Get It or Die: Online is Your Core Business

First published June 11, 2009 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

In a recent survey, we asked B2B buyers how they prefer ordering the things they order all the time. Sixty-three percent said they prefer to order them online. The next largest group was the 15% who would go the traditional route of ordering from a local office over the phone. Another 12% said they’d prefer to order from a real live sales rep. In a recent presentation to a client, I kept that pie chart of results up for a while, allowing it to sink in, because I think the implications are astounding.  After it sunk in, I asked what I believe to be a fundamentally important question: “Look at the chart and ask yourself, how closely does your company’s strategic direction and resource allocation match that pie chart? That’s where your customers are going, and they’re moving fast. Are you going to be there when they get there?”

“getting it” vs. “Getting It”

Lately, I’ve also talked a lot about “getting it.” To me, there are two levels of getting it.  There’s the safe level: the proficient e-business unit that understands search and executes effectively, realizes that online strategies have to be planned across channels, is struggling to put attribution models in place that work, and is continually testing and optimizing landing pages. If we look at digital marketing alone, they understand it and are skilled practitioners. This level, “getting it” with a small “g,” is rare, although there are several examples to look at.

But then there’s “Getting It,” with a capital “G.” This is the company that realizes that online forms the core of the customer experience and that everything else has to support that — if not today, then in the very near future. This is the company that is rapidly and aggressively moving to digital as its primary way of doing business, that is already making the painful but required transitions and is willing to cannibalize its traditional core in order to support the move to online. Outside of pure online plays, this level of “Getting It” is so rare as to be basically nonexistent.

Digital Butt-Covering

Companies pay lip service to “getting it,” but they’ve hedged all their online bets. They have treated online as an incremental revenue channel, putting in rigorous ROI thresholds so that it can be separated from the core business and risk can be balanced against returns and investment, thus minimizing it. E-business is a siloed sandbox, relegated to the sidelines so it doesn’t rock the mother ship.

What these companies fail to realize is that this safe, incremental approach to moving online is probably the riskiest thing they can do. Here’s why.

Online is a discontinuous innovation in consumerism of all kinds. It’s a huge step forward for the buyer in almost every way imaginable. It’s easier, more convenient, more useful and more effective. If people aren’t buying online, they’re researching online. And no matter how much they’re doing both those things, they would like to do more. The only thing holding them back is a lack of destinations or a quality user experience on the destinations they do have to choose from.  Your customers are adopting online at an incredibly fast rate.

By easing towards online at a safe, incremental rate because you’re mitigating risk to your core business, you’re allowing your critical mass of customers to get in front of you. Whenever a mass of customers is underserviced, someone will fill that gap, and you can bet it will be a nimble, online pure play that’s moving at light speed compared to you.

Internet Speed Defined

Jim Lecinski from Google’s Chicago office has a chart he loves to show in client presentations. It slaps you upside the head with the reality of “Internet speed.” He first recounts a typical conversation with a client that falls squarely in the first category of “getting it.”

Jim: “What are you doing with your online campaigns?”

Client: “Oh, we have a lot happening. We’re expanding our keyword list next quarter and we’ll optimize that campaign over the following quarter. In Q3 and 4 we’re going to run some experiments with social media that we’re excited about. For the next fiscal, we’ve built more into the budget for better tracking and attribution. That will help as we move to cross-channel optimization because we’ll get great data showing us what’s working and what’s not. That will also allow us to step up our landing page testing and optimization.”

Jim: “So, you’ve got your plans set out for about 18 to 24 months ahead?”

Client: “You bet. We’re moving very quickly.”

Then Jim shows them the Google Trends graph that reminds them that both YouTube and FaceBook went from zero to Internet domination in under 24 months. Further, few people had heard of Twitter 12 short months ago.

That’s Internet Speed.

That’s “Getting It.”

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