How Important is the Internet to Businesses?

Is the Internet really important to your business?  Most business owners don’t think so, or so it would seem from their lackadaisical response to discussions about their business and the Internet.  Yet for most business owners there is the haunting voice that maybe, just maybe, the Internet is important to the future of my business.

There was a time not long ago when sales began and ended with a face-to-face, and today nothing beats the effectiveness of human interaction where you can see facial expressions, body language, and chit chat a bit.  This will always be true.  But time marches on, and so did sales techniques, until they reached such a pinnacle of aggressive obnoxiousness that people just turned off the switch, and legislators passed laws prohibiting certain telemarketing and spam email.

Somewhere between the ’60’s and the 90’s consumers began demanding more for less.  As entreprenuers in Silicon valley and Redmond, Washington, began to make billions (not millions), and as competition in every industry got tougher, businesses figured out they had to master sales and marketing, and they had to learn customer relationship management to maximize every contact from every activity.  Not to do so meant going out of business.

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Today reaching large numbers of people is what business success is about, and the Internet does that better than any other medium. There never has been a less expensive way to showcase a product to more people for less money than to promote the product on the Internet. Consumers love the Internet, and businesses will ignore the Internet at their peril.

In a free enterprise system where ingenuity can mean money, and lot’s of it, inventions and new technology became the order of the day.  Businesses, which  were no longer content to survive, wanted to leap frog ahead of their competition with killer applications.  Those who did not invest in R&D to advance their products or services, and those who did do the same to develop processes that would sustain their businesses in the future, would simply disappear some day as the competition left them in the dust.

The print newspaper industry is an example of an entire industry that was asleep at the presses.  The Internet is rapidly rendering print newspapers obsolete.  Of all industries that you would think should be paying attention to consumer preferences and the way consumers like to read their news and interact, you would have thought the newspapers would have been on the cutting edge.  Today newspapers are going out of business and filing for bankruptcy protection all over the United States at an average rate of one per week.

Entire industries have matured on the Internet, including Amazon.com, a billion dollar business that started marketing one thing, books, but now markets thousands of products.  Let’s not forget Yahoo or Google, which made billionaires out of college kids in a few years.  Craigslist is the largest classified ad service on the planet and is used by billions of people to buy and sell.  All of this is because of the appeal the Internet has to consumers, including your customers.

The National Association of Realtors’ nationwide survey indicated over 80% of all home buyers start their search on the Internet!  Ask anyone, from 8 to 80, if they use the Internet, and they will say they use it to shop for practically everything.  Of course, after their research they may buy locally, but that makes the point very well for us.  The Internet is important.

The Internet is important for the future of your business, because that is where your customers are hanging out.  That’s where they will first find you.  That is where they can opt in to learn more about your product or service, and it is where they will find out if you have credibility and if your business or service shows itself well on the Internet with photos or videos.

Where else can you reach potentially millions of customers during the year at such a low cost?  Not newspapers or magazines.  Not billboards.  Not theater screens.  Not with flyers or mass mailings.  Try to do a lot of advertising in all of those mediums, and you’ll go broke.  Competition has gotten fierce in every trade, and if you don’t master reaching the most potential customers for the least amount of advertising dollars, you can be sure your competition will.  This is true today, but it will be even more true next year and the year after, because Internet traffic keeps growing every single week.

Over the last decade the volume of traffic and business that has been moving to the Internet is absolutely staggering.  U.S. Internet users viewed 14.8 billion online videos during the month of January, 2009, representing an increase of 4 percent versus December 2008. YouTube led the growth charge, accounting for 91 percent of the incremental gain in the number of videos viewed versus December, as it surpassed 100 million viewers for the first time in a single month!

Netflix is leaving the more traditional Blockbuster and Hollywood Video in the dust on the Internet, and the latter two are using the Internet.  They got left behind, because Netflix was one step ahead of them with a business model that actually asked customers what they wanted and then gave it to them.  Hulu is now 6th with online video market share.  Notice how fast things happen on the Internet.  New companies grow into billion dollar companies in a few short years.  That is exciting, but there is another side to the knife blade:  many business will go bankrupt or close their doors because they don’t keep up.

Wordtracker estimates “that the total daily searches across all engines is 427.2 million searches.”  Realize what his means.  Every day people perform almost half a billion searches on the Internet! Wow!  Pause to consider what this means.  People are using the Internet intensely, and they are using it daily for almost everything.  Are you there?  Are you on the Internet?  If you are not building a strong foundation on the Internet for your future business, you will be left behind by your competition.  By the time you realize it, it will be too late to catch up.

Once you decide you definitely need an Internet presence, you then must ask what strategy will give you that powerful presence that captures customers and keeps them.  That discussion will have to wait for another day.

Learn more at Marketing and Internet Strategy.

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