Sector after sector have under estimated the impact of the web. Newspapers, music and network TV could not reconcile the changes the web brought with their existing mental model, and so they buried their heads in the sand.
I see this same pattern repeated all of the time. Business owners putting the web in a box that fits neatly with their existing mental model. The most common manifestation of this is mis-categorizing the web as a marketing tool.
Senior management look at the web and try and fit it into their existing organisational structure, and so it ends up crowbarred into marketing. Of course once in marketing it turns into a marketing tool because that is how marketeers use it. However, it has the potential to be so much more.
Below I highlight just ten roles that the web can play outside of the marketing department. Hopefully this will inspire management to consider giving the web a wider remit than marketing. Perhaps it will even encourage them to move the web team out of marketing entirely.
The web is well known for being an amazing social tool that can bring together communities of people. Unfortunately, once again many business leaders only consider this ability in the context of marketing. They think about word of mouth recommendations or creating buzz around a campaign. The truth is that this is just one of many community activities.
The web can be used by charities to manage and encourage volunteers. It can be used by companies to mobilise public opinion against competition or government legislation. It can even be used as a tool for creating internal communities within the organisation especially if that organisation is geographically disparate.
A recent example of this in the UK was when the government decided to tax hot pies and pasties. Companies who sold these products (who were unsurprisingly reluctant to see them being made more expensive) used the web to mobilise a campaign against the tax.
The web has also revolutionised the world of customer support. Where once companies had to swallow the considerable expense of providing telephone support, they now have a wealth of considerably cheaper web based options.
Many companies have been able to gain a competitive advantage from offering outstanding web based customer support. For example, where once I could only complain about the cost of my energy supplier, now I can login to their website and get personalised advice on how to lower my energy bills. I can also do various admin tasks such as submitting a meter reading.
Beyond the obvious advantage that eCommerce offers, the web also provides a number of other advantages for improving the payment process.
There are online services dedicated to automating and managing invoicing. This is perfect for smaller companies who don’t have a dedicated accounts department.
For larger companies the web offers a chance to dramatically cut the cost of invoicing and chasing late payments, by reducing the amount of physical mail being sent out.
Then of course there is the ability for users to manage their accounts and payment details online, so reducing the management overhead of keeping customer records up to date.
Supply chain management
Supply chain management is a crucial component of many businesses. In order to improve cash flow companies work hard to avoid holding large amounts of stock. This means that the various suppliers need to be carefully managed in order to ensure stock is always available.
The web is often used to manage these relationships. For example, Headscape worked with a retailer who used a franchise model. We built them a management system that handled stock levels between the individual franchises and the central warehouse.
Many websites already contain a section promoting jobs available within the company, but the web offers many more possibilities.
The web can be used to manage job applications and to expose job opportunities to a larger audience using third party websites.
The web can also be used to manage the induction process once somebody has been hired. It can even provide staff with a portal where they can access their personnel information.
Product testing environment
There was a time when testing the market for a new product was incredibly expensive, let alone testing initial prototypes. However the web has changed all of that.
With easy and direct contact with consumers, canvassing interest in new products is so much simpler.
Best of all, listening to consumers is a great way of deciding on the evolution of your product or service. Consumers are constantly sharing their opinion about your products via sites like Get Satisfaction or through traditional social networks. All you have to do is listen.
Not only is it easier to develop new products, it is also considerably easier to understand your audience. Where once market research was an expensive business, now consumer data is available for all to see. Facebook and Twitter can provide real insights into who your customers are and what they want.
The web also makes it easy to gather more information on users through polls, surveys or even email.
The web has revolutionised the way many products are delivered. Where once music and books were physical, they are now primarily delivered electronically.
Other products too can be delivered electronically. Even things such as consultancy services can be delivered online. You may think your product isn’t deliverable online, but there maybe approaches you have not considered.
Even if the product itself cannot be delivered electronically, you may find that supporting material can. Instead of creating Multi-lingual manuals that have to be printed before rapidly becoming out of date, why not make that material available online?
Recently I purchased a smart thermostat that had to be installed. In the past this would have involved a hefty manual and intimidating instructions. Instead they just pointed me at a website that took me through the process step by step and even had the occasional video.
Although Comms can refer to marketing communications, it also applies to communications between staff and between the business and existing customers.
In many ways the web is the ultimate communication tool and ideally suited to communication between the various parties involved in a business. I have been involved in developing extranets that bring together multinational teams, and enquiry management systems for ensuring that customer communications end up going to the right person in the organisation.
There are many third party web based tools from intranets to ticketing systems that streamline communications within organisations and with customers. What is more many organisations choose to develop their own custom systems to handle the specific communication challenges of their business.
Productivity and cost savings tool
When management think about the web they think of it as a tool for generating revenue through increasing sales. However, this is only half the story. The other half is that the web can be used to generate significant savings through increases in efficiency.
This maybe through savings in customer support or in recruitment costs. However, it is also often through the creation of an efficient intranet.
Many intranets fail to live up to their potential because they are hard to use and confusing. However, a well designed intranet has the potential to empower staff, work more effectively and ultimately get more done.
It amazes me how much organisations are willing to pay for the creation of a great marketing site while largely ignoring the many other benefits the web can bring. Instead of investing in these other areas we either gloss over them entirely or throw poorly designed technologies at them. To make the most of the power of the web we need to look beyond marketing and put the same attention into how the web can help other parts of the business.
“Fast Business” image courtesy of Bigstock.com