The Internet’s global reach and relatively low cost make it an effective tool for companies looking to market their business, reach international markets, and build relationships with customers. Along with enormous opportunities created by the Internet is the temptation to exploit them as rapidly as possible.
But, those who choose to take advantage of the Internet should be aware that they are working within a whole new realm of rules, where expectations are increased – time frames are reduced, customer service has no boundaries and immediate fulfillment is expected. Business managers realize the importance of understanding the potential of the Internet and are analyzing its impact on their industry and company; reviewing company processes; and developing Internet strategies and implementation plans to meet their business objectives and gain a competitive advantage.
An Internet strategy is an in-depth analysis of how online technologies and tools can be implemented within a company to help reach its goals and objectives. Most importantly, the strategy focuses on identifying innovative ways to add value to existing customers and stakeholders.
The challenge is to create a strategy that works for your business. Understanding how to develop it is half the challenge. A strategy building approach that enables you to carry out the analysis in a structured way will alleviate the challenge and put you on the right path.
Step One: Define Your Site’s Purpose
Why have you gone online? What do you want your site to accomplish? Do you want to be an informational site? Do you want to sell products or services? Do you want to provide a source of entertainment?
Defining your site’s purpose is the foundation to developing your Internet strategy. Writing down the purpose of your site will keep you focused and enable you to develop a concise plan.
Step Two: Determine Your Online Objectives
What is it you want your online business to accomplish over the next six months or year? Effective objectives are measurable and provide timelines for delivery. Your online objectives should support your overall business objectives.
For example, if you want to increase revenues, your online objective may be to increase online product revenues by 30 percent this time next year.
If you want to improve customer relationships, your online objective may be to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty to reduce customer turnover by 30 percent by January 2020.
Step Three: Identify Tools And Technologies
Some businesses make the mistake of implementing online technologies and tools without long-term planning, quickly losing sight of their business objectives in the process. The organization becomes technology-driven rather than business-driven, often resulting in lack of support from within the organization and inefficient budget spending.
For example, there may have been a time when you had a great idea for your site and in your haste to develop it, you failed to conduct an appropriate level of research – only to realize that the tool was not as useful as you thought it might be. In the end, you have used valuable time and resources to develop the tool – resources that could have gone towards a more effective, researched technology tool.
Consequently, once you have developed your online objectives, it is necessary to identify what technologies and tools can be implemented to reach them. For example, if you want to increase your online product revenues by a particular percentage, what do you need to do to achieve this end result? On a basic level you need people to buy your products. To do this, the first step is to attract people to your site. Second, you need to entice them to stay on you site and browse your products. Third, you must encourage visitors to engage in a particular action – in this case, to buy an item. Finally, you want them to visit again in the future.
Once you have identified the steps you need to take to reach your objective, it is necessary to determine the tools and technologies you may require to reach each one. For instance, to attract visitors to your site, you may concentrate on search engine placement, an affiliate program or an email marketing campaign – or a combination of each one.
Step Four: Determine Project Readiness
Technology implementation of any kind can be an expensive and time-consuming task. As a result, when you decide on the tools and technologies you want to use on your site, it is necessary to evaluate your resources and find ways to get the biggest bang for your buck.
In the case of increasing your online product revenues, each step and potential technology or tool requires a different skills set, budget amount and time. It is important to balance out the requirements you need to implement each technology or tool, with your available resources.
For instance, if you are considering an email campaign to attract visitors to your site, you will need a permission-based email list and a way to maintain the list over time. You will also have to consider who is responsible for the campaign and how you will use the results in your future marketing endeavors.
If you want to develop an online tour to entice people to browse through your products, you will need to identify who in your company will develop the tool, and keep the tour up-to-date as you add new products or pages to your site.
If you want to offer coupons on your site to encourage purchases, you will need to find out how visitors will redeem them and decide whether you will accept them during online payments.
If you are considering a newsletter to build relationships with customers, you will need to determine who will write it, how often you want to send it out and how much time it takes to develop one.
Outlining the requirements of each technology implementation enables you to effectively plan ahead and manage your time and resources appropriately, ensuring a greater chance for success.
Step Five: Design/Develop/Deploy
Once you have identified the steps, technologies and tools, and resource requirements, you should have a good idea of what is involved in the design, development and deployment phases.
The most important consideration is to allow flexibility to enable new ideas and concepts to flow. At the same time, minimum quality standards should be maintained. Also ensure you develop back-up processes in case your resources need to be utilized in other areas.
To effectively develop and deploy your online technologies and tools it is beneficial to select a number of partners who can assist you. This is particularly useful if you feel you lack resources or will encounter resource issues in the future. For instance, perhaps you want to market your site in regions where English is not the primary language. In this case, it is useful to identify partners in those regions you would like to enter. For example, if you want to submit keywords and titles to international search engines, an outside partner may be in a better position to do this effectively.
Step Six: Monitor/Evaluate
The monitoring and evaluation step requires that you measure how well your online technologies and tools have enabled you to meet your online objectives. To determine their effectiveness, collect feedback from your customers and consider investing in measurement software to provide you with valuable customer data. For example: Are your customers finding it easy to navigate the site? How do customers find your site? Are customers happy with your products and services?
Your customers drive the business process and every move they make online can be recorded and analyzed, which will enable you to develop effective technologies and tools to reach your online objectives.
There is no doubt that businesses will continue to utilize new technologies to improve their online functionality and remain competitive in the marketplace. The companies that are successful will be those that take a step-by-step approach, taking time to develop an Internet strategy that considers immediate needs, resource allocation and budgetary allowances.
The strategy building process is a time consuming task. But, it forces businesses to carefully examine their online business. As a result, the long-term benefits of building a strategy far outweigh the time and energy it takes to development one, which once completed, is a blueprint for future growth. What is most important is that the strategy remains flexible to accommodate change within an organization, has full support from all levels of a company and is driven by the goals of the business. By following a strategy building process with these thoughts in mind, long-term success is only steps away.