Marketing nei new media e nelle tecnologie elettroniche

No. 30 - February 10, 1999


This issue of NetMarketing is very late, because of technical and organization problems on the site. From now on it will resume its usual frequency, every three or four weeks. No. 31 will be online soon.


img/loghino.gif (1071 byte) 1. There is no “Mr. Internet”
In my country, most people write Internet with a capital I and no “the”. That is not a matter of just grammar. I think it reflects poor thinking.

They seem to believe that there is some sort of “Mr. Internet” – or an organization called “Internet” that has its own opinions, culture and habits. They don’t understand that there are tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of networks, that the internet is a connecting device that links all sorts of different things, that (unlike traditional media) thins is an environment of great diversity. Countless communities, each with it own identity; millions of people that communicate in many different ways.

I have a problem with editors, of books or magazines, when I write “in the internet” and they want to change it to “in Internet”. They are dominated by habit and don’t understand why the general perception of “Internet” as something that has an identity of its own is silly and confusing. This problem is shared by many marketers, who think they can force the internet to behave like broadcast media or assume that they can succeed in this new environment with a traditional marketing approach.

There is no such thing as an internet “market” or “audience”. As the best students of this subject have pointed out many times, this is an environment for selectivity and personal relationships. But that’s hard to understand for most companies or traditional marketing practitioners.

The web and the spider

Believe it or not, I’ve read and heard several times this peculiar statement (even by people who think they understand how the net works):

“If it’s a Big Web, there must be a Big Spider”.

They seem to think that it’s a cobweb, with a structure like this:

While we know that the internet (and therefore the “world wide web”) works like this:

This diagram is taken from
The origins of the internet
by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon, 1996

This is not a “technical detail”. The (wonderful) “distributed” structure of the internet, with no central point anywhere, isn’t just a matter of technical efficiency. It’s also an ever-growing variety and diversity of culture, communities and human relations, which is, I think, the single most important value of the net..


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 2. Technology and service
I’d like to say a little more about a subject that I discussed a year ago: how poorly applied technologies and routines can become a nuisance and get in the way of service and customer satisfaction.

The stories I am telling are true. I don’t name names because that’s irrelevant – and it wouldn’t be appropriate to criticize a single company when most of its competitors do the same, or worse. These are only a few examples. The list of problems that we face is never-ending and a few more turn up almost every day.


The hidden drivers

One of the leading manufacturers of computer-driven appliances makes a very widely sold and used device. The machine suddenly misfuctions. Nothing has been changed. No description of that problem, or indication of the solution, can be found anywhere in the manual, the maintenance software or the online help.

The customer calls the company’s toll-free number for “assistance” and finds a recording that says “for sales press 1, for service on X press 2, for assistance on Y press 3” etcetera. After pushing several buttons, he gets though to “sales”. With several attempts and request for help, he eventually finds a kind person that puts him though to “technical assistance”. Before he can state what the problem is he is asked for a number of irrelevant data (code number of device, date of purchase, etc) and finally gets a chance to talk to a person; but he is forced through a routine (press A five times, B nine times, this time on the machine, not the phone) that is quite useless in his case. Finally the frustrated customer manages to get through to a technical person, that doesn’t seem to know how his problem can be solved. After some discussion they guess that maybe re-installing the drivers may help, but the customer has already done so and it didn’t work. The technician suggest installing new drivers; the customer says that he had tried, but there is no way of finding them on the company’s website. The technician has no idea of how his company’s website works. He promises to send new drivers by mail; but the order has to come from Amsterdam and they will be mailed from Paris. Two weeks later the floppy disks arrive, but that’s not the solution. The customer finally calls in an engineer that works for competitive company, who fiddles around until he finds the hidden function that fixes the problem.

First questions: how much money and time did the company waste to disappoint a customer?

Second (and crucial) question: will that customer ever buy any other product made by that company?


The unreplaceable battery

An expensive top-of-the-line notebook computer, made by a leading manufacturer, has a tiny non-rechargeable battery to keep its clock going. It’s not supposed to run out in the computer’s lifetime, but after a year it loses voltage and some functions become unstable. It’s not standard; there are several numbers and codes on it, but no indication of voltage. There are no explanations in the manual. Nobody in the company’s staff (or its dealers) seems to have any idea of where a replacement can be found. That battery was installed only in that particular model and after a year the company has lost all memory of such ancient times.

Luckily the customer knows someone in the company’s management, so he calls and says “Jack, please, can you find me one of those damned little batteries?” Jack looks around, can’t find the spare part – but after a while manages to find out what sort of battery it is. So (with some effort) a replacement is found on the market and rather clumsily fitted into the small space available. The whole process, which wasn’t at all simple, took a few months.

Questions: as above.


The self-destructing phone exchange

In another large company the telephone exchange, if a call-through line is busy, puts you on hold with recorded music and a “please wait” message. Nothing happens. You could wait for hours or days.

If you are looking for a friend or a familiar business acquaintance, you find a way: you call them at home, on their private line or on their portable phone.

But if you are customer looking for information or wanting to buy something... will you seek “lateral” ways or simply call a competitor?


The dead-end press release

A company is launching a new product, called Hannibal and promising miracles. It issues a press release containing a mailbox, a web address, a few phone numbers and a fax.

