Why the Internet is Good for You

Customers can easily access third-party reviews and opinions and don't have to rely on the business to educate them. Kelly keeps sending me these print publications to read, and I love that. Even though I read most of them online, I’m still enough of a technophobe to like going through the print versions and always find that I’ve missed some of the articles. So I’m often a month or two behind on the magazine editions.

One of the magazines I regularly read is BtoB: I learn so much about marketing from reading that. But last week, as I leafed through a two-month-old issue, I read something that surprised me (and not in a cake-and-balloons way).

The writer claims that a friend who is a car dealer is having a difficult time, and then goes on to say that consumer electronics is a “horrible business”. Now that phrase caught my eye, so I went back and read from the beginning to see if I’d understood wrong. But no, the reason why these businesses are so bad now? It’s that customers have information.

But as a consumer, the easy access to information we have right now is an amazing boon. As Gillin points out, if I want to buy a new laptop, I won’t go to a shop to decide what to buy: I will compare not just specs but also reviews and prices right from home. I’ll find out what shop to buy from, and if I can get it cheaper in another city (or really, another country: the laptop I’m working on right now came from the US when my husband was over there on a business trip and he ordered it online and brought it over).

Of course, this means that local businesses aren’t doing as well. (My neighborhood computer store in Pune—that guy we go to when we have computer trouble—didn’t make a commission on my laptop. But hey, he’s smart enough to not mind and is extremely helpful when we go to him. He even advised us on what laptop to buy when he knew we weren’t buying from him. He gets the new economy.)

Gillin also mentions that local businesses are finding it much more difficult to get away with charging different prices from different people for the same product or not being well-informed about their products. Having well-informed consumers lowers margins.

But do you know what that reminds me of? Perfect competition, in which buyers have perfect information (so that no seller can sell at a different price from the others) and there are no transaction costs.

Of course, perfect competition doesn’t exist (and probably wouldn’t augur very well for innovation if it did). However, the dramatically increased availability of information through the internet allows customers to make better decisions. It empowers us.

But it doesn’t have to be all bad for businesses either. If you are a local business, it’s an opportunity for you to change your marketing strategy from the worn-out one of making profits off your customers’ ignorance to attracting customers because you are better and different from other businesses.

Stop pushing. Don’t have salespeople who can sell sand in the desert. Have salespeople who are passionate about your product and who are eager to help customers choose the right product. Become an ally of your customer. Become my neighborhood computer guy.

Reach out to consumers. If they are online, go online. Start a blog. Ask for feedback. Friend them on Facebook. Thank them for positive reviews. Reach out to those who leave negative reviews and try to address their problems.

Be human. Let your personality show. Treat your customers like they’re people (and important ones at that).

If the internet is empowering to consumers, it’s empowering to businesses too. I must say Gillin understands this, as he says:

Research has demonstrated that customers who arrive at a decision through trusted third-party sources are more loyal and spend more money. The survivors in the new economy will be businesses that clearly understand their value, articulate it to a ruthlessly skeptical market and enlist their constituents to act as a referral network.

The internet tells me what people are thinking. I don’t have to conduct a focus group: I can read blogs and tweets and reviews. (Of course, it’s not quite the same as conducting your own research: go for that too, if you can afford it.) It allows me to see what people are saying about my brand. It allows me to see which of my customers are unhappy and to respond to them and see if I can make it better.

As a marketing person in a global company, the internet doesn’t scare me. It excites me. Yes, it opens our company up to competition with companies around the world. But it also enables us to market to companies around the world. It enables a company like us to exist: where people in the US and in India and in the Philippines collaborate to provide their clients a great experience.

The world is becoming more flat. Get used to it.

About Unmana Datta
Senior Marketing Manager at Affinity Express, Unmana is an obsessive consumer of blogs and social media, and fascinated by their use in marketing.

One Response to Why the Internet is Good for You

  1. Pingback: From Print to Digital: Transform Your Business « Affinity Express Blog

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