Roundtable panel shares Web tactics

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When done well, Internet marketing becomes an essential part of a company's overall marketing effort, not just a side activity, say members of our NetMarketing 200 roundtable panel.

These marketers should know. Each has built a Web site that earned an A or A- in our first annual ranking of the best business-to-business marketing Web sites.

Bigger marketing picture

In the following roundtable, executives from Netscape Communications Corp., GTE Corp., Columbia/HCA Healthcare, Informix Software and Hilton Hotels Corp. discuss issues important to all Net marketers: Incorporating the Web into the bigger marketing picture, dealing with upper management, budgeting and challenges for 1998.

Here's an edited transcript of what they had to say.

Business Marketing: When you talk with your bosses, what's the biggest weapon you have to convince them that Web marketing is for real?

Jennifer Bailey, Netscape: We're pretty aggressive about measuring effectiveness in Web marketing by counting the number of leads generated and the number of software downloads and the amount generated from our online software store and from revenue contributions from transactions, subscriptions and advertising. We count these things so we can say, `If we invest more here and here, we're going to have a direct impact on those indicators.'

Suzanne Neufang, GTE: We cite the number of user sessions per week and other quantitative data like the number of unsolicited e-mail messages and the number of those that are sales-related.

Steve Parker, Columbia/HCA Healthcare: We've shown senior management that marketing on the Web puts patients in our hospitals; it doesn't take too much convincing when you have that kind of tracking and hundreds of e-mails a day thanking us for information which led to people seeking medical treatment.

Business Marketing: How much is your Web marketing budget increasing next year?

Ms. Bailey: We'll continue to increase our budget, how much depends on the new sets of programs we'll deliver. Traditional companies say we'll spend X on advertising and allocate some percentage of that to the Web. We've flipped that: Our major ad budget is electronic. If we get additional money, we'll secondarily fill out marketing vehicles with more traditional print and direct mail. We'll use other media on a more targeted basis.

Mr. Parker: Although our total budget is declining, our focus on the intranet and Internet is increasing so real Web dollars will be increasing. We'll be shifting dollars from online services [America Online, CompuServe] to Web services.

Business Marketing: How are you measuring the return on your Net marketing investment?

Mr. Parker: Patient revenue reconciliation is a great measurement tool for us. It allows us to take the individuals that enter the Web site and run a correlation against a database of all individuals admitted to all our facilities. Those that visited the Web site and then enter a facility are recognized as new patients and we recognize a return on investment.

Bruce Rosenberg, Hilton Hotels Corp.: The first and foremost measure we look at is the number of room reservations made on the site. We also look at the number of page views, number of persons joining our e-mail program and site membership program.

Business Marketing: Are you adding staff next year? Are you adding techies or marketers?

Ms. Neufang: The staff we'll be adding will be more in the line of marketers. We're interested in anybody with online experience because this is a new area.

Sandra Bateman, Informix Software: It's hard to say. If I had to prioritize resources they wouldn't necessarily go to my Net marketing team; I'd recommend that my tech counterpart get extra people.

Business Marketing: What's the biggest challenge you'll face in 1998 and how are you going to overcome it?

Ms. Bailey: Our biggest operational challenges are staffing and growing the business. Our strategic challenges are in developing sets of services and in retention of users.

Ms. Bateman: The biggest challenge is what every company is facing: Keeping up with rapid change in a high-pressure, high-visibility environment. In the Internet world there are changes every three to six months. It's like trying to overhaul a car engine going 60 mph on the freeway.

Business Marketing: What's `The Next Big Thing' in Internet marketing?

Ms. Bailey: Personalization and customization. The services and marketing vehicles that are going to win will be those that target and give users control over the marketing message and content they see.

Ms. Bateman: One-on-one marketing is talked about a lot. The Internet has the capability to provide it like no other medium in history.

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