The following paper was presented at the National Golf Foundation Technology Conference in Boston (October 13 - October 15, 1996) by Charles Johnson, VP Sales

Expectations & Results:

"What Can You Expect From Your Online Site and Provider?"

INTRODUCTION

"What this company needs is a great World Wide Web site!" Today companies all over the world are being bombarded by this "World Wide Web" phenomena at the office, on television, and in the news. The sudden explosion of the Internet has left many companies in its wake and managers grasping for direction and expertise on how to utilize this new medium effectively to market their business.

There are no text books or specific marketing courses that give you a magic answer on how to proceed with the process of establishing your online presence.

It is not surprising that many organizations find themselves faced with a flood of Internet/World Wide Web developer proposals and cannot distinguish the differences between what the vendor companies provide. In many cases, the proposal that is implemented does not produce the desired results and disillusionment of the entire Internet/World Wide Web begins.

A strategic online presence must be a "winner." If the online presence does not increase the exposure, increase sales, or lower marketing costs, the effort was probably a waste of time.

An effective online presence is the result of a commitment by the vendor and your company. Anyone can develop a mediocre online presence. However, if the support by your staff and vendor are not adequate the presence breaks down and leaves those potential customers disappointed.

Remember: This could be the very first opportunity for you to communicate your business message to this potential customer. If the site does not respond, it is the perceived equivalent of (the phone not working), the site is slow (the service is slow), the site is under construction (it is a waste of the online consumers time), site doesn't respond to my email reservation ( the company is not worried about getting my business), or the Web site responds by telling me I am not using the appropriate online service or browser ("Who is the customer here anyway?). These common problems I have just mentioned are practiced by businesses large and small. Fortunately, you do not have to be one of them and you can plan appropriately for the design and implementation of your new World Wide Web site.





DEFINING YOUR COMPANY'S NEEDS

In defining your business needs for an online marketing presence, you need to look at the internal resources of your organization as well as the current marketing strategies used to generate business. Ask yourself a few basic questions.

1) What type of customer demographics do I currently have; resort golfers, private County Club, community etc.?

2) Do customers travel long distances to play golf at my course or are they primarily local residents?

3) What are all the services I can provide a golfer at my course?

4) How do I currently differentiate my course from other courses within my geographic area?

5) How much money do I spend in advertising, what type of exposure/advertising do I receive for the money, and what are the results?

6) DEFINE YOUR SPECIFIC GOALS in what you intend to accomplish or the desired results from developing an online presence.

The answers to these questions will put you well on your way to defining your online needs and developing a strategy to pursue an effective World Wide Web presence.

STARTING THE PROCESS: WHO DO I CALL?

Now that you have defined some basic requirements, you can begin the process of identifying vendors/developers which you feel can provide the level of services you need. In today's market, the best way to find and evaluate these companies is to search for other businesses within the golfing industry that have established Web sites by performing queries or searches in the large search engine data bases. Below are a few popular search engines you will find suitable for this purpose.

Webcrawler: http://www.webcrawler.com

Yahoo!: http://www.yahoo.com

Lycos: http://www.lycos.com

Altavista: http://www.altavista.digital.com

Excite: http://www.excite.com

Infoseek: http://www.infoseek.com

Most importantly, you have to establish an account with an Internet Service Provider (America Online, or local ISP ) and begin to use the World Wide Web. As you begin to use the services, your defined needs may change due to experiences you have had with accessing various Web sites. Regardless, actually using the Web to find and locate information is the best learning tool for you to understand what the basic consumer is faced with in trying to find or access information.

With your ISP account established, begin to perform searches at these search engines by entering descriptive words about the types of companies you are looking for (ex. "hilton head golf courses"). This search should provide a list of Web sites pertaining to golf in Hilton Head, SC. After identifying and comparing various Web sites you find appealing based on your defined requirements, begin to contact the companies that have developed the Web sites or the customers themselves to better understand the services that have been provided and are available. This does not have to be an expensive time consuming process. Remember, Use Your Email!

EXPECTATIONS & RESULTS FOR ONLINE SERVICES

In establishing your expectations to measure the effectiveness of a new Web site it is important to interject a little realism into all of the hype that has been generated by the media and a number of overzealous sales representatives. It is great to be optimistic about the development of your new Web site, but unrealistic expectations can very quickly frustrate both the vendor and you the customer. This is a "No Win" situation for both parties, because the over sold expectations will probably never be met. However, if realistic expectations are established to begin with, the process of watching the Web site continue to grow and prosper will be a very satisfying and successful experience.

