WEB TECHNIQUES IN OVERDRIVE
Paul Welsh, Contributing Editor
Forrester Research, a leading Internet research firm, predicts that business-to-business e-commerce will hit $1 trillion by 2003. Agri-marketers, start your engines.
Whether you're using the Internet for e-commerce, relationship building or information exchange, the challenge is still to do a good job of managing the basics while adjusting to the speed of change. You want to do this:
1. Get people to your site,
2. Keep them on your site, and
3. Track them while they're there.
Six years ago I attended my first seminar on Internet marketing. After two hours of hearing about the wonders of Web sites as marketing tools, I still didnít feel enlightened. So I asked the question that I thought was fundamental: "How do you get people to your site?"
The seminar presenter, supposed expert in an industry too young to have many experts, was struck speechless. After regaining his composure, he said that he recommended putting your Web site address on your business card. Yep, that ought to do it. Get that Web site address on your business card. That should drive traffic.
We've come a long way in six years. Agri-marketers indeed are including their Web site address on their business cards but not one person interviewed listed those 31/2- by 2-inch bombastic marketing tools as a way to build traffic. Today they're talking about things like Web casting, rich media, key word monitoring, viral marketing, direct marketing, grass roots efforts and such traditional favorites as public relations and advertising.
Jon Suarez-Davis, director of digital strategy at Biggs/Gilmore, Kalamazoo, Mich., says, "According to Advertising Age, $7.4 billion in mass media is being used to promote dot-com sites. With all that clutter it's tough to break through with traditional mass media."
Of course, we're not seeing that kind of money invested in media directed toward agricultural audiences. However, every agricultural media rep I talk with, both print and broadcast, mentions dot-coms as a new source of revenue for them.
Many Internet marketers suggest finding a way to gain media attention at the time you launch your site. After all, you can be new only once. After that you need to be "new and improved".
"Once we have a Web site up, we use PR to get people to the site," says Glen Drummond, partner at Quarry Integrated Communications, Waterloo, Ontario.
Drummond tells of one successful public relations tactic that Quarry executed on behalf of a client, Suburu, in Canada.
"We gained extra impact for the Web site by featuring Silken Laumann, a Canadian rower who participated in the Atlanta Olympics," Drummond says. "We let people know they could send their well wishes to Silken via the Suburu site and she actually responded to some of those messages through e-mail. There was a lot of media interest attached to this story which brought attention to the Web site."
Suarez-Davis says Biggs/Gilmore used a grassroots, localized approach to build traffic for DirectAg.com by partnering with FFA.
"FFA received $5 for every person they were able to sign up for the DirectAg.com site," Suarez-Davis says. "It is a great fund raiser with no obligation to buy on the part of the people who are signed up. The goal is to reduce customer acquisition costs by driving customers to the Web site."
"Viral marketing" is another term you hear a lot today. Some describe it as an e-mail chain letter without the slimy get-rich-quick come-ons.
Suarez-Davis compares "viral marketing" on the Internet to the MCI WorldCom's Friends & Family program in which you get a current user to encourage someone else to be a user, too.
Larry Stolte, senior vice president at CMF&Z, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and managing director of WebSiteDynamics, believes improving "key words," those words used in search engines, is another way to improve Web site traffic. By surveys on-site or through e-mail, WebSiteDynamics identifies which of the 20 to 25 key words submitted at registration are pulling the best so the agency can change-out the words that are drawing the least traffic.
It's one thing to get a visitor to your site and quite another thing to keep them on track and coming back.
"In agriculture, there's a finite universe so it's important to generate repeat traffic with utilities," Drummond says. "We have to freshen data in these, but the initial interface can gain value over time through familiarity."
When you talk about keeping visitors on your Web site and getting them to return, the word "fresh" is always mentioned. You can't leave the same information on your site for weeks and months at a time and expect to have repeat visitors.
Sometimes the manufacturer has a disconnect between having a site and investing the kind of money it takes to keep it fresh. On the other hand, fresh doesn't always have to be expensive. Here are some of the expensive and inexpensive ways agri-marketers are keeping sites fresh and interactive.
1. Administration Tools
Kent McCool of Web FX Studios, Indianapolis, Ind., a company that specializes in database-driven Web sites, says they use administration tools that allow the user to update the site themselves. This allows companies to input fresh data themselves without the added expense of having it done outside.
2. Calculating Tools
Almost every Web site developer we talked with is using some kind of calculating tool for their agricultural clients. Problem/solution components add value and create true interaction. They are also a productivity enhancer for the company's staff.
McCool says the Web site they built for Brock Manufacturing has an estimating function that uses the most current prices lists, which allows corporate offices to double-check estimates.
Product Search 2000 has an interactive component that gathers data such as the user's state, county, chemical usage, diseases and pest resistance which in turn allows Asgrow to give back a better product recommendation.
Drummond says they've placed a rate calculation tool on an American Cyanamid site to help farmers using tank mixes. It provides them a quicker way to calculate how much product they need, and how much to put in each tank-full.
An extranet is an Internet-based computer network that is restricted to a select group of individuals and/or companies. Once again, many agribusiness Internet developers use them for both customers and sales/distribution.
Drummond says that by using extranets they can speak with identified audiences in a precise, customized way, thereby providing greater value to the user. Often they create extranets to communicate with channel partners.
McCool says they've built a secure access system for the Global Competitive Intelligence Department at Dow AgroSciences. It limits viewing and editing. For example, someone in Brazil who has competitive information can place that information on the extranet for other sales people to read and edit with information they have gathered.
Stolte says some of their clients are using special promotional Web sites to cross sell. Through e-mail, they invite their best customers to a particular promotional site to let them know about special offers. If prospects don't have an interest, they can just delete the e-mail without having to read through all the details of the promotion.
Another way to build traffic on your site is to personalize the site or even allow the user to personalize.
"Personalization is possible and important on the Internet," Suarez-Davis says. "Throughout the experience on the site we strive for personalization."
"One technique is to allow users to customize their experience as much as possible," Drummond says. "In our ag-work, this has taken the form of setting navigational preferences by region, subscribing to content update notices by crop, allowing growers to track the current value of their personal crop inventory, or comparing seed varieties based on trials with soil, climate, and pest conditions similar to their own farm."