But companies often fail to realize a full return on their e-business investment because they follow an "if you build it they will come" philosophy, neglecting to drive users to their Web site by effectively communicating the value and benefits of logging on.
The rollout of an e-business solution should be managed like an advertising campaign. Good campaigns are based on clear objectives. Define those objectives by following simple "who, when, where" logic.
Sticking to this framework will help you form the basis of your marketing strategy.
Who will be using this solution?
Identifying the users you want to target, based on your objectives, is key to controlling your return on investment. You will get your best ROI if you target the customers that can save you the most money by using the site.
It may make sense to market to your best customers, but what about second-tier customers who use more of your customer service representatives' time than their orders justify? Once identified, inform potential users immediately of your plans to build the site.
Increase awareness by keeping them informed throughout the process.
Explain the unique value and benefits the solution will provide, again based upon the customer segment you wish to target. If the benefits are apparent, potential users will talk about them.
Identify your go-live date and mention it often. Build excitement with the project timeline, counting down to the day users can log in. Keep your audience's attention and you'll get a stronger response on your go-live date.
Think of marketing the building process the way a restaurateur does. He hopes that by the time the restaurant is finally built, those who have driven by it will be eager to make reservations.
Make the application's URL easy to remember. Brand it with a unique name and logo, and reinforce it with every piece of communication.
Invite customers to be beta testers and provide them with mini-user booklets that outline exactly which pages to test and what to look for.
Decide what strategy you'll use to communicate your messages. Direct mail? E-mail? Advertising? Press releases? Figure out what your users will best respond to ... and then wow them.
Marketing can be tough, and it takes time to roll out a complete program. Often, organizations lack the expertise or internal resources needed to run a campaign effectively. If this is the case, team up with an outside agency, but unless you want to waste valuable resources teaching that agency about your products and services, make sure you find a partner who understands your business.
Whether you partner with an agency or use internal resources, start planning early to make your rollout successful. Implement your marketing strategy in conjunction with your project plan so your users' appreciation of the solution grows as it is being built. With a good strategy and careful planning, your target audience will be eager to log on when you go live.
If you build it, they may or may not come. If you build it while effectively promoting it, they will come. And you'll begin to see the most immediate return on your e-business investment.
Next month: Ways to measure ROI of your e-business investment.
Barbara Ware is manager of marketing and communications at BravePoint, a supplier of e-business and enterprise IT solutions to mid-market companies. Reach her at (770) 449-9696 or (firstname.lastname@example.org).