Expectations for your Web site have to be benchmarked primarily against the other mediums and advertising vehicles used to generate business, but you also have to take into consideration the depth of the message and information provided for the cost.

The first example (Exhibit 1) I would like to use is a media comparison between what is happening in the Newspaper Advertising industry and online marketing. The figures for the top circulation Newspapers during the six month period ending March 31, 1994 show a decline in the Sunday circulation from the same period last year of (.83%). The figures for the top circulation Newspapers during the six month period ending September 30 1995 show a decline in the Sunday circulation from the same period last year of (2.12%). Ironically, during this time Newspapers increased advertising rates an average of 6% each year. The Internet on the other hand is increasing the number of users and your potential customers at a rate of almost 10MM "enabled users" per year. Enabled users are those described as using a World Wide Web browser. Source: Alex Brown and Sons Research, Georgia Institute of Technology, and IDC.

The next example (Exhibit 2) is a monthly media comparison between two companies in a golf resort area competing for the same customers. The Company #1 media evaluation for this particular month shows in the first column what type of medium the company has purchased, in the second column how many phone inquiries were received, in the third column how many reservation nights were booked, in the fourth column how much the advertisement cost, in the fifth column what was the cost per inquiry, and in the sixth column what was the cost to book one nights reservation. The cumulative totals show that on average that it cost the company $45.66 to advertise and send a potential customer its company information.

In comparing the effectiveness of online marketing to the print advertising results, Company #2 spends $2,200 per month on an annual contract. For the same month that Company #1 spent an average $45.66 to generate a phone call and mail out information, Company #2 had 2,785 people visit their Web site and view an average of 8.1 pages of information. Out of those 2,785 people visiting the Web site 182 vacation requests were made by email directly through the Web site. Phone calls originating from people visiting the Web site were estimated by Company #2 to be approximately 30 additional, but are not used in calculating these figures. Company #2 virtually had 2,785 company brochures requested and viewed by a potential consumer. The information provided the consumer was not unsolicited direct mail or a small display advertisement with pictures and a toll free phone number. It was a specific request by a consumer, who was spending his own money to take the time to read and view the information Company #2 had made available. The Company #2 figures with 2,785 visitors show an inquiry rate of $.79 per inquiry. However, if you want to look at the numbers differently and the captured name, address, phone number etc. is where you feel the valued result should be measured , the number is $12.09 per inquiry. This still represents a substantial difference.

Exhibit 2 also shows the conversion comparisons of the two mediums and how they differ. The CPR or cost per reservation night for Company #1 is $52.71. The CPR or cost per reservation night for Company #2 is $19.30. The majority of the companies surveyed for this type of statistical example did not even track these numbers and in the case of Company #1 the numbers were tracked, but never evaluated.

The next example (Exhibit 3) is a recent comparison of direct mail campaigns by two different golf courses versus the average results of two World Wide Web golf course presences. The numbers for the golf course presences reflect 3 months of results. The first "Direct Mail" golf course, Company #1DM, sent out a post card mailing to 2500 homes in their market area at a total cost of $4,000. The golf course received only 3 phone calls from this mailing. This results in a $1,333 CPI (Cost per Inquiry). The second "Direct Mail" golf course, Company #2DM, sent out a 15,000 piece mailing at a cost of $8,000 and received 40 phone inquiries. The results of this mailing were a little better, a $200 CPI. The two golf courses utilizing the World Wide Web to promote their clubs each pay for an annual contract, which costs $299 per month. Therefore, to evaluate the 3 month time frame we will use $897 each as the cost for the period. Company #1WWW received 1381 unique visitors to their Web site and 27 Reservation Requests made for tee times or additional information ($33.22 CPI for actual Reservation Requests). Company #2WWW received 1825 unique visitors to their Web site and 38 Reservation Requests were made ($23.61 CPI for actual Reservation Requests). Exhibit 4 provides a sample of an actual Reservation Request for one of the golf resort companies and shows the type of information captured.

As you can tell from the examples I have covered, the World Wide Web/Internet medium is not something to ignore. If utilized in the proper manner it can produce some very effective results.

EXHIBIT 1

Figures are for six months ended March 31, 1994 compared with the same period last year.

Newspapers
Sunday Circulation
Percentage Growth
NY Times
1,767,836
(2.5%)
*Wall Street Journal
1,854,901
0.1%
Atlanta Journal
723,016
0.5%
Charlotte Observer
304,518
1.6%
Columbia State
170,438
0.3%
Cincinnati Enquirer
357,032
(0.4%)
Cleveland Plain Dealer
548,268
(0.1%)
Philadelphia Inquirer
947,325
(1.9%)
TOTALS
6,673,334
(0.83%)

Figures are for six months ended September 30, 1995 compared with the same period last year.

