Internet To The Rescue
This article originally appeared in the July 1997 issue of The Business Monthly
The Internet presents itself as a combination information and entertainment resource for those with access to computers. As the commercial aspects of our everyday life migrate onto the Internet, businesses are realizing that they can use the Internet for marketing since many of us are also business consumers.
The small business person, upon experiencing these commercial aspects, begins to wonder how he or she can use the Internet for their business. Those of us who use the Internet probably have come across some type of electronic commerce such as on-line computer hardware/software stores. We can browse through on-line selections and immediately purchase wanted items. Such businesses with electronic store fronts are typically large businesses who have found their Internet market 'niche'. But how can their experiences and the size of their available Internet hardware and development resources compare to the resources available to a small business?
To help answer this question, let's look at how one Howard County small business has used the Internet as part of their total marketing plan.
North American Rescue Products (NARP), Inc. was established in 1995 by CEO Robert Castellani as a designer and manufacturer of military and commercial grade rescue equipment. Mr. Castellani's goal is to leverage his rescue experience in the U.S. Air Force to design and sell rescue equipment that would fit the needs of U.S. and international government agencies.
NARP's marketing plan commenced in 1995 and included the development of an Internet web site. A local Internet Service Provider designed the web presence and assisted NARP with evaluating concepts for how product information would be seen by visitors to the site. Since NARP's products were being marketed initially to the U.S. Government, Mr. Castellani found his Internet marketing niche; all U.S. Government agencies and their purchasing authorities have access to the Internet right at their desktops. After nine months of Internet presence, Mr. Castellani has the following experiences to share with other small business owners.
NARP's use of the Internet encompasses five major areas of use. Mr. Castellani introduces his products to interested government agencies, local and nationwide, via e-mail. Chat groups (real-time discussion groups) are joined and NARP's product line is promoted and assistance is provided by answering questions and giving purchasing advice to Chat group participants.
The world wide web site serves as a vehicle to 'legitimize' the business. The web site address appears in all marketing material. Over a short time, NARP's product line and the company name is recognized throughout the United States.
Many industries, such as Rescue Medicine, hold some type of convention regularly. The Internet community is catching onto this idea by holding Electronic Conventions where businesses are on-line during a specified time window so that information can be spread and inquiries answered real-time.
Customer and potential-customer feedback is essential to honing product designs and to the research and development of new products. NARP plans to redeploy their Internet site as a technology and information networking house through dedicated Chat Groups and user and marketing surveys. On-line purchasing is also being considered if projected sales warrant that capability. Lastly, NARP will use their web site for new product introductions.
NARP considers their investment in an Internet presence to be cost effective compared to traditional advertising media when used in addition to the traditional media. Internet is a part of a marketing plan, not the marketing plan. The Internet provides immediate product information without the hassle of contacting someone on a telephone. In addition, this information is available 24 hours a day.
"The Internet has helped take a product developed in a basement and made it recognized by the top levels of military and government agencies; to the decision makers," states Mr. Castellani. Many small business owners strive to make such a statement.
by Ken Mazur
Executive Vice President, CyberVillage Networkers, Inc.