Page Donovan's Editorial Archives
The Web has historically functioned in a sales and marketing vacuum. Just three years ago, the majority of Web sites were spearheaded by information systems departments, with little or no input from the marketing side. Fortunately this process has evolved, and more and more sites today are built under marketing leadership (or at least with marketing input). Nevertheless, the Web has still not gained a full seat at the table with traditional marketing players such as advertising and public relations.
While you would never think of embarking on a traditional marketing program without a solid plan in place, this is the rule rather than the exception with Web-based programs. Whether you already have a Web site or plan to develop one in the near future, it is critical to ask yourself a key question before the first line of code is written:
Not asking this all-important question leads to static, ineffective Web sites that leave senior management wondering what it's getting in return for that often hefty investment.
Strategic planning not only can ensure that your online initiative will produce the desired return on investment, but can also save time and money by forcing you to think through the entire process and trouble-shoot potential issues before they arise.
The process need not be cumbersome or terribly formal. It should, however, involve thorough consideration of the following questions.
Who are the key stake holders in this project?
In a typical home builder Web project, information systems and/or sales and marketing personnel are often the driving force, and both should be involved in the early discussions. In addition, consider getting input from other potential benefactors of your Web initiative, both internal to your organization and on the customer side.
Internally, audiences to consider involving in these early discussions might include:
Externally, it is important to consider your buyers. Who are they, and what are their Web tendencies? How can you best meet their expectations today? Tomorrow? Expectations of customers regarding the Web and what they'll find there continue to rise, so don't overlook this part of the strategic development process. If you aren't sure how to obtain this information, consider hiring a consultant with expertise in this area to help you fully understand your online customer.
What is the main objective of your Web initiative?
Lots of Web sites are developed without a sound answer to this question, but how can you create an effective tool if you have not clearly defined what you expect that tool to do? Whether your objective is to create more educated visitors to the sales center, generate qualified leads or provide a soup-to-nuts home buying experience online, considering this question critical. If the Web won't actually do something for you, then why do it?
How will you accomplish your objectives?
Once you've identified your objectives, you must determine how best to leverage the Web and its capabilities to accomplish your goals. At this point it might make sense to bring in an outside consultant with Web expertise. Your existing marketing agency might be able to help. If not, it should be able to point you toward a firm that understands the value of strategic planning and focuses on developing solutions that work to meet your online objectives.
How will my Web program integrate with the rest of my marketing strategy?
As previously mentioned, the Web cannot function in a vacuum. The most effective online programs fully integrate with the rest of the organization's marketing strategy. How will you integrate? Is your Web site address prominently featured on all of your print advertising? Are you leveraging direct mail to drive people to your Web site? Once they're there, are you collecting information about them? Are you pulling Web-generated leads into your traditional follow-up process or customizing an e-process to meet the buyer's needs?
Next month: Is your site really working? How do you know?
Page Donovan is chief marketing strategist for Inter@ctivate Inc., an interactive consulting firm specializing in online solutions for the home building industry. She has written articles for Professional Builder, including Screen Gems. E-mail Page with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org .