AT&T is poised to make a series of aggressive moves over the coming weeks and months to bolster its Internet presence.
The plan calls for the telecommunications giant to shift away from the traditional model of purely disseminating corporate and brand information on www.att.com towards online sales and even customer care.
In addition, the $52.7 billion company is also mulling the idea of offering a free, scaled-down Web-based email service, akin to Hotmail, in which AT&T customers could go to att.com to retrieve all their email.
The first indication of its new strategy happened last week when AT&T elected to be a charter participant in the “Gifts & Commerce” area on top financial site, www.quote.com. The Quote.com online store is due to launch by Nov. 17.
AT&T plans to court specific customer groups based on consumer needs: such as products for families and businesses or those interested in shopping, sources said. Links from Quote.com’s commerce area would presumably bring prospective AT&T customers to a registration page within www.att.com to order services like long distance, wireless and WorldNet Internet access.
The online strategy that AT&T appears to be leaving behind didn’t take full advantage of the Web’s increasingly interactive capabilities.
The current corporate site, though information-rich, has only limited online ordering capabilities for products such as prepaid calling cards.
“When it comes to the overall strategic vision [of AT&T’s online efforts] it’s as a distribution channel,” said Chris Casserly, district manager of interactive advertising.
“The real goal for AT&T is to evolve the Web presence from something beyond PR and general information” to direct sales and customer care.
Casserly added that certain areas within www.att.com could be password-protected for AT&T customers, enabling them to access certain product information, check their telephone account status and even send and receive email.
AT&T, along with nearly every large telco, long ago identified the Internet as one of its five core businesses for the turn-of-the-century along with long distance, local and wireless telephony services, and direct broadcast entertainment.
Bundling the products together under one bill has been viewed as the most cost-effective way to do business.
To that end, telcos have been staking out new distribution points, such as Sprint’s partnership with Radio Shack on a store-within-a-store concept.
Casserly said the Net would function in the same manner for AT&T. “Any where, any time, any place you want it, that’s essentially what we’ll offer [online],” he said.
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