Only Top Circulation Papers

NY Times
1,667,780
(3.1%)
*Wall Street Journal
1,763,140
(1.0%)
Cleveland Plain Dealer
533,615
(1.9%)
Philadelphia Inquirer
906,747
(2.6%)
TOTALS
4,871,282
(2.12%)

The figures above are from Ad Age Magazine.

*Wall Street Journal does not have a Sunday circulation.




EXHIBIT 2 (WWW vs Traditional Print Media Example)

COMPANY #1

MEDIA TYPEINQUIRIES RESV. NIGHTSCOSTCPI CPR
Newspapers300 171$6,954.27 $23.18$40.67
Magazines436 367$22,005.00 $50.47$59.96
Travel Agency Trade

Publications

119227 $6,937.61$58.30 $30.56
Follow Up Mailings for Inquiries $4,425.00
CUMULATIVE TOTALS 885765 $40,321.88$45.56 $52.71

COMPANY #2

Unique Visitors Resv. RequestsResv. Nights CostCPI Visitor CPI Resv. CPR
World Wide Web
2,785
182
114
$2,200.00
$.79
$12.09
$19.30

EXHIBIT 3 (WWW vs Direct Mail Example)

COMPANY
Consumer Mailings or Unique Visitors
Cost
Response or Resv. Requests
CPI
Company #1: DM
2,500
$4,000
3
$1,333
Company #2: DM
15,000
$8,000
40
$200
Company #1: WWW
1381
$897
27
$33.22
Company #2: WWW
1825
$897
38
$23.61

EXHIBIT 4 (Sample of actual Reservation Request Form)

Contact Me! My clubs are packed and I'm interested in a ABC Island vacation golf package! Here are the details...

-------------------------------------------------------------

Name: Kathy Smith
819 W. State
Chicago, Il 60622
Home Phone: 312-555-0715
Fax Number: 312-555-0826
Email Address: [email protected]_isp.com

Arrival Date: 5 24, 96
End Date: 5 29, 96

We are looking for:
Oceanfront
Home with private pool

We need to accommodate: 8-10
In the price range of: $3500 & Up!

Comments for ABC Island:
Planning a trip for 4-5 couples, with children under 2. Prefer a single large house, either on beach or with private pool. Interested in playing some golf. Would consider renting for full week if necessary.



EVALUATION QUESTIONS EVERYONE SHOULD BE ASKING

In evaluating your potential Online vendors and their customers, there are many questions that you should ask to educate yourself enough about the companies services to make an intelligent decision. Exhibit #5 provides you with an example of an easy to use process of pre-arranging the questions you would like to ask and an area to write down the responses. This questionnaire can also be faxed to potential vendors for a pre-bid evaluation. This will allow you to quickly narrow down the number of vendors you will evaluate for the final selection.

Vendor Evaluation Questionnaire

1. Company Name:

2. How long has your company been providing WWW/Internet development services and what are your previous credentials, s kills, etc.?

3. Who are some of your current customers and what are the URL addresses of the Web sites? Would you give me the names of the contact persons to ask them some specific questions?

4. Do you have WWW/Internet packages with fixed pricing for my particular business or do you customize all development services and charge per hour?

5. Are domain name registration (www.yourcompany.com) and hosting services included in the pricing? Below are specific questions and information about hosting services you may want to ask.

Domain Name Registration Cost: No more than $200 should cover the registration services. This pays for the domain name processing and registration for the first two years. The cost will be $50 per year after the first two years expire.

Web Hosting Services Cost: Setup Fee: Monthly Fee:

The setup and monthly fees are usually the same if broken out separately in your proposal. If the vendor -developer is hosting your Web site, the fees will probably be included in his proposal price along with the management of your Web site pages. However, if you are wondering what pure hosting services would cost the Tier 1 services would cost from $100 to $300 per month for virtual hosting as of 10/1/96. Tier 2 & 3 hosting services can be obtained anywhere between $25 to $50 per month. Services included vary.

BASIC WEB HOSTING QUESTIONS:

a) Am I limited to the amount of data I can transfer per month? Note: 250MBytes/month would be ample.

b) How many other companies are hosted on the same computer and what type of system do you use? Whatever the answer is to this question, test a few sites that are hosted on the service to see how quickly the pages download compared to other Web sites. Recommend (high capacity) UNIX based system.

c) Does the service include redundant Web servers for back up capabilities? Should have an alternative back up.

d) What are the server connection speeds? (Computer to Router) Min. of 1.5MB/ per sec. Recommend 10Mbps

e) What are the router connection speeds and who provides the bandwidth?(Router to Internet or major ISP (Internet Service Provider) MCI, Uunet, Sprint etc.; Recommend a minimum of 10Mbps.

f) Do the Web hosting services have 24 hour 7 day a week Network Operations Center support and UPS systems (Uninterruptable Power Source)? This makes a huge difference in network connection performance up time.

