who needs the net…now?

The media of the masses-Internet-is yet to
reach the masses in India. But does this mean that the Internet’s only role for an
Indian marketer at present is as a means of ‘keeping up with the Jones’. The
Internet is much too powerful a force to be just a marketer’s and communicator’s
fancy of the month.

On one hand, it is giving a business the
opportunity to make the world-at least the connected parts of it-their market. In the same
stride, it is creating a competitor for him in Venezuela, even if his business happens to
be supplying widgets to the friendly manufacturer next door.

The Net is casting aside a system of fixed
suppliers and vendors, which had been a creation of an imperfect world, as economists
would term it, where information was a private property not a public domain. Recently, one
of the big three Detroit boys announced that it was discontinuing the practice of having
fixed suppliers for non-critical components for its automobiles. Its gameplan is to use
the Net to get the most competitive prices for parts like nuts, bolts, and widgets. This
move created an opportunity for a component maker in Chennai, and alongwith it placed a
threat for everyone in the business of nuts and bolts.

The Net is becoming a two-faced sword and
at this point of time there are some Indian businesses especially exposed to the
tremendous upside and an equally pronounced downside. These, for most part, are businesses
that have traditionally not found too much value in advertising. The paradox is, they see
web presence as the reward

that a big corporate cat gives himself
after he finishes signing on a Rs 40-crore advertising campaign. This misperception has
deterred them from taking their business global with a click of a mouse.

Among the most vulnerable are businesses
whose business is exploiting the comparative strengths of nations. For an exporter, one
sure way of committing hara kiri is by not having a Net presence. The guy who competes
with him from Taiwan already has a better cost structure, image for quality, and is on the
Net. For an importer in the US, who sources his products on the Net the businesses would
not even be in reckoning. Forget level playing field, he would not have any field to speak
of. On the other hand, if this exporter gets a brother in Bangalore to put together a web
site for him, which one can realistically assume could be better than that of the
Taiwanese chap, he changes the ballgame. Wasn’t it Sun Tsu who said that if you are
not too good at a certain playing field, then the thing to do is to change the field.

Net presence is equally valuable to the
in-bound travel trade in India. People overseas not only use the Net to see which movie
they should watch, but also to decide where they want to take a vacation. Selling travel
service is the single biggest component of ecommerce at present. According to Yahoo! Inc.,
provider of the Net’s most popular search engine, travel-related ecommerce is growing
at 400 percent per year and last year stood at $ 40 billion. In some places, it has
started to challenge the traditional channel of travel sales.

There is a very real market for in-bound
travel to India that can be tapped using the Net. This was discovered by a leading Indian
travel company, which set up a web site to promote its treks along the Ganges. Over 9,000
people visited the web site in the first month and led to a conversion rate of around 570.
A much higher response rate than the average rate of 4 percent for a database mailing.
Only that here one does not need a database to begin with.

Another example of a business which netted
clients using the Web as a storefront is that of a real estate developer who had a
property for sale near Kodaikanal. The market for this was mostly NRIs, originally from
southern part of India who would like to eventually settle in Kodaikanal. The
communication consultancy devised that the most cost-effective solution was setting up a
web site. The result, enough first inquiries to completely sell the entire 200 acre
property in just under a year. Normally this would have taken over a year and a half.
These are just some of the Indian businesses that stand to benefit from setting up a web
site. Moreover, a couple of factors make web presence attractive for even the small
businesses.

Contrary to what people may have one
believe, Net presence does not cost too much money. In fact, it is the most cost-effective
solution for small businesses. And if one sets up a site at Geocities (which I would not
recommend owing to lackluster performance) it costs absolutely nothing.

Equally strong is the misunderstanding that
setting up a web site is complex. Though it helps to have professionals do the job, even
you can set up a web site with the help of software that are as easy to use as Word or
PowerPoint. And in the time to come, these software will become increasingly more user
friendly.

One factor which makes the Net especially
irresistible is that in the fast-paced world, which marketers have to live in, a web-based
solution is one of the fastest and easiest to implement. There is no need to put together
a database, send out mailers. You are in business from the word go.

However, a word of caution. The currency of
this linked world is a thing called indexing. It is the process by which a web creator
tells the search engines that such and such information exists at such and such web site.
It’s indexing which makes or brakes a web site and as creating web pages becomes
easier, indexing becomes more challenging.

A hash of indexing and the web site will be
an isolated and unexplored corner of the Net. But if one does the job right, then each
time a purchase engineer in Detroit uses a search engine to find out about suppliers of
nuts and bolts, the engine will give a link to the Chennai-based component supplier’s
site. And then, your business will click in the global village’s marketplace.

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