole has a permanent team of eight people working full time on the Web site: five at developers On Line Magic plus a further three in-house. On Line Magic does the packaging and the in-house team sources the content, very often from their TV production colleagues.
?After ?Wanted?,? says Walpole, ?it will be the Tour de France. I?ll get a writer to take the feeds from the production team covering the race and produce copy for the site. By then, On Line Magic will have prepared the look and feel of the site and we?ll drop in the content.? Walpole says the close relationship with the Web site developer and the fact everybody works so hard is the only way this cutting edge operation can run efficiently.
?We telework,? agrees Will Richards, lead designer at On Line Magic. ?It?s a partnership which has been built up over a year. What we want to do is build the site, keep the creative stuff going. We throw the day-to-day-stuff back to Channel 4.? The service provider has built a server-based editing tool that the team at Channel 4 can call up into their browsers to edit the content ? video, betamax, tape, email or little bits of paper ? into HTML format for the Web.
Subject: Gateway 2000
Activities: import-export freight and distribution
Consultants: Fusion Interactive
Margaret Crockett, Gateway 2000?s marketing manager is unwilling to confirm the #1m a week the site is reputed to take in orders, but she says: ?The Web is making a very significant return for us. We are very happy.?
The site makes the most of the fact its target market is PC enthusiasts who are comfortable with the technology. At the core is a database that allows customers to configure a PC to their precise requirements, and to order it directly. ?We have a database back-end showing all the possible configurations,? says technical manager Gerry Canavagh. ?Then we run a Visual Basic program that generates the entire page.? The customer?s specification drops down automatically priced and ready to order.
The software to drive the PC configuration database was developed by Gateway?s in-house team, together with Web site developers, Fusion Interactive, for around #10,000.
The Web is particularly important for a company like Gateway for whom advertising is the only route to market.
?For the launch of Pentium II,? says Crockett, ?we had a co-ordinated campaign in print, on the radio and on the Web. We ran a teaser with the same byline everywhere.? Crockett says the Gateway media team maintaining the site and taking care of the advertising is just three strong. She estimates that a team of 20 would be required without the database-driven site.
Gateway 2000 commissioned Fusion Interactive, who had already done some contract publishing for them, to build their Web site, and publish it in five European languages. The contract also specified site maintenance for up to six months, but the agreement was for this task to be eventually handed back to Gateway?s in-house team.
Fusion Interactive provided a skills transfer programme including training, support and a set of software templates. ?In the early days we spent more time with them? says Crockett. ?Now they are our consultants?.
Web Site Management lessons:
1 Make content generation part of a process ? it?s not a once and for all activity. People won?t come back to your site, or even use the company intranet repeatedly, unless the content is compelling.
2 Ensure ownership of the updating task ? preferably by someone in the business already responsible for similar activities.
3 Go for a site design that makes it easier to update in-house. Agree a plan with your site developer or ISP to hand back the maintenance tasks, together with a skills transfer programme so you can carry them out in-house and control costs.
4 Choose Web content creation tools and Internet transaction software very carefully. You should aim to be able to to stick a ?buy me? button anywhere on the site and activate a secure transaction at will.
5 Don?t make the mistake of giving your Web activities exclusively to your IT people (?it?s a technical chore?) or your marketing department (?let?s stick all our brochures up?). Ensure control by someone with vision who has all-round responsibility for media co-ordination.
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