Internet Marketing, Computer Technology: Wave of the Future?

April 1, 1998
ON-LINE MARKETING and faster communication technologies will help equipment houses and manufacturers to increase productivity and eliminate geographic

ON-LINE MARKETING and faster communication technologies will help equipment houses and manufacturers to increase productivity and eliminate geographic barriers to business, according to Steve Epner, BSW Consulting Incorporated.

In a follow-up to last year's popular session at the NTEA conference Epner described the Internet's background and information needed to become an Internet user. The Internet began as a group of military-controlled, interconnected computers developed for warfare communication.

"Internet access is available to anyone with a capable computer and modem for $19.95 a month," Epner said. "Anybody can have a Website for as little a $30 a month plus 10 to 12 dollars an hour for a college student to construct it."

New technologies are constantly tested to bring faster, more reliable communication to the business and academic worlds, according to Epner. He discussed Internet 2 and Internet telephone. Both technologies are designed to increase the rate at which information can be transferred.

"Internet telephone will provide cost-free long distance using a multimedia-equipped computer with a microphone, speaker, and soundcard," Epner said.

Internet 2 came online in October 1996 at 34 universities. The service is designed to be 100 times faster than the regular Internet and eliminate the current system's frequent congestion. With the ability to stream full-motion video and support local and long distance telephone networks, it should enter the workplace in three to five years, according to Epner.

Epner asked if the Internet is really as good as it has been made out to be.

"In the future, the Internet is the likely answer to many business questions," Epner said. "You must be prepared."

The differences between consumer and business buying practices are important to note when using the Internet to sell anything, according to Epner.

"Consumers will buy on a whim and prefer to use a credit card," Epner said. "Businesses perform research to find what they want, compare alternatives to find the best terms, and then want to be invoiced."

The Internet can keep consumers from seeing your product if your Website is too elaborate, according to Epner.

"The average consumer will only wait five seconds for information," Epner said. "If your site contains a lot of graphics many people won't wait for it to load."

Several steps are involved in marketing over the Internet. Generating interest is the first step in selling anything, according to Epner. Getting a domain name, or an identity on the Internet, is a must when marketing there.

"Domain names allow you to be easily found on the net by your customers," Epner said. "Domain names presently cost $100, require paperwork, and are good for two years."

Businesses need to promote their Website by telling people where to find it using the domain name. Accepting and responding to e-mail are required when using the Internet for marketing.

Electronic Catalogues Once established on the Internet, businesses can add electronic catalogues to their sites to increase their web presence.

"Catalogs can bring your products immediately into the hands of your customers," Epner said. "Electronic catalogues have many more uses than paper catalo gues."

Electronic catalogs must be searchable and contain specifications, but that is where their similarity to paper catalogs ends.

"These catalogs can contain Computer Aided Design drawings, or allow customers to specify products and then see them in a live demonstration," Epner said. "Updates for new product training and certification tests can also be put in a catalog."

New technologies allow businesses to understand their client's wants and needs better than ever before. Businesses should be use the Internet and e-mail to continuously update their clients about new products and services.

"The standard has been raised from the days when clients had to look for information and be reactive," Epner said. "Clients should now be updated proactively."

Research shows that clients like product updates unless they are overwhelmed with junk mail, he said.

On-line Anytime

Interactive research is the next step business owners should use to market over the Internet. This means they should provide answers to customer questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"Real-time interaction is critical," Epner said. "Businesses should have the ability to provide information as soon as customers are ready."

Dynamic pages with video, audio, and database information can be a great help to customers. "Anything that can be done on a database at home can be done over the net," Epner said.

Electronic sales are the third step in Internet marketing. On-line order forms and Electronic Data Interchange will become commonplace, according to Epner. "EDI will allow for standardization of purchase orders and will no longer require re-entering information," Epner said. "Credit checks and approval can also be done in real time online."

Order fulfillment can be incorporated electronically. Parts can be picked and packed right away, according to Epner. Orders don't need to be printed. Additionally, orders can be tracked as they go through the system and then made available to customers over the Internet.

"The technology can be used to make life easier for the customer," Epner said.

Closing the loop electronically is the last phase of Internet marketing. Money can be saved with invoices and statements sent by fax or e-mail. Follow-up should also be handled electronically, according to Epner.

Using the Internet offers several advantages to conventional marketing strategies, according to Epner. First, it removes geographic barriers, allowing international and local messages to be sent in the same amount of time.

Secondly, on-line marketing allows businesses to appear as big as they want, effectively leveling the playing field. Lastly, it can improve productivity by eliminating paperwork, which will improve the bottom line.

Epner warned against doing business with anyone electronically until laws are set. "Only accept orders from people you can trust right now," Epner said.

2000 - Year of the Bug The year 2000 presents enormous problems for today's electronic operating systems, according to Epner. "Most PCs that are more than four years old don't know what comes after 1999."

The biggest myth about the situation is that the computer vendors will be able to correct the problem. "This is a major problem," Epner said. "Fifty percent of the computers shipped last summer were still not prepared to make the jump to the new millennium."

He compared the 2000 bug to a UPS strike, collapse of Asian economies, and 50% of all air traffic stopping at the same time. The solution is to get compliance agreements from vendors, according to Epner.

The good news, according to Epner, is that those who handle the jump successfully will gain a competitive advantage.

Internet marketing will bring about change in corporate culture.

"Businesses must plan for the customer and communication of tomorrow," Epner said. "Companies will need an information worker, someone who knows how to use the tools."

Epner summarized the latest technological advancements in the computer industry. He noted that the industry will soon have 1,000-megahertz computers with the ability to store 17 gigabytes of memory on CD-ROM.

"Technology will be faster, cheaper, and everywhere," Epner said.