Net Change

More than a decade ago, I was an old dog who had to learn a new trick: producing magazines on a desktop computer. It was intimidating, but I had no choice — electronic publishing was here to stay.

Now, I'm jiggy with electric journalism, and find that one of the most interesting parts of my job is exploring new ways to communicate with you, which has included the Internet. However, many businesses have lost faith in the Internet's potential. And, who can blame them with so many dot-coms plummeting to economic misfortune.

However, carving a place on the Internet isn't just about being online, it's about integration, says Karen Breen Vogel, senior vice president at Chicago-based B2B Works, a firm that teaches businesses how to use the Internet as a marketing tool and to create online strategies.

To those of us who feel they've created a functional website, her message could be disconcerting. Vogel, however, is right. A website is only the beginning of reaching your customer electronically.

Karen says that most businesses are not mining the Internet's potential, and that producing a website, for example, is not tantamount to having an Internet strategy. The Internet is simply a medium that plays an excellent host to a marketplace, she says. Its fundamental use is helping you increase your relationship with your customers.

Karen also is a firm believer in incorporating e-mail into your Internet strategy. Here's why:

  • E-mail is the No. 1 reason people use a computer;
  • Two-thirds of today's workers have access to e-mail;
  • E-mail marketing outperforms snail mail 2-to-1. (She noted that e-mail response rates are higher if you secure permission from the recipient to receive e-mails from you.);
  • E-mail is viral — more than 80 percent of those who receive e-mail pass it on; and
  • E-mail is the perfect medium for today's short attention spans.
  • However, even the best Internet strategy is facing significant cultural challenges, Karen points out. “We are trying to change people's habits,” she says. And, competing for your customers' attention, much less for those scarce dollars, presents additional hurdles.

    While the Internet and its integration with your business may continue to give you the sweats, remember that the ultimate goal of a website or e-mail communications is to become more intimate with your customer — a concept that all of us should be comfortable with.