It often seems that amidst the absolutely feverish pitch to launch Internet IPO after Internet IPO these days, there is often a greater premium placed on the IPO’s first day potential earnings than on that particular dot com’s financial staying power. Tried, true and tested economic fundamentals are far too often simply ignored in the dizzying web stratosphere. What’s more, the consumer is many times left to fend for himself in discerning exactly what the dot com flavor of the moment really does. And in the now sexy B2B environs, vendors and buyers are engaged in a novel tango that could end up feeling more like a La Bamba dance marathon unless both parties become better informed about the real advantages of using the Net to substantially improve business processes.
But before we call in the free enterprise wagons and throw up our hands in the face of the deafening e-commerce hyperbole, we should take note that seemingly ancient business prescripts are again in vogue. Participants in the Net explosion are increasingly raising the proverbial bar higher and higher when determining the actual value of a particular business proposition. You don’t have to look too far for the signs. Amazon-backed Pets.com is languishing at $6 a share, down substantially from its $11 price as it went public less than two months ago. Dot com royalty like Amazon.com has had its stock drop some 40% since December and Etoys.com is down 70 percent. Peapod.com a heralded player within its vertical has fallen $4 a share to just $3.63 in reaction to the resignation by its CEO as well as to the fact that some major investors were no longer interested.
Rest assured, none of these aforementioned giants are going away. In fact, all of them have demonstrated the nimbleness and sensibility to make adjustments to emerging market forces. These players are keepers. But what these developments do suggest, however, is that these days dot com wine and roses are also fraught with peril, escalating uncertainty and increased market trepidation. People want to separate the wannabes from the can-do’s. And they want to do it while incurring as little risk and expense as possible.
This is where Internet marketing communications play an increasingly critical role and bear an increasingly important responsibility. Ad agencies and PR firms engaged in the craft of creating and executing marketing campaigns on behalf of dot coms need to get better at articulating the value and uniqueness of their client’s business. When consumers or B2B players ask questions, Why should ____.com matter to me? these firms had better have a good answer that can withstand the slings and arrows of a market that will be more and more skeptical and a public that will be less and less easily impressed.
Consider the dismal showing by the Internet contingent during the Super Bowl. Perhaps it comes off as nagging traditionalism, but one would think that advertising was still meant to package basic information about a service or product in such a way that a would-be consumer would be motivated to buy. To be sure, the dot com ads that peppered the Super Bowl broadcast were full of creative fervor and some genuinely entertaining dramatic and comedic fare. But it is safe to assume that any Super Bowl viewer would be hard pressed to name even two dot com companies that advertised during the telecast. If by chance they do happen to recall a certain dot com ad, there is a very good chance that the viewer won’t even be able to say what the recalled dot com claims to do. And folks, we’re not even two months out from the game.
Thus, the charge is simple to dot com breeders and marketers alike: tell ’em what you do, tell ’em why it’s important and tell ’em why they should care. Great marcomm firms should have the foresight, experience and street smarts to help their dot com clients wrestle with their business models in the very early days of business conception. It has to be understood that in the new Internet infrastructure that there are no givens and no easy business lay-ups. Challenge the business model at its very core. Poke holes in weak suppositions. And marketing practitioners should always remember that if they don’t quickly understand what a dot com does and why it really matters the people that they are trying to sell it to don’t stand a gigabyte of a chance either.
Recipes for dot com success will not be found in non-descript, creative-for-creative sake $100 million marketing campaigns. Nor will success be derived from manipulating customers to buy what is cool or sexy or fun for the moment. Rather, dot com companies and their marketing firm partners will ultimately be successful by first seeing if a particular idea truly makes sense and deciding if it will translate well to the Web. Thus, good old-fashioned pragmatism will indeed reign supreme in Silicon Valley and beyond. The conventions that will grow to challenge will not be those of age-old capitalism, but rather the select faulty, hyperbole-driven, nonsensical dribble that uninvitingly invades the otherwise remarkable dot com space.
John Stoepler and Stephen McNiel are with the Ayzenberg Group, based in Pasadena.