A journalist, looking for facts and not just hype, e-mails but gets no answer in 48 hours. She isn’t working for a daily newspaper, but she must meet a deadline. On the site there are lots of pictures and adjectives, a game on Carthaginian history, a contest for guessing the product’s price, animations, sound effects and other glitz. But not the information that she wants. She sends a fax but gets another copy of the same vague press release. So she calls the phone numbers and gets answers such as “I’ll put you though” (dead line) or “Hanniwhat?” or “Sorry, Ms. Brown is out and we don’t know when she’s coming back.”

So she doesn’t write about the new product but about the incompetence of the company’s press service. In the meantime people interested in buying the product run into the same sort of cul-de-sac.


Examples could go on forever. And it’s getting worse. More and more, service and information functions are delegated to inefficient routines, poorly trained people or inadequate technologies.

Things become even more complicated and frustrating when the dialogue is not just between company and customer, but involves other organizations: dealers, distributors, suppliers, sub-contractors, service companies. The “vicious circle” of combined inefficiencies is as powerful as the “virtuous circle” that can be realized with effective coordination and synergy – if priorities are set properly and the process is organized accordingly.

Technologies are “neutral”. They can be useful or harmful according to how the process is set up and how coherently the applications are chosen and organized. Communication technologies, if well chosen and applied, can improve service and save money. But our daily experience shows that quite often they work the other way round: because the system is based on bureaucracy, company routines and pre-defined software, instead of being designed to serve the needs of customers or people accessing an information service.


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 3. Numbers in Europe
An updated analysis is in issue 32.


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 4. Hype and disappointment

I think this is an important subject. It’s been discussed several times in this newsletter (see list at the end). Hype is no good for the growth of the net, or for e-business. It causes distrust and skepticism; or false hopes that lead to disappointment.

This problem has been pointed out several times by some of the best observers of the internet, even in countries where net usage is widespread, such as the United States. Here is one more confirmation.

A recent survey by CBS was reported as Net poll shatters web views. Here are some key points.

By a large margin, those who don’t have access to the internet say they have few regrets. Asked whether the internet is living up to all the claims about its potential, some 49 percent of all respondents and 55 percent of internet users said no.

“Even for many people who are actively on the web, the web has not yet replaced the traditional ways of doing business” said Kathy Frankovic, director of surveys for CBS News.

Some 80 percent of all those contacted in the telephone survey of 1,782 people said, for example, they didn’t buy holiday gifts on the internet. Is the e-commerce glass half full or half empty? One in five Americans, after all, used the web to shop this past holiday season.

“The inroads that have been made are significant, true,” Frankovic said, “but the idealized image of the web that some have propounded isn’t real yet and may not be for a while.”

For many Americans, the web is confusing, full of unfulfilled promise and threatening. Only a third of those who aren’t online feel they must use the internet to “keep up with the times.”

Some 71 percent of all those polled – internet users and non-users – said they will always prefer TV to staring into a computer screen.

Deirdre Mulligan, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, said Americans of all education levels and income groups have concerns about the internet. “People think there’s a lot of good information out there but they have concerns about the speed of access, risks of privacy and how usefully information is organized,” she said.

Even internet users are somewhat ambivalent. Half of all internet users in the poll said it wasn’t necessary to use the internet in order to “keep up with the times.” Some 57 percent of non-internet users said the net wasn’t necessary.

“I don’t think anyone who understands the internet thinks it is a replacement for other media,” said John Pavlik, executive director of the Center for New Media at Columbia University.

Above all, this survey confirms – once again – that there is great diversity in the net; different people use the internet, and perceive its values, in many different ways.


That’s the picture in the United States, where net penetration is five times larger than in Western Europe – and ten times larger than in a country like Italy. Connections are much faster, and the availability of online services unmeasurably greater, than in any other country (except, maybe, some parts of northern Europe). While in our part of the world the hype is the same – or even more flamboyant – the gap between myth and reality is enormously wider.



Other comments on this subject:

Do we need a cold shower? – February 24, 1997 – NetMarketing 1

Going out of fashion? – March 28, 1997 – NetMarketing 2

Shakedown or shakeut? – April 23, 1997 – NetMarketing 3

Getting out of the trap – June 3, 1997 – NetMarketing 4

The technology delusion – July 15, 1997 – NetMarketing 6

“Projections” to confuse us – October 14, 1997 – NetMarketing 10

It’s time for Copernicus – December 22, 1997 – NetMarketing 12

A long way from America – January 16, 1998 – NetMarketing 13

The millions myth – February 9, 1998 – NetMarketing 14

A bridge or a thread? – February 18, 1998 – NetMarketing 15

The waning hype and the missed bus – March 1998 – “Offline” n. 2

A train to Mars – April 1998 – “Offline” n. 3

Why companies are uncomfortable with the internet – June 15, 1998 – NetMarketing 21

Littletown, Metropolis... or a continent – June 29, 1998 – NetMarketing 22

Aladdin, Ulysses and Polyphemus – June 1998 – “Offline” n. 5

A new style of “hype” – August 10, 1998 – NetMarketing 23

“The un-level playing field” – September 18, 1998 – NetMarketing 26

The pitfalls of hype – November 1, 1998 – NetMarketing 28

A candid opinion – December 18, 1998 – NetMarketing 29




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