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A Reflection on “Australia Online”

A review of BRW’s “definitive guide to winning on the internet”: Australia Online, in the form of a letter to the editor.

Dear Sir

I regret to inform you of my grave disappointment with your flagship edition Australia Online. Given that it was billed as “Your definitive guide to winning on the Internet” I was hoping for at least a couple of insights and some inspiration on how to realise a return on investment on business websites.

Whilst your website boldly declares, “BRW’s core theme is innovation”, all I found was a tired line up of the usual e-business suspects. Google, Sensis, Fairfax Digital, Seek, etc. are making a lot of money from online advertising. Ancient e-commerce strategies. Blogging for corporates. Yawn.

And yet hidden amongst the dross lies the true story of the current state of e-business in Australia. Here is the story you missed:

On page 62 we’re told, “Chief executives of companies have until now struggled to derive any real benefits from on the fastest-growing phenomena on the web….” From my 10 years’ experience working in the web marketing industry I would say the overwhelming majority of chief executives, business owners and marketing managers have struggled to derive any real benefits from the web. Period.

For the vast majority of Australian businesses e-commerce is simply not appropriate. And yet they can still benefit from a website. How? By taking a leaf out of GM Holden e-business manager Peter Wicki’s book. Surely he is the canniest e-marketer interviewed for this issue.

On page 45 it says GM Holden, “doesn’t sell a thing online. Despite this it shows a clear return on investment.” How do they do this? By realising: “The crucial point is identifying where online is going to be most effective for a corporation’s strategy.”

For most businesses their website is going to be most effective if it’s used to direct the web’s legion of information-seeking prospective customers into their sales lead generating funnel. Because, as we’re told on page 48, “A federal survey last year on accessing and using e-government services showed the majority of internet contacts (54%), were to obtain information.”

In a nutshell, most businesses should forget about online shoppers and focus their efforts on getting the attention of online information gatherers. As Peter Wicki states on page 48, “Eighty per cent of people check out the internet before they purchase a car.” So GM Holden, “established the site as a clear sales-support channel, not a marketing tool” (page 50).

It seems so obvious. But despite being a well documented e-marketing strategy in the US it’s been slow to take hold here. Why? Perhaps the answer lies within your story on innovation consultant Darrel Rhea, which begins, “The culture of marketing, design and research in Australian is 10 to 20 years behind that of Europe and the United States…”

Rhea is also quoted as saying, “Agencies and design schools need to educate designers about the commercial realities of business. Designers need to understand how their work affects the bottom line.”

While his comments were directed to designers, interactive agencies and web designers and developers should take note. From my experience they know little of the basic concepts of marketing and their main goal is to build pretty websites without any regard to achieving a return on their clients’ website investment.

“Dealing with a web developer can be completely bamboozling,” Freedom Furniture’s general manager tells us on page 50. That’s something poor old Charmaine Papallo wasted $20,000 to find out (page 80), and I’m damned sure she’s not the only one.

The trick to building a profitable business website is to find “the magic intersection of technical, creative and business strategy,” as stated on page 48. Unfortunately strategic e-business thinkers seem to be thin on the ground in Australia.

So I wonder, where are the people who are getting it right? Which are the companies that have built websites at the magic intersection of technical, creative and business strategy and how has this impacted their businesses? Perhaps you could fill us in your next flagship issue.

Yours faithfully

Charles