Do I dip my toe into web 2.0? What are my competitors doing?

Dear Aunty B,

We have a very basic website and I have noticed that my competitors are starting to do more sophisticated sites. Is this just a fad or is it here to stay? Do I just dip my toe in; or try and get the jump on my competitors by diving in? And if so, what would I do first?

 

Web Zero,
Sydney

 

Dear Web Zero,

As a new wave washes through business there is one thing that determines if it is a fad or not – does it eventually make business money?

This year’s SmartCompany award winners answer that for you. Half of the winners have put in place more sophisticated websites. And guess what? They claim to have made $100 million revenue from their websites, which represents 10% of the $1 billion total revenue made in 2007-08 from the class of 2008.

So Web Zero, this ain’t no fad. As for what they are doing? Read the story below. My advice to you? Look at your business, look at the competition and then map out an online strategy incorporating several of the points below.

The good news is that even the leaders in online are not that web 2.0. Yet.

Your Aunty B.

 

13 online trends from the Smart50 2008

1. Become a thought leader

Forget the PR team pumping out fluffy press releases. Smart entrepreneurs are increasingly setting themselves up as thought leaders. They are writing white papers, submitting expert pieces to journals and industry associations, writing blogs and commenting on forums. Why? They gain favour from the search engine robots marching through their sites looking for news and informed comment, and establish themselves as experts in their field.

Founder of Solentive, Kareem Tawansi, sums it up. “Our online strategy focuses on two objectives,” he says. “First is lead generation – the website should be a primary vehicle for generating leads. This will be achieved by providing innovative and current information that will ensure visitors continue to interact with the site. SEO and SEM also feature in driving traffic to the site.”

Second is thought leadership, he says. “Our complimentary content on the website should provide the visitor with innovative and useful information. This should reflect original thought and add value that cannot be attained elsewhere. In order to access this content the visitor will be required to provide their contact details.”

These two combined? A potential lead.

Another example is David Markus from IT company Combo. He says the richness of content and frequent updates is the key to his online success. “We offer white papers on a selection of IT service providers, CRM tools, disaster recovery planning, how to reduce and avoid spam and lots more. These reflect the questions we are met with when we meet new clients, so we give it to them as early in the cycle as possible to establish our knowledge and openness,” he says.

“It has worked well for us. All our other marketing effort is designed to pull and push people to our web site and we see clear indicators that our web traffic increases with other campaigns run.

Lift Shop is another example. Les Katz says their online strategy is to put up loads of information.

“Our website has become a resource for the industry,” he says. “It is easy to navigate and full of useful information rather than self promoting junk. It gives the customer what they need to know.”

2. Going global

Smart entrepreneurs are using their websites to go global. The sites have the capacity to recognise where a visitor is from and then show them localised content in the local language.

Software company Aconex is an example. Founder Leigh Jasper says the website detects where the visitor has come from based on their IP address and then shows all related regionalised content first. “This means that any latest news, case studies or project updates for the region are featured on the home page, positioning us as local in every region we operate in.”

Ecowash Mobile, which gets about 15% of its revenue from its website, has just launched a global website platform with all their international websites being managed through the one CMS (content management system) in multiple languages. “Each site links into its own e-commerce system for franchisee fulfillment on a country-by-country basis,” says founder Jim Cornish. “This new platform enables us to launch a new website within 15 minutes and then manage the content centrally.”

3. Getting found on Google

Many of the Smart50 are huge advocates of Google. They have one single aim – to get on page one when someone searches for key words that apply to their business.

Matthew Nolan, founder of financier Provident Cashflow, says clients often mention they saw or heard about the company on the internet or via Google. “We also understand that the website offers clients a chance to find out more information before making a phone call if they have already found out about our company and what we do through print, radio or events,” he says. “We originally implemented an SEO and SEM campaign through Yahoo and Google, however Google proved to be the strongest performer and all SEM funds are now allocated to Google.”

Another example is Quest Serviced Apartments. Founder Paul Constantinou says its online marketing strategy covers digital media, search engine optimisation and pay per click advertising, which drives traffic to the site, boosting revenue and awareness of the Quest brand.

Combo says its focus on search engine optimisation has seen it achieve its desired page on Google for “IT services Melbourne”. “We now bounce between first place and second place on the page,” says founder David Markus.

Sarah Allen, founder of Appliance Tagging Services, puts it more bluntly. “We have moved away from the very expensive and ineffective online yellow pages, and are now focusing on search engines for new business. As a relatively new industry (for those not in construction) the majority of inquiry comes after some form of internet research as to their obligations around appliance tagging,” she says. “This is fast becoming our largest source of new business.”

4. Educating suppliers, employees and franchisees

Smart entrepreneurs are discovering there are huge cost savings and gains in productivity from educating online. Take Ecowash Mobile. Their online system enables potential franchisees to inquire online, access a secure area of the website giving them access to all prospective franchisee information, and has greatly streamlined the franchisee recruitment and disclosure process.

“We estimate that the operational features of the Ecowash Mobile website have increased the efficiency of system operation by the equivalent of at least two full-time administration staff,” says founder Jim Cornish.

Franchiser Xpresso Delight says their site provides accesses to up-to-date systems and training manuals, changes for maintenance programs, news and business building opportunities. It provides franchisees with a source of information and access to company literature, to help answer their questions and concerns.

“All Xpresso Delight franchisees report their performance on a weekly basis using an online reporting system developed by the franchisors, which is available through the website,” says founder Stephen Spitz.

Franchisees record how many coffees each of their machines have made that week and the reporting system automatically determines how many coffee beans, cups, sugar and chocolate powder have been used. “Using a specially designed software program, franchisees are also able to access their weekly return on investment at any time and each master agent is able to access the performance results of the franchisees in their respective states.”

5. Email marketing

Many of the entrepreneurs are building online databases and sending e-newsletters to clients. David Markus says his company Combo has used email marketing to entice clients to marketing seminars, and made use of partner databases to expand the volume of messages. “We have had companies such as ADP, Dun & Bradstreet and AmCham invite their members to our functions using our email marketing capabilities and their client lists. This has shown us the power of being technological leaders in a world starving for better communication tools,” he says. “We are now planning a 12 month e-newsletter campaign to improve our lead nurturing and education process.”

The WBP Property Group claims to have 12,500 contacts on its mailing list. “We can improve this with our marketing strategies, award wins, and educating the general public on the virtues of engaging someone independent to act for them before they sign a contract and purchase property,” says founder Bill Walstab.

6. Let customers customise the offering

As we move into a more web 2.0 environment, customers increasingly want to tailor a product and service to their own needs. Companies are responding in a range of ways. At car washing service Ecowash Mobile, customers can customise their own 12 month car washing program and set up monthly reminders via email.

Intrepid Travel says its future strategy will focus on building a platform that will encourage brand engagement by providing customers with a unique URL. “This unique URL will enable our customers to build presences and source specialist travel knowledge and inspiration,” says founder Darrell Wade.

Quest has had great success in providing more personal service through the website. Founder Paul Constantinou says in 2005, after extensive market research, Quest adopted a live booking engine on its website that replaced a standard email inquiry form.

“Within 12 months, a phenomenal 60% increase in online bookings was recorded. Located on the Quest home page as well as on individual property sites, the booking system provides users with instant access to information, availability and live reservations for all of Quest’s 110 properties across Australia, New Zealand and Fiji,” he says. “Additionally, the system has the functionality to assign unique username and passwords to key corporate clients enabling them to access and book their negotiated rates live with instant confirmation.”

8. Create a sticky site and information hub

Once potential customers are in their website, smart entrepreneurs are trying to keep them moving around with a variety of sticky tools including tools, calculators and checklists.

My Net Fone’s founder Andy Fung says his website stands out because of the touch and feel. “It’s exciting, interesting and stimulating. Just like a retail store or a home, you feel comfortable and want to hang around and find out more,” he says.

“In other websites, once people have selected and purchased the item, they don’t come back to the website unless they’re looking for something else to buy. But our customers return and visit the website frequently to top-up their account, view their call history or change their profile detail. We believe our website is an important tool for us to build brand recognition and loyalty and on-going relationships with our customers.”

9. Use design to stand out

Smart entrepreneurs like to do things differently, including their websites. So they deliberately study the competition and make their site as different as possible, to not only break the industry norm but to exhibit their own branding and corporate values.

Financier Provident Cashflow noticed that banks and some other finance companies have a lot of busy activity on the front pages of their website. Founder Matthew Nolan says that after speaking to clients and conducting some research, he found that finance customers were looking for information, not entertainment. “We kept it simple by using a simple design with the company colours, logos and images consistent throughout our marketing material. The website design flows through to our brochures and stationery – and all representations a client receives from our company look consistent.”

