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Coming from behind is nothing new to Excite. When six Stanford University grads formed the Internet search company in 1995, Yahoo!, InfoSeek and Lycos were already vying for market position.

Now, two years later, Excite is No. 2 among search engines. It also has the largest unduplicated reach among search engines, according to PC Meter. Up to 47.6% of the estimated 30 million Web users check in on a daily basis.

"We've got some wild ideas, and we aren't afraid to act on them," says Scott Epstein, 38, who as director of marketing has overseen the service's marketing efforts.

The company's success has come in part through strategic alliances. Excite is the first search company to align with all three major Internet browser marketers-Netscape Communications Corp., Microsoft Corp. and America Online.

Early on, Excite paid millions to get listed on the Netscape and Microsoft browsers. Late last year, Excite formed co-branded services with AOL and WebTV Networks to increase distribution and reach further.

Excite also knows that impressing both consumers and advertisers is critical. Last year, it launched its first branding effort, a $10 million campaign created by Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, featuring the late Jimi Hendrix's classic "Are You Experienced?"

Targeting Los Angeles and New York netizens, advertisers and investors, the campaign helped boost brand awareness by 33%. The number of advertisers grew 87% in the first quarter of 1997 from the last quarter of 1996, to 434.

"Our strategy is to define a brand that delivers on its promise to help people get more out of the Web," Mr. Epstein says.

As the Internet reaches critical mass, Excite plans to ease the transition to mainstream medium. It recently introduced a TV-style format organizing its content into topic-oriented channels.

"We're a media company first and now it's all about understanding the consumer,"

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