The coming year will be good for online users, providers, buyers and sellers, according to a report from marketing firm, E-Agency, which claims that the phrase 'dot com' will lose its significance, and that internet users will be given more control than ever over their online communications and dealings.
According to E-Agency's CEO, Dave Dunn, "The phrase 'dot com' will disappear, having become so clichd that it has completely lost its meaning." The agency insists, however, that internet-related phenomena will continue to have an impact on both business and society, and that the internet is just as healthy as it ever was.
Dunn predicts that, throughout 2003, internet users will be given more and more control over their online lives, readily finding help with unwanted e-mail (known as 'spam') and with other, more intrusive, forms of online advertising. As spam and pop-up adverts increase in numbers, so will methods of avoiding them.
The online marketers are going to find and develop new ways to effectively market their goods and services to customers who actually want them, rather than simply bombarding unsuspecting users unnecessarily. New methods for targeting appropriate groups of consumers for specific advertising campaigns will save time, money and - very importantly - internet bandwidth.
The web site operators will slowly find that they can use new technologies to exercise more control over the content of their sites, and the systems they use to deliver it. With the integration of back-office systems, data warehouses, and CRM applications, the costs of maintaining and 'feeding' e-commerce and customer service web sites will drop significantly.
As conditions improve, end users will use both e-mail and web sites more than before, bringing the internet into focus as a more routine part of daily life.
"2003 will be another important year for the evolution of the internet," predicted Dunn. "There will be more internet-based marketing, as the medium is just too powerful for marketers to ignore now."
E-Agency also foresees users using the sheer power of 'consumer outrage' to force the demise of the more intrusive forms of internet marketing, including pop-up and pop-under adverts that annoy web site users, and of course the much-hated spam phenomenon.
Andrew Brocklehurst, president of internet marketing firm, Succeed Marketing, told The Wise Marketer, "Those invasive techniques can only be used effectively if consumers continue to respond to them. But, when complained about or ignored, their effectiveness will eventually drop below financially viable levels."
A better way
According to E-Agency, the key for companies that want to use internet marketing is to focus on well targeted prospects, delivering relevant (and preferably permission-based) messages about products and services they actually want to know about, and in the media format each individual wants to use.
In the advertising field, the move toward better qualified targets may end up taking the form of keyword-based pay-for-position and 'pay-per-click' marketing through search engines and online business directories.
"Pay-for-position may actually be today's best advertising buy," explained Dunn. The advertiser takes advantage of the fact that the user is already actively looking for something they have to offer, and the advertiser pays a very small fee (sometimes as low as US$0.05 per click-through) to be listed near the top of the user's search results.
In the field of e-mail marketing, developing carefully targeted lists will be the key to success. The real secret for advertisers will be to send their offers whenever possible to consumers who have already said they'd like to receive it. Such lists are known as 'opt in' lists, and are operated by openly obtaining a user's permission (in advance) to send them news, product updates and offers.
"More and more web sites will ask users for their e-mail addresses so they can keep them informed about opportunities and offers," says Dunn. He estimates that the number of E-Agency's own clients that use voluntary e-mail information will grow from around 5% at present to some 25% by the end of 2003.
Brocklehurst added, "It's vital that consumers feel their e-mail address isn't going to be abused or sold to other companies. Almost everyone's had a bad experience with mailing lists at some point in their lives, and you've got to earn their trust by being open, honest and up-front about how you're going to use their information."
Mixing your media
But marketers are also likely to start creatively mixing the different types of media, using various direct contact channels such as direct mail and e-mail to refer consumers to information on web sites. Using this technique in conjunction with a good CRM or one-to-one marketing database, mailings and offers can easily be personalised for small consumer groups or even individuals, without incurring the high overheads associated with multiple direct mail variants.