MK firms warned ‘Don’t join digital revolution just for the sake of it’

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FIRMS were warned against following the herd onto social media websites like Facebook and Twitter at a breakfast briefing this morning (April 25).

Retail marketing guru Dr Fiona Ellis-Chadwick told about 50 delegates at The Open University Business School, in Milton Keynes, that companies must sort out their strategy and join in at the right time.

“Unless you are going to get a market advantage, don’t join the hype,” said Dr Ellis-Chadwick, who gained her PhD in the year 2000 on the subject of how retailers are adopting the internet. “It’s about being there when a critical mass of your customers are there. Look at how to develop a relative advantage.”

She said big companies with huge budgets means the internet is not a level playing field when it comes to having an online presence. But by watching what potential customers and competitors are doing, means that smaller operators can be savvy about using technology.

Dr Ellis-Chadwick, a lecturer in retail markets, gave an example of Marmite, the brown savoury spread that some people love but many people hate. The company behind Marmite has created a variant called Marmite XO (Extra Old), which is even more extreme.

But Unilever, the company behind Marmite has used the love/hate brand in a “creative” way by setting up a band of Twitter followers called The Marmarati who call themselves a ‘deliciously secret society’. In this way the company can keep in touch with its most dedicated customers.

“It has been given a brand personality,” said Dr Ellis-Chadwick, “They are using the technology to deliver advantage, in this case to their target audience.”

And there have been other examples of how the technology has been used to deliver market advantage, she said. Jamie Murray Wells founded the online retailer Glasses Direct after being shocked at the £150 cost of a pair of glasses while at University. His website offers glasses at a fraction of the price of some high street retailers.

But there are also examples of how companies have flopped, including Boo.com, a part of the dotcom bubble, which attracted millions of pounds of investment for its online department store concept but then failed to deliver.

“Had plans been realistic we could have been talking about Boo.com rather than Amazon,” she said.

“Visitors will stay on your website for about three seconds before moving off,” she said. But there are also other golden rules to digital marketing, including having a clarity of purpose, understanding customers, understanding what the technology can do.

But the most important thing, she said, was effective implementation. “If you can’t implement it, you won’t make it happen,” she said.

The Open University Business School is organising breakfast briefings to keep in touch with the commercial community of Milton Keynes. It’s next subjects will be Money and Emotions on July 5 and Delivering Large-Scale Change on September 13.

> Visit www8.open.ac.uk/business-school/corporate/business-network/breakfast-briefings