Apart from its staff, a good, functional website can be the most important asset a company possesses. For many customers it is the first port of call and the easiest way to get to know a company or brand. Done well, it can be influential and create an affinity to that brand. Done badly, it can wreck relationships and distance potential customers, sometimes even before any other contact has been made.
But, these days, online communication is a lot more than just the shop-front of a website.
In the last quarter of 2004, budgets for internet-related marketing activities were bolstered, showing the strongest upgrade of any category of marketing in the last year.
The upward revision to current budgets suggests that the internet continues to gain share of total marketing spend, extending the trend seen since the peak of the dotcom boom.
But why are marketers returning online in their droves? Of those increasing their online budgets, most cited the low cost and greater accountability offered by the medium as the driver.
Clare Millar, head of marketing at Company-Net, says that one of the major factors behind this growth is the underlying perception of increased effectiveness from online marketing.
“As more and more consumers are spending time online, away from traditional media, it’s important for clients and brands to spend their budgets on maximising consumer revenues online. While this doesn’t mean a wholesale shift from traditional to online, it does mean that clients are seeking more of a balance between the two channels. Consumers are spending more than a third of their time online - roughly the same as the time they spend watching TV - yet only around four percent of budgets are spent online compared 25 percent on TV. Marketers are losing a degree of confidence in the effectiveness of traditional marketing – realising that there are far more opportunities for interaction to be gained between consumers and brands online.
“It’s more of a shift in mindset – how clients can use the technology as an enabler to improve business practices, enhance collaboration and communication and ultimately increase efficiencies and effectiveness.”
Ross Laurie, managing director of Line, believes that it is the migration of consumers online which is the impetus behind the uptake of online communications.
“We have the usual situation of early adopters taking a large share of the online spoils, with everyone else now trying to catch up. People will have registered online over Christmas and competitors have missed a big chance to capture these people for future sales. In the ten-week run up to Christmas, online sales in the UK reached £5bn and are set to increase again next year by up to 36 percent. Twenty-four million people shopped online in the UK last year. If you want a slice of the action you’ve got to be prepared to invest in it.
“Clients jumped on the bandwagon in the dotcom boom and some got burnt by the apparent bust. This put people off and it’s been an education process since then. All clients wanted was proof that it worked, and the fact that so many businesses are making so much money online now is proof enough to get them thinking again.”
The government and industry’s drive to increase the uptake of broadband in the UK, both at home and at work, can be largely credited for the increased time being spent online by the consumers. Allowing business to reap the rewards of online investment too.
Malky Brown, head of digital marketing at Citigate Smarts, continues: “Clients are increasing their investment in online marketing because they perceive targeting to be excellent, it’s measurable to extreme levels of accuracy and new technological advances and the onset of broadband make it an exciting creative medium.
“Because we are at a tipping point of sorts, it's gathering huge momentum. But like anything, if it doesn’t work it can be as fashionable as you like but it won't get repeat sale.
“We've banged the drum for years now, but it's only recently that our collective noise has woken people up in their droves.
“It is broadband that has helped create this tipping point, but it is also broadband that has dramatically raised expectations. All online advertising has to instantly gratify the viewer – there can be no more waiting five minutes for the next bus to come along.”
“There are currently eight million broadband users in the UK,” reminds Tom Payne, head of digital design at Lewis. “A massive market that now cannot be ignored by any client. Broadband has enabled clients to take their brands directly to users through rich media, using new and innovative techniques. However, more often, the use of rich media online is to convey film and TV communications which are not exclusive to the web, so maybe there is still some scope to take better advantage of this medium.”
Yet, Payne continues, the biggest problem facing marketers online is not ensuring the full benefits are being reaped, but gaining the trust of the consumer. “Given the sometimes misguided or malicious use of online communication,” he says, “achieving credibility is probably the single biggest problem, especially when a brand is unknown to the user. Organisations must strive to achieve brand recognition in the marketplace and become more than a faceless company in order for their online communication strategy to operate successfully.”
But while the rewards of online communication are already obvious, the main advantages of a succesful online presence are that the real capabilities are yet to be realised, says Whitespace’s digital media director Russell Stout. And these will only increase as the years go on: “We’re only starting to see a glimpse of where things are headed. In five to ten years from now things are going to be so very different that it’s almost hard to predict what will happen.
