B2C is Here
B2B corporate ecommerce sites may be coming, but new style B2C corporate sites are here. For example: LL Bean has camping, hiking, and outdoor fitness tips. Park Search, a database of the nation's parks, allows you to search by location, activities, amenities, etc.
Huggies World from Kimberly-Clark, and Pampers.com, from Proctor & Gamble are full-fledged portals, with product information and discounts; ecommerce; guidance and how-to information on parenting, and bulletin boards. Huggies World gets its bulletin boards through a link to the "Mom-to-Mom" discussion area in the popular iVillage site. Both sites are available in several languages, and the site "remembers" your language choice once you've entered.
BabyCenter.com is owned by Johnson & Johnson, who bought it from the ruins of eToys.com. It has a very rich content set that includes product information; online shopping; extensive reference data on pregnancy, babies, and parenting; and active discussion areas. It has a particularly clever personalization feature: you register with your baby's age, and the content will change as the child grows. BabyCenter.com has advertising from related, but non-competing products, including Beech-Nut, Charmin, GapMaternity, and Consumer Reports. J&J partners the site with Pampers.com, and also operates a separate site for the parents of older children, Parentcenter.com.
Body Matters is operated by Tampax, for women who use its products, and who are also the mothers of girls entering this stage in their lives. Besides product info, it has reference articles, an expert advice column, and bulletin boards. Tampax has a similar range of content in a related site for girls alone: Beinggirl.com.
Dell.com is a leading example of personalized ecommerce. Its "build-your-own-computer" section enables customers to design a completely personalized computer, by selecting from dozens of possible processors, monitors, memory chips, sound cards, etc. Nor is this kind of personalization limited to large corporations.
Rejuvenation Inc. is small producer of period lighting reproductions. On its site, buyers are "interviewed" about the age, style, and layout of their historic homes, resulting in recommendations of historically accurate lighting fixtures.
Ford's racing Web site exemplifies a subspecies of the B2C site, known as "affinity marketing," Affinity marketing brings in popular, consumer-oriented content related to the company's sponsorships. The Ford site has auto racing news, discussion areas, ticket/product offers, etc.
Orbitz is a case where large companies have entered a Web niche already occupied by popular sites. Orbitz is a travel site owned by several major airlines (American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United). With flight schedules, packages, cruises, ticket purchasing, car rental, hotel and travel information, it is an alternative to other prominent travel sites like Travelocity and Expedia.
FluentMedia's Twohey explains that there is a common theme among these varied sites, "What's changing is that corporations are shifting the focus of their marketing sites from promoting only their products and services to addressing the information needs of a specific class of customers. They're creating a bigger thing that isn't just an information source about themselves. They're trying to make their customers feel at home by building a Web site that they can identify with."
Portal and Content Elements
Despite their individual variations, each of these sites is a portal that has most or all of the elements that have come to define a full-featured Web portal:
- Product information, sometimes enhanced by rich media
- Product purchasing, with frequent discounts and special offers
- Personalization, like Dell's build-a-computer and BabyCenter's age-tracking content
- Bulletin boards, which may have large, searchable archived discussions
Third-party content. There are several content types that bring added informational value to a corporate Web site, including:
Primers and "how-to" articles
Product review. (Now used extensively on new economy sites like Amazon.com.)
Advice and Q&A departments operated by subject experts
News, which can be finely customized to the interests of very small interest profiles and demographic groups
Discussion areas that, as large, searchable archives, become databases of expert knowledge and opinion
Corporate Content Outlooks
Web designers, content producers, and even consumers will all be kept busy as corporate Web sites evolve into all-around portals. Anthea Stratigos describes that the trend in cutting-edge corporate Web design is toward synthesis and integration. "The knowledge management teams or Web teams will increasingly have intranet, extranet, and open Web responsibility. The teams will be hybridized to deal with content requirements and organization across those spectrums. Increasingly, there will be a phenomenon where intranet, extranet, and open Web are one infrastructure that has different veils lifted for the different use privileges. It is one organizational structure, and the difference is who gets to see what when."
Content producers will be able to take advantage of an important new market. John Twohey of FluentMedia is bullish on the opportunities, especially in consumer-oriented sites. "Some corporations are generating quite a lot of content internally, relying on their own sources, but there's an increasing level of interest in going outside to media organizations for the kind of content that consumers would really value. Media organizations like the Tribune Company [Fluentmedia's parent] see this as a new universe of prospects that they haven't served previously. We have tremendous resources dedicated to generating content on a daily basis for our own media channels. We've learned that corporate America has a growing appetite for the kind of content that newspapers specialize in. It's simply opening up a new revenue stream for large media companies like Tribune." Twohey's comments are made with respect to news content, but comparable opportunities exist for reference information, discussion areas, and the other kinds of content found on a full-featured portal.
However, as Anthea Stratigos explains, it will take nimble content producers to exploit these new niches, "We're going to see more requests for redistribution rights. Content that used to be parked behind the firewall, will now be requested to be used outside the firewall. That's going to be perplexing for some vendors because they're going to be worried about their revenue streams, and they're not always adept at differentiating their content to allow multiple revenue streams for multiple products and how they're packaged. That will be both their opportunity and their Achilles heel: how can they differentiate their content so that it can be used in these different venues?"
Finally, consumers, both B2B and B2C, stand to benefit unreservedly. Not too long ago, we turned to the dