The buzz machine

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Within the past decade, the Internet has become a cyberspace sea of sorts, its beaches littered with the digital debris of companies whose sites promptly sank and washed ashore.

Some bemoan the Internet itself, a medium that supposedly held promise for overnight success. Others say they blindly trusted self-professed Web gurus, designers and developers who delivered poorly constructed, subpar sites that were doomed to fail.

Back then, a few vigilant companies cautiously eschewed the hullabaloo taking place in cyberspace, resisting the trend to become just another bricks-and-click business. One of those was Hitchcock Fleming and Associates Inc. (HF&A), an Akron-based marketing and communications firm.

“As we watched the rapid construction and collapse of so many sites, we held back, evaluating where things were headed,” says Mark Collins, HF&A’s associate creative director. “Instead of just jumping out there like everyone else, we wanted to experiment with specific marketing tactics and technologies that would actually work to build brands, drive traffic and create a continuous buzz via the Internet.”

After blending traditional and interactive marketing practices that maximized impact and increased revenue for several clients, HF&A determined it was time to debut its interactive marketing division. Since virtual reality and special effects can now be created on the Web, enabling consumers to easily visualize — even “walk around” a company’s offerings — HF&A dubbed its new division the 360-degree “Buzzwerks.”

“Whatever you’re selling, it’s important to make a buzz so you’re the first company consumers think of when they’re ready to make that purchase,” Collins says. “We’re now using the Web — which is actually a 24-hour buzz machine — to create a 360-degree buzz that achieves maximum impact for our clients in ways that outlast, outsmart and outdo their competition.”

Collins says that, in addition to exploiting new technologies to identify, track and interact with a cyberspace audience, HF&A is using strategic marketing techniques and high-tech tools such as Macromedia flash and Quicktime Video to design intriguing, fully interactive “branded visions” for client companies.

Using its own dynamic site (www.thebuzzwerks.com) as an example, HF&A reveals core strategies to help companies create a 360-degree buzz on the Internet.

Contemplate your content

Before you start packaging your personality, deciding what tone to take, what words to use and what visuals to include in your Web site, says Collins. Determine what makes your company unique in your industry. Are you a manufacturer with a remarkable new widget on the market? How does your widget do the job better? What’s in it for the customer?

“Consider your business model and your core competency, and why your offering might create a buzz,” Collins says. “The results of your brainstorming will be the core of your content.”

To illustrate, Collins says that in working with ICI Autocolor, HF&A determined the company doesn’t just manufacture paint formulas for use in auto body shops; it also sells a formula for success.

“Although ICI sells paint, they’re really selling their expertise in understanding the body shop business which, in turn, helps body shop entrepreneurs perform better and become more profitable in their shops,” says Collins.

After establishing ICI’s core competency as “the formula for success,” that tagline substantiated the consequent content that generated a buzz.

“It’s not just about what you sell. It’s also about what makes you unique,” Collins says.

Cater to the customer

If you don’t focus on your customer, understand his or her preferences and tailor your Web content to the user’s needs, you can’t drive new and return traffic to your site. Consequently, you won’t create a buzz.

So, with each drop-down menu and on every page, deliver something of real value, and you’ll build customer relationships that keep users coming back.

To determine what you can offer that would be valuable to the user, consider why a surfer would come to your site, Collins says.

“Is he searching for information? Something that will help him do his job better? Something that will help him save money? Does he want something that’s free?” he says. “It all goes back to determining your own core competency and approaching it from a ‘What’s in it for them?’ perspective.”

For example, a user curious about the cost differences between gas and electric heat might initially surf to Dominion East Ohio’s site. To deliver something of real value, the gas company provides a calculator that allows users to determine the difference in gas and electric costs.

“Users remember those kinds of features, and not only do they return to the site, they tell their friends and associates,” Collins says. “That drives traffic, and that creates buzz.”

To help The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. introduce Gemini Automotive Care Centers, HF&A designed an interactive game that was so compelling, it created a buzz when users began downloading it and e-mailing it to friends and associates.

“The cost to produce the game was much less than a television commercial, and yet, by playing it, users were exposed to the client’s brand six times longer than they would have been through a commercial,” Collins says.

Less is more

Remember that what works on paper doesn’t always work on the Web. Forget about glitz and glamour.

While users appreciate aesthetically pleasing sites, what they really want are pages that download quickly and are easy to navigate, with logical, well-organized content. Keep it simple, make your information accessible and save the user time, says Collins.

“Use a well-structured site map that saves people time, keeping in mind that, if they’re looking for something specific, they won’t scroll through masses of text,” Collins says. “If your site is too frustrating to navigate, they’ll click to your competition and never return to your site.”

A resounding response

Just as it applies to bricks-and-mortar businesses, customer service is crucial in the e-commerce game. Provide reliable service and users will generate a positive buzz about your site.

Respond to e-mail queries within 24 hours. Equip your staff with pagers and cellular phones to respond to immediate needs. Provide a way for customers to track shipments via the site. And since online means 24/7, contract with a monitoring service to ensure your site is continually up and running.

“Anything you can do to improve brand recognition and elicit user loyalty, do it,” Collins says.

Most important, track users that visit your site, analyze the demographics and use that information to include content that customers really want.

Use it or lose it

If you’re not promoting your site by including your URL and e-mail address on your company stationery, business cards, all forms of advertising — even marketing premiums such as pens and mugs, you might as well not have a site at all. How to reach: Hitchcock Fleming and Associates Inc., (330) 376-2111 or www.thebuzzwerks.com

Victoria Reynolds is a contributing editor to SBN Magazine.