“What we do know is that there’s a convergence of different online, mobile and traditional media coming together. This will provide excellent opportunities (whatever they turn out to be) for clients, but potentially expensive and messy outcomes for the media organisations.
“The scale of what’s happening and the financial stakes are frankly quite staggering. Perhaps because of the scale of where things are headed, one of the main advantages for clients will be the opportunity to target very specific audiences resulting in a much more cost effective spend.
“We’re already experiencing clients looking for innovative ways of starting a dialogue with potential customers and doing this online is an effective way to start the process. In the past, clients were looking for online campaigns such as generic banners for a brand or product, but over the past couple of years we’ve been working with clients to create more integrated campaigns.
“If there is any drop off from traditional media such as radio, this will predominantly be for campaigns that are better suited for engaging the prospect in a more involved way. It’s inevitable that as online communication and content gets better and more popular there will be a move away from the traditional media as, for some clients, it will just be more appropriate.”
John Campbell, director of Spider Online agrees, claiming that clients are now better educated in the ways of the web. “Traditional offline agencies have started to educate clients more proactively [to the merits of online comms], but clients, off their own backs, have started to ask questions of traditional agencies as to what can be done, “ he says. “This, in combination with the rise of a new breed of more professional online agencies, has helped to increase awareness. Clients are now much more aware of what online communications can do for them and how it fits in with traditional marketing disciplines. This, combined with increased broadband penetration and the cost benefits, have helped to drive online as a realistic and effective option.
“For some clients online marketing is just about having a website, but they are few and far between now. A greater proportion of marketing spend is now going online. In fact more and more offline activity is being developed to drive traffic online, because of the measurability that online gives. Online is sometimes the best way that an offline campaign’s effectiveness can be measured.”
“More marketers are becoming technologically savvy,” continues Millar, “and seeing that they can get a return from online marketing as well as increased effectiveness for their campaigns. This doesn’t mean the end of traditional marketing as we know it, but it does mean that online will play a much bigger part in marketing strategies going forward.”
However, as clients still tend to ‘find’ their way to a digital agency via someone ‘further up the chain’ a lot of the strategic thought is carried out offline, with the website being bolted on at the end, claims Laurie. “In many cases the web could or should have been key to the overall campaign and people still think they can get a website for a few quid. It’s better to understand where the client wants to take their business and fit a solution around that, rather than just ‘build a website’.
“The web is becoming an increasingly important part of the overall marketing mix and, as such, should be given as much consideration as any other media – or more so. The web can either act as a destination point for advertising or a starting point.”
The project was to highlight the importance of sexual health while coinciding with Valentine’s Day. The main feature was to allow people to build their own E-Valentine’s card and email to their “Valentine”.
The message on the card was designed to be one to encourage responsible attitudes to sexual health.
The campaign consisted of offline marketing materials (posters and flyers) and banner adverts on the site – being used to drive traffic to the page within Yoursexualhealth web site.
Once in the section, the user can chose form a number of romantic rhymes and send off (anonymously of course) the E-Card to their Valentine. Each of the messages was branded with the site and had links back to the web site. All the E-Cards are only sent out on Valentines Day and the system also enabled full measurement and tracking of the campaign.
Lewis Creative Consultants
Abbey’s Flexible Plus Mortgage campaign, created by Lewis, was aimed at IFAs to raise the profile of Abbey’s Flexible Plus mortgages and position Abbey against its competition as a more effective mortgage provider.
Online was the obvious medium for effective communication of this message. Having profiled IFAs and their online habits, Lewis had determined that IFAs do 80 percent of their business online and rely highly upon online tools to facilitate their sales and learning.
Lewis worked with Abbey for Intermediaries to develop an interactive competitor comparison to effectively demonstrate how the Abbey product performs against that of other leading providers.
The Flexible Plus campaign was supported by online media activity that reinforced the Abbey mortgage message and complemented the offline marketing activity. A series of online banners were developed to lead the online promotion on key mortgage sites used regularly by IFAs.
In addition, an email marketing campaign was designed and developed, to specifically target mortgage IFAs, to raise awareness of the benefits of switching their clients to the Abbey Flexible Plus Mortgage.
The banners received an excellent click through rate with the email campaign achieving one of Abbey for Intermediaries highest open rates. The competitor comparison is being regularly accessed and used by IFAs as a useful information tool to facilitate their business.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), now in its 59th year, is the longest continually running, and one of the most respected, film festivals in the world.
The EIFF have had an online presence for a number of years but have never fully capitalised on the use of the internet due to integration problems with their legacy ticketing system. For 2005 they set new goals to increase online ticket sales in order to make the films more accessible to international festival visitors, as well as alleviate the burden on the box office staff. This year the site was mission critical.
First and foremost the site design had to communicate the quality and excitement of the festival.
By its very nature, the Festival has premiere and pre-release films, which mostly have no reviews, no advertising, and no publicly-seen trailers. Line designed the site to cajole film-goers to buy more tickets for films they would perhaps not have considered. “Like this? Try these” prompts were used to encourage the user to investigate similar films, while other features allowed the user to find films based on their mainstream favourites.
The back-end of the site is fully integrated, allowing for seamless, real-time changes to the programme and ticket availability. A profiled-user email marketing system was also implemented to allow them to keep registered film-goers up-to-date with news and events.
In the first hour of sales the site received 40,000 page requests and helped the Film Festival achieve its highest-grossing first-day ticket sales.
The website sold almost £100,000 worth of tickets in the six week period before and during the Festival – 43 percent of all sales pre-festival, almost a 250 percent increase from the previous year.
Established in 1890, ICS is the largest distance-learning organisation in the world, providing home study courses to individuals and companies seeking to enhance their skills through professional training.
In November 2005, ICS unveiled its new e-commerce website taking advantage of the latest developments in technology. Developed by Storm ID, the new website has been designed to increase sales revenue, support greater volumes of traffic and an increasing number of distance learning courses and services.
The new site has resulted in significant and measurable results. 45 percent of all leads and 52 percent of all enrolments now come from the web – a marked increase on previous figures. Web conversions have also soared to 32 percent above the 2005 average.
Close collaboration with search engine optimisation specialist Media Co, has ensured that the site is reaching a growing market through its aggressive SEO campaign. A new URL rewriting strategy has resulted in a 30 percent increase in SEO listings.
The online ICS student community, also developed by Storm, was designed to encourage students to interact with, and learn from other ICS members and experts. Additional recent innovations, such as an online chat service with course advisors and online e-brochures, have also served to further decrease sales costs and increase conversion rates.
There’s a by-election about to happen in Dunfermline and West Fife and 38 year-old-mum of two, Carrie Ruxton is standing for the Scottish Conservatives. So what? I hear you cry. Well, Lexmark have just thrown 700 people onto the scrapheap, from their printer factory on the outskirts of Dunfermline, so this wee by-election has all the makings of a real political hot potato.
As part of the brief to look at the entire Scottish Conservatives website presence, Carrie and the Tories in Scotland came to Zen.
www.vote4carrie.com is an example of how a fast turnaround, simple and well-thought-out micro-site works as a superb political campaign tool. It’s got an up-datable news section, an image library, and even campaign posters and literature, which can be downloaded in PDF form. These can be printed-off by grass roots supporters in the Ancient Town, as part of a thoroughly modern political campaign.
Web used to be a bit of an afterthought in the political arena, it’s now at the very forefront.
Lightershade launched a site designed and targeted at friends, alumni and supporters of the University of Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Campaign is The University of Edinburgh’s major fundraising initiative. However, rather than just simply asking alumni for donations the University has, in conjunction with Lightershade, planned, designed and built a website to add value to EU alumni around the world.
The website is very much a global communication tool for the 130,000 University of Edinburgh alumni, which has a network of over 80 groups all over the world.
The website offers information on events organised by Edinburgh Campaign, and by friends and alumni all over the world. Users can also find information on how they can get involved with the Edinburgh Campaign. Many of the 130,000 University of Edinburgh alumni keep in touch after they leave Edinburgh. The new website facilitates this and provides a range of services aimed at making it easier for alumni to stay in touch with each other and with the University.
The Edinburgh on-line directory element of the site allows alumni to trace friends and classmates from their time at the University. Upon sign-up to the on-line directory, users automatically receive an Edinburgh Passport card, which entitles them to a range of discounts and benefits exclusively for Edinburgh alumni.