IT company Aconex says it stands out due to its loud orange design. “This is to reflect that we’re vibrant, fun and people-focused rather than being techy and corporate,” says founder Leigh Jasper.

Azure set out to change the perception of accountants as staid and boring through the design on its website. “Many accounting practices’ websites are formal, corporate and static and they typically only act as a source of information about the company and its services,” says founder Michael Derin. “We aim to communicate our unique selling point of not being an average accountancy firm but one with innovative services and the passion and drive to help clients succeed.”

Azure has introduced personal elements to the website to develop a rapport and level of trust, including team member photos throughout the site to inject personality into the site.

10. Create a great customer experience

A website is far more than an information tool, the entrepreneurs say. Founder of Vroom Vroom Vroom, Peter Thornton, says their website set out to be the most fun and easy to use car rental website in the world. “We have the easiest and most efficient booking system around. We have real customer service staff who provide a very personal experience,” he says, and credits it for being behind the company’s spectacular growth from $506,000 in 2005-06 to $2.4 million in 2007-08.

Founder Charlie Gunningham from Aussiehome.com, says three things are critical. The site has to be fast to load (it used to be the eight second rule, now it’s five); easy to navigate and with up-to-date information. “We stick very closely to these guidelines. People come to the web for info – give it to them, make it easy,” he says.

11: The online strategy is the business strategy

Increasingly the entrepreneurs are developing a stand-alone plan around their online strategy which sits alongside a sales plan and a marketing plan.

Real Estate Media is an example. Founder Anthony McDonald says its proprietary web application is at the heart of its customer experience. “The stated goal of our site is to provide a single source for all of our clients’ marketing needs. This involves everything from generating market quotes for sales agents to present to vendors through to the delivery of artwork and orders to newspapers around Australia.

“Our website allows our clients to order over 20,000 different products, build and proof advertising, and account for over $40 million of vendor paid advertising in fiscal 2007,” he says. “We also manage our clients’ websites and the data feeds that supply realestate.com.au, domain.com.au and other large commercial sites. In summary, our online strategy is the strategy for REMG.”

Our website is a critical and important part of the business,” says Andy Fung from My Net Phone. “We do e-marketing and e-commerce as well as providing self-support, top-up and provisioning facilities to our customers on-line. Our website integrates closely to our marketing and e-commerce strategy and provides a full life-cycle of support and customer service to our customers.”

He says it is because the company does most things online that it can reduce and control costs, passing on the savings to customers in the form of cheaper call rates and better value. “We target consumers and enterprise users who are comfortable with broadband, increasingly running their daily business online via the web. We think of ourselves as a new generation communications provider in the era of internet, IP,” he says.

The ADWEB Agency maintains a dedicated, interactive website full of information about Intranet Dashboard and its applications in the real world. Customers are able to view demonstrations, take a product tour, understand the product’s features, trial the software and buy the software.

Once the software has been purchased, full product support is provided over the internet through efficient email support, the support-focused website and other online communication tools such as live chat. Consumers use the internet as a way to engage with the organisation electronically.

12. Going green though the web

Smart entrepreneurs are using the website to showcase their values, particularly their green credentials. M2 Telecomunciations created GreenMobiles (www.greenmobiles.com.au) as Australia’s first online environmental telco. Founder Vaughan Bowen says the site contains all the information necessary to enable all signup, billing and customer service functions to be completed online, further decreasing the program’s (and the customer’s) environmental impact.

“GreenMobiles, unlike our main company website, is designed to be an online sales tool. All of the information that a person requires to make the decision of whether they would like the product is available on the website,” he says.

13. Building communities

The smart entrepreneurs are increasingly experimenting with web 2.0 elements such as blogs and forums this year. However there were none that could be described as fully web 2.0.

It company Azure is also planning to feature blogs on the website and female marketing company Venus contribues to global blogs.

PageUp People has a resource centre page where visitors are invited to download podcasts, whitepapers and to join the PageUp People social networking group, all at no cost and without the need to register (except for the social networking site).

But few have the time or the courage to run sites that are open to comments and reviews.

 

Aunty B - Your problems answered by SmartCompany's business bitch

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