Study: Net Holds Key to Sales

NEW YORK A new study from WPP’s GroupM asserts that all marketers—not just those who transact business on the Internet—need to have an online presence regardless of how much (or how little) product they sell in cyberspace.

In the digital age consumers expect a Web presence, according to the study, which looks at worldwide trends in online marketing.

The study reports that GroupM will for the first time place more than $2 billion in online ads for its clients worldwide in 2007. Half of the 30 countries surveyed showed that close to 50 percent or more of their populations regularly use the Internet. In the U.S., about 65 percent of the population uses the Internet.

And for those marketers that have ignored or underplayed cyberspace, it’s probably time to “panic a little,” said Rob Norman, global CEO, GroupM Interaction, and a contributor to the study, which was coordinated by Adam Smith, London-based futures director, GroupM.

“We are absolutely certain that marketing must urgently harness interactive media and the behaviors it induces. … Consumers expect every brand or service to present itself in some kind of online environment, and expect this presence to be of use or interest and to furnish a substantial or involving experience,” the study says. That experience lies at the heart of consumer engagement, one of the four “pillars” that the study lays out as a general framework for effective online marketing.

The other key pillars, per the study, are reach, reputation and transaction. Reach remains a prime communication objective, it states, and “brand advertisers in particular need digital media to replace audience they are losing in traditional media, and to add frequency against light television viewers.”

It is now also vital that marketers monitor cyberspace to assess the reputation of their brands. “Good news travels fast and bad news travels faster,” the study says. “Businesses need to ‘listen to the conversation’ and understand how to participate and respond.”

Consumers also assume it is their right to purchase just about anything on their shopping list online, whether they do so or not. “Even for brands rarely sold online, the channel has become a key part of the purchase funnel and therefore a process to be managed,” the study says.

To a large degree, broadband technology’s speed, ease of use and “always on” environment has created a new kind of “behavioral freedom” for consumers. Increasingly, broadband and the personal computer comprise the main consumer gateway to both entertainment and information. Marketers ignore it at their peril, the study concludes.