In the late nineties, Stanford business professor Jim Collins unearthed a small group of extraordinary companies that made the transition from mediocre performance to sustained greatness. There was a common characteristic that really struck me: they did not consider technology as a driving force in their success.
In the age of the internet, technology is considered by many as the secret sauce, the magic potion that leapfrogs you to the top of your industry pile. Take, for example, Walgreens, one of the 11 companies in Collins' study that made the hurdle from good to great. Walgreens, a pharmacy chain in the US almost as ubiquitous as Starbucks, was widely lambasted in the late 90's by its failure to compete technologically with youthful upstarts like drugstore.com. As a result of their perceived lack of mobility, Walgreens' stock was pummelled in the dot com boom at the turn of the century. Drugstore.com was touted as the new thing: an industry saviour surfing the wave of internet hype.
So what did Walgreens do?
Did they panic? Did they run for the closest web development company full of pimply college grads (who, at the time, were charging millions for sites that did not really work as well as they should)?
Er... not actually. Despite intense pressure from shareholders and the media, Walgreens did something very curious. They took their time. Not content with doing a slap-up job, they took a watchful eye over this new-fangled internet thing. They saw that it was important, but not as important as the thing that had propelled their share price to beat the general market by more than 15 times over a 25 year period. They refused to be swayed from their consistent and highly successful message of ‘customer convenience'. Over the next year they hired the best technology minds to formulate a strategy that would translate their offline strategy to an effective and relevant online one.
So what happened? 12 months later, Walgreens launched a hugely successful website that trounced its competitor drugstore.com for ease of use and customer satisfaction. Walgreens remains the fastest growing pharmacy chain in the US, with over 5000 stores nationwide – and its share price is still highly regarded as a keeper. Drugstore.com, on the other hand, laid off staff to conserve costs, and its share price devalued to almost nothing.
Your web strategy in 2008
Back here in South Africa we're seeing a similar situation with Social Media hype reaching fever-pitch. At World Wide Creative, after delving into several successful social media projects in 2007, we're getting inundated with requests for social media platforms. Through all this, we're appealing to our peers, colleagues and customers to remember some pretty mundane basic details.
When adjusting your marketing strategy for 2008, things like blogs, social media applications, forums and community groups should be last on your list of priorities. While critical to your long term relevance, they should not triumph over things like customer relationships, personal communication, delivery and, the old classic, keep your promises.
A web presence can only be effective if it is consistent with your brand promise. The first thing on your strategy document should be ‘What is our message?'
Only then will your gleaming new site will be able to deliver on that promise.