I was speaking to a sales guy during the Christmas break who thought the Internet was going to change his life. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the poor disillusioned fool who thinks once he's got his new company on-line it will suddenly become a magnet for people dying to spend their money. No wonder. Virtually every research group that has tackled the feasibility of the Internet as a worthy marketing companion has spewed out massively attractive figures to keep the marketing guys happy along with glowing testimonials from every technical expert in the world.
Grabbing my optimistic companion by the throat, I did my best to explain that the Internet is not a guaranteed money spinner and is fast becoming as competitive as the television and every bit as complex.
Unperturbed, or just plain stupid, he grunted some nonsense about the Internet opening the UK's doors to the world and how I had become a victim of my own techno-knowledge.
I was stunned when he told me he was thinking about spending #3,000 on a Web site, plus a further #2,000 on all the goodies that go with it.
Why? Frankly, I'm amazed so many people see the Internet as the answer to life's eternal quest for cash. It's not. Far from it, the Net is a library with a lot of energy-sapping books and pages, all demanding time, input and budgets. In short it's hard work. But so much effort has gone into convincing people the Net is made of pound coins, many still see it as the last obstacle to tread on before bathing in oodles of cash.
The plethora of optimistic reports seem to concentrate on the needs of corporate organisations that are ready and able to make very strong moves on the Internet complete with masses of advertising, Java programmers, designers and the usual sprinkling of PR expertise. Most of the people interviewed believe (as Datamonitor suggests) that the ordinary person in the street shows a reluctance to using the Internet, either because they don't understand it, or because they can't afford it. That could mean the people you are trying to communicate with have no clue how to reach your site on the Net.
Armed with the inherent scepticism all journalists posess, I skimmed through seven recent reports on what the Internet is up to. One of them, a report by Delphi Group, indicates that IT businesses are reluctant to use the Internet as a tool for recruitment, either because they do not see it as a viable alternative to traditional methods, or because they have been disappointed in previous attempts.
Only 7% of the 3,000 businesses quizzed said they would use the Net for recruitment, reflecting the results of a similar survey one year ago.
So what does it mean? Well, it means that the Internet is not going to solve your company's problems and shouldn't be seen as the best advertising/promotions tool available. It's not. It has a unique audience (of just over a million in the UK) still made up of people who are not entirely convinced the Net is the safest place to spend money. There's a long way to go, and a lot of refinements to be made, before the Web becomes as viable as the radio or TV for marketing your wares.
In the end I managed to convince my misguided companion that if he was going to set up a site, he'd do well to get in at least one full time employee to keep his money-making machine up-to-date and spend the rest of his cash on lottery tickets.
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