This fundamental problem threatens to topple many otherwise sound efforts in electronic marketing.
Marketing people are dreaming up Web initiatives without knowing how to guide a project profitably through the maze of corporate Information Services.
What's needed is more upfront communication and a rapid process for building prototypes that answer the user's real needs without extending project deadlines or budgets.
For starters, marketers must recognize that IS projects are done by programmers who are expert at writing code, not bridging the gulf between a marketing idea and workable software. These people need complete, unwavering specifications so they can meet often unreasonable delivery deadlines.
At my first meeting with a Fortune 500 company this fall, I started a battle between marketing and IS people by asking, "So, what is this software supposed to do?" Marketing must supply that direction.
Develop a clear product concept and business objective -- a 25- to 50-word statement defining precisely what the product will do for whom -- and share these with the development team.
Is the objective of the site to locate prospects, to make sales, to increase name recognition or to aid in customer research?
Then rapidly develop a prototype. In rapid prototyping, a clear set of design objectives are set and the product is "mocked-up" at early stages of development.
That way, the marketing staff can evaluate the product's look and feel early enough to make changes without the expense and frustration of rewriting code.
MAKE TIME TO DO WORK
As a byproduct of this process, the programmers should use the model as a specification for the final product.
"But we don't have time" -- I hear that often. Research shows clearly that nailing down the design early in the process reduces total development time by 30%. That means no churn, false starts or costly revisions.
Rapid prototyping also allows you to test the software with customers before investing in programming.
IS people naturally presume a higher level of technical competence than customers possess, and few IS folks are trained in how non-techies interact with a computer.
As a result, most companies learn about flaws post-launch, through help calls and complaints, and that's bad marketing.
Usually a marketing department's best move is to work with a certified usability expert, who cannot only develop the design for the site, but design and run customer tests as well.
Finally, make one person responsible for design decisions. That person for design should be comfortable with technology and able to see the site from a customer's point of view.
There has never been a more complex marketing challenge, with more at stake, than the design and implementation of Web sites and intranets. And because this channel is relatively new, there isn't much experience on which to draw.
As a marketer one thing is certain: With Net marketing, it's what you do before you produce that counts most.
The more time and attention you give to strategy and design at the start of a project, the more good will, information and profit you'll reap in return.
Charles Kreitzberg is president of Cognetics Corp., a Princeton, N.J.-based company that provides strategic design for Internet, intranet, CD-ROM, kiosk and other computer applications.