The acquire-serve-grow customer life cycle discussed in the previous paper continues to be just as valid as your web management strategies evolve and your web presence becomes more engaging, interactive and dynamic. In our first paper, we illustrated how you can use online tools to address the essentials required to engage with your audiences at each phase of the lifecycle. In the next phase of establishing best practices for Web Experience Management (WEM), we discuss how online tools, design, content and customer interaction features can be optimized to acquire new visitors and customers, serve them with personal, interactive and immersive content and grow customer advocacy, increasing overall value for your company.

To continuously improve website performance, as seen in the first article, the first step is to evaluate your current status, operational targets and revenue objectives, to determine which WEM and advanced features will best fit your needs, budget and long-term objectives. Not all available tools are suitable for every web initiative; rather, they are contingent upon individual needs and capacities.

Acquire
As a company's WEM strategy evolves, web property managers have the ability to use numerous tools to acquire new customers.

Developing alternative, mirrored or daughter microsites for specific customer segments, product groupings or targeted marketing campaigns is a strategy that has seen success across verticals for business-to-business web properties as well as business-to-consumer sites. These alternatives can attract a wider variety of customers that might not normally visit the parent website.

Reebok has been on the forefront of deploying microsites, not only by sport and interest but also by country, all wrapped into a rich Internet experience with easy navigation.

A significant segment of the online customer market is highly connected to the web via multiple devices. Companies that can target and cast their nets deeper into people's lives via alternative delivery platforms, including mobile phones, personal media players and other Internet-enabled devices, have a greater capacity to reach their customers when, where and how they want to be served.

A global sporting apparel company, also discussed later in this paper, used microsites very effectively as part of its WEM strategy. Though the company sold directly to consumers, a large portion of online revenues came from its business-to-business customers, professional sports franchises and retailers. The company created unique microsites focused on each professional sports franchise it worked with. Through these sites, the company was able to accelerate its product marketing and sales cycle from weeks to minutes as it no longer needed to send physical marketing collateral. Further, the company was able to update all the individual microsites with relevant and targeted content for the franchises and retailers much more frequently, especially around the start of a new season, crucial games and trades. This helped generate increased traffic from retailers who needed to stock up on the latest apparel in anticipation of consumer demand. The company was able to acquire many more retail customers globally as it included a multilingual support, geographically tailored microsite, for example, a Japanese microsite.

Some of the most popular websites in the world today are social networking and user-generated content (UGC) sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. Media and entertainment companies in particular have discovered they can effectively leverage the reach of these sites into certain market segments to advertise their new movies, game titles and game consoles. For example, the release of the SONY Pictures movie The Taking of Pelham 123 was preceded by viral marketing on MySpace and other social networking sites via splash pages and links to a Sony Pictures microsite for the movie, significantly increasing exposure, brand awareness and consumer interest.

UGC sites are also used to promote business-to-business messaging virally across the web to create a positive "buzz" among potential purchasers and influencers. In a recent example, Israel-based defense company Rafael displayed a Bollywood dance-based music video used for marketing at the Aero India 2009 defense show in Bangalore. Since India is emerging as a top defense equipment customer in a highly competitive market, this innovative video was also made available on YouTube, where it has generated over 300,000 hits for the advertisement of a missile system and was then picked up by local television stations, gaining a lot of publicity over competition.

As microsites and your corporate websites see increased traffic, it is imperative to deploy more advanced and interactive services to serve and keep visitors engaged with your site. Webpages that are consistently updated with new marketing messages and community input are more compelling and encourage repeat visits.

Serve
Particularly relevant in evolutionary website development is the integration of rich media elements such as video, imagery, dynamic graphical content and social web capabilities. In recent years, the web has changed from being a source of one-way information to a source of interaction. Modern customers are now more accessible, participatory, technically savvy and comfortable with online interactive relationships. If your customers are sophisticated shoppers and accustomed to rich media and social media applications, integrating such dynamic elements into your websites can serve them better by creating enhanced experiences, quality relationships and increased long-term value.

The integration of UGC in the form of community-generated testimonials, forums, recommendations, favorites lists, shopping lists and other social navigation tools can measurably increase website hits, increase time spent on the site and reduce customer care calls. This also helps fostering customer loyalty and retention, resulting in repeat customers and increased revenues.

Geisinger Health Systems enables their patients to blog about their health, experiences and treatment, creating an online forum through which patients can meet, learn, comment and share with each other.

Perhaps the best-known consumer shopping website, Amazon.com has built a reputation for strong customer relationships based on its combination of services and conveniences that its competitors find hard to match. Amazon.com has built a site that contains thousands of items, yet is simple to navigate, displays pertinent, helpful information and allows its customers to comment on its products and read other users' comments.

Amazon.com customers have the ability to independently evaluate products based on customer reviews and commentaries, with an unmatched peace of mind from using a familiar site. Frost & Sullivan has found that an increasing percentage of Amazon.com customers indicate they would be willing to pay more for a product found on Amazon.com versus an alternative site based on the convenience and confidence of shopping there. Customer accessibility and customer reviews have made Amazon.com the premier shopping site online today, yet their customer capturing tools are not surreptitious, clandestine or unique. Compelling content on well-designed sites that include rich media, targeted product recommendations, the inclusion of social media, personalized wish lists and the ability to make the site "about the customer" grows higher-yield customer relationships.

Sites like Amazon.com serve customers by helping them find exactly what they are looking for. Customers can compare products and prices, make knowledgeable purchases based on pre-populated information, reviews and recommendations and exchange relevant information with other customers through communities.

There are numerous examples of how the social aspect coupled with the ease of search has helped generate a spike in sales for products. Be it the flurry of purchasing activity for all things Star Trek to coincide with the release of the latest Star Trek movie or the increased traffic of people researching HDTVs around Thanksgiving, sites that have interactive communities do better in sales than others. Customers like to comment on their experiences, both good and bad, and sites that enable such interactivity become the natural choice for customers and businesses looking at making purchases.

Part 2, available in September, cinches up the cycle with the third section: •grow.'

Mukul Krishna is global director, Digital Media Practice, at Frost & Sullivan. Visit www.frost.com for more information.

 

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