Justifiable Expenses

How do company Web efforts serve the bottom line?
Justifiable Expenses

Mark Hines, vice president of strategic services, Ratchet, Minneapolis
More and more marketers are looking to take advantage of mobile and social functionality. But across our roster, it’s not the tactics that are most common; it’s that our clients can only afford to invest in their top priorities.
Most of Ratchet’s customers continue to execute projects that have a direct impact on their key metrics. Which metrics warrant investment varies greatly from client to client.
For instance, one of our retail apparel clients has invested in new asset management technology that will reduce operating costs of their Web properties and improve the image quality for online shoppers. Another client in the B2B space has invested in a customer-facing application that offers easier online ordering, tracking, and service and support.
We have seen an increase in activity around foundational projects that set the stage for flexibility and efficiency in the future. We haven’t seen many projects lately that are driven by an interface redesign. Our clients are mostly looking to upgrade the technology that runs their site and add features that impact their primary site metrics. A redesign is typically a by-product of those larger efforts.
Throughout organizations, there is greater visibility into the decisions marketers make, especially the technology choices. The upper-most levels of management demand visibility into the process and the outcomes.
The chief management officer at a client of ours, a publicly traded company, regularly gets updated in great detail about the features and functionality of the projects we work on. The entire executive team wants to know why certain features are valuable and others aren’t, and they push the interactive marketing team to justify their decisions.
We help our clients analyze the stages of their customer lifecycle and understand the online and offline customer touch points in the process. Does a digital project make those touch points more valuable to the customer and the corporation? Raving (and commenting, tweeting, and posting) fans turn into the most valuable touch point for those that aren’t yet doing business with you.
Marc Jensen, vice president of technology, Space150, Minneapolis
Over the last year, we’ve seen an emphasis in new online product development, with those projects often prioritized over pure marketing initiatives. We’re seeing a large emphasis on mobile and intranet projects, and other projects that can generate revenue. Our clients are investing, often heavily, in online platforms that have a strong earning potential. We are seeing more interest and action in outsourcing IT, hardware, and network infrastructure if it’s not a core company offering. The emphasis recently has been on value, not strictly on cost.
Most of the marketing experiences we’re creating are extensions of existing sites and platforms. As clients are becoming more sophisticated digital marketers, we’re seeing their interest directed toward SEO and social media initiatives.
We are also seeing a lot of interest in new Web platforms from our clients. The modern Web is continuing to raise expectations for users of B2B and intranet projects.
Last year, many people were planning mobile work but not spending heavily. We’re starting to see more mobile projects this year, following the planning last year.
We recently worked with Dairy Queen to release a mobile-optimized site and iPhone application. By reviewing analytics data, we were able to identify the site features that mobile phone users were accessing most frequently. This allowed us to distill the dairyqueen.com site into a simplified mobile experience featuring monthly promotions, nutritional information, and a store locator.
Michael Opperman, director of business development, Clockwork Active Media Systems, Minneapolis
Many of our clients are moving their Web sites toward a hub model—a site that facilitates social media and mobile applications in service of business objectives. For some clients, this means a user experience that functions as a storytelling platform for their brand, services, and products. For others, a more robust, nimble infrastructure is critical. Central to all projects is a focus on audience and content. Who are your users? Where are they having conversations? What do you have to offer them?
The digital space provides an unrivaled opportunity to change, test, and evolve. Information about user behavior and segmentation insights can inform continual improvements to sites and communications.
 Interest in and questions about social media continue to grow. It’s matured to the point where clients don’t feel like they can ignore it anymore. There is also a renewed drive for centralized data and robust metrics. Clients want to evaluate the effectiveness of efforts. Digital provides an unparalleled opportunity to do this. The days of compartmentalized data information are over for smart companies.
Generally speaking, we’re seeing clients more willing to tap into existing technologies instead of building their own. As an example, two years ago, everyone wanted to build their own online community. Now, clients are seeing the value of building on top of, or participating in, existing communities. It allows them to focus budget dollars on communicating effectively instead of reinventing the wheel.
Companies need to determine what their customers need and want. This involves a lot of listening—either to passive data, such as Web analytics, or to more active data, like reviews, blogs, or content in social networks. You don’t matter. We don’t matter. Only your users matter. Starting there, companies should ask themselves: What are the ways to provide intuitive, engaging experiences for those users?
One of our hospitality clients integrated a number of internal and third-party systems (including the client’s reservations engine) so that the client can collect data on guests. Based on behavior and preferences, guests receive customized communications that educate and cross-sell with little to no manual intervention. Satisfaction surveys are automatically sent when guests check out. Guests are automatically added to segmented mailing lists based on hotel and Web site behavior. The client has been able to provide a high-touch experience with minimal cost. We also helped the client decentralize content management so that nontechnical people can manage the Web site.
Steven Stephan, president, REV Solutions, Inc., Eden Prairie
REV Solutions works primarily in the retail domain. We see our customers looking at multi-channel retail in a broader context today. Just two years back, multi-channel emphasis was on enabling a consistent brand experience across retailers’ brick and mortar stores, call centers, catalogs, and Web initiatives. Today, we see an emphasis on multi-delivery channels, including mobile commerce, social media sites, and richer user interfaces.
Retailers that are reaching customers anytime and anywhere are now adding any way. Also, the days of expert reviews of products are officially over. Friends, people like you, and ratings are driving more products to the cart today than ever before. Browsing a product, then posting comments to a Facebook page or Twittering about it, is common. Those are becoming the new recommendation engines for Web sites.
Small to medium-sized businesses that have static sites are looking to jump to a more scalable architecture featuring commerce and social media aspects. Suppliers and manufacturers that previously haven’t sold direct to consumers are strategizing ways to go direct without jeopardizing their B2B relationships. Larger enterprises are considering commerce platforms to personalize and merchandise their sites with the same capabilities as in their stores.
Interestingly, the recession has driven more business to the Web as both retailers and their customers are looking to reduce costs. We also see more openness to a global delivery model to reduce cost and gain speed to market. I’m not sure if it’s the recession or the maturity and understanding of a global economy, but concerns surrounding de-centralizing a software development team are going away.
John Hillis, director of Web development, Omnera, Fridley
Our customers are prioritizing projects that offer the most immediate return on their investment. I would put them into the following categories:
• Process streamlining—Automate processes or providing additional support for products and services. Reduce staff time needed to handle things like orders, renewals, and returns.
• Traffic building—Everyone wants to be on the first page of a Google search, so search engine optimization and marketing are a part of just about every project. Social media is gaining momentum, but it’s harder to measure the returns. By contrast, interest in e-mail marketing seems to be waning.
We have seen a sharp uptick in requests for proposals. Many companies have done very little with their Web sites for years, and now they are starting to feel the effects.
Currently, projects that don’t provide a direct return on investment or site enhancements that can be phased in later are of the lowest priority. Companies are laying the foundation and distinguishing between the “need to have’s” and the “want to have’s.”
My advice to companies as they evaluate priorities:
> Don’t be swayed by what you hear is the hottest new thing. Instead, analyze current traffic on your Web site. Do some research on your target market. Interview customers and new visitors. Understand what things are working and what things on your site need improvement.
> Set one-, two-, and five-year goals for your Web site. Develop a plan that will get you there.
> Keep it simple, and don’t try and do everything at once.
A professional organization that we are working with is transitioning from a paper- and Postal Service–based process for membership dues and renewals to one that is all on line. This will result in a substantial reduction of paper, postage, and staff time.
Additionally, a motorcycle accessories company that we are working with recently had us develop an e-commerce site for its wholesale dealers. These wholesale orders are usually very large when compared to the company’s direct retail orders, and the pricing can vary from dealer to dealer. What was previously a paper-, phone-, and fax-based process with direct involvement of the sales reps is now completely automated on line. Dealers love the fact that they can now order any time of day and can view past orders and statements within this single interface.