6. Do I receive monthly reports on the use of my Web site? This should be standard.

7. How do you develop your customer Web sites? Are you focused on the enhancement capabilities of "Netscape" only or do you develop the Web sites with the other browser types in mind. This requires making changes in the html language to accommodate the other browser types.

8. What type of marketing strategy do you use to make sure your customers get the best exposure they possibly can?

The answer to these questions will give a quick reference to the companies and what type of services they offer. These basic questions especially in the hosting areas are where you can expose what type of investments people have put into their businesses and whether or not they view their business as a hobby or full time employment.

UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENCES AMONG VENDORS

Now that you have narrowed down your list of vendors, educated yourself about the Internet, and refined some of the company requirements. It's time to start identifying who will be your outsourcing partner. Start by getting formal proposals from the narrowed down list of vendors and be sure to define your basic requirements. Review the proposals in detail and start to identify the differences between the companies. Below are some evaluation questions that you should be able to answer before making the final decision and signing a contract.

This is a very fundamental question that will tell you who the responsible parties are for developing and hosting your Web site. Many times the issues of the "pages are downloading too slow" or "my Web site is not available" become a finger pointing contest between two separate companies that are worried about who's fault it is rather than fixing the problem. This normally happens if the developing vendor is using a Tier 2 or 3 hosting service for your Web pages.

What incentive is left for a company to make sure your Web site is continually functional if you've already paid 90% of the total fee. Vendors will differ on this, but my reasoning is simple. If contracts are loaded upfront with huge fees and the vendor hosts your Web site on a poor performing Web server, the likelihood of the vendor changing the situation before the term of the hosting contract ends is not very good unless they are a very conscientious company. Remember, if your hosting service, you have already paid most of their fee. The only possible loser in this type of scenario is you.

This is a very common need as green fees change or accommodations prices increase. You do not want to hear on the other end of the phone that it will cost you an additional $75 per hour to make simple editing changes to your Web site and the minimum charge is 4 hours. This is common with the above type of contracts. If this is not included, negotiate something in the proposal that allows for bi-monthly or monthly changes. You will definitely need this to keep things up to date. Don't let the Web site grow old with a 1995 calendar of events schedule .

This refers to exactly how the vendor intends to register your Web site in most search engines. Does the vendor try to register the site under multiples of categories that would identify your site. Do they provide hyper-links to other Web sites to generate more traffic for your site. Does the company provide additional opportunities or promotional events to gain exposure advantages over your competition.

Make the vendor provide you with a list of the type of Internet connections they currently have and where are they connected; Uunet, Sprint, CAIS Internet, BBN, MCI etc. This will be listed as T-1 or (1.5Mbps), T-3 or (45Mbps) etc. What type of servers do they use and is there a redundant back up system? Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics are the leading sellers in high performance Web servers.

The answer to this question informs you as to whether or not your Web site will be accessible to the public before the site is completely finished. If available, this allows you to review the Web site online to get a feel of exactly how your customers will view the site.

We hope you didn't forget to call the referrals you asked for in the beginning questionnaire, to see how the vendor was performing. This is a very good way to raise some red flags. Remember, you want to select the vendor that will represent your company with the utmost professionalism.

Believe it or not, this a great question to ask. In many cases, vendors are faced with getting those first few jobs. They will give away the development of a Web site to a company or companies and they in turn have to become a reference for them. What do they have to lose, it's free; Right? Many vendor companies put themselves in a situation where they are servicing so many non-paying customers that it becomes impossible for them to provide adequate services to the paying customers because of a lack of resources. In fact, this is a very common problem. The eventual outcome is the company is dissolved, the customers who paid lose their investment, the companies who didn't pay lose their online presences and everyone loses customers and creditability.


SUMMARY

Online marketing remains a new and often fearful experience for many. The "online concept" has not been recognized by all organizations. However, the use of an effective World Wide Web presence will slowly become a necessity as the competitive environment pressures businesses to differentiate themselves continuously.

The online presence offers opportunities within all frameworks of marketing and advertising. The integration of the technology into all facets of traditional media provide tracking abilities, direct response, delivery of products and services information, and a communications link to the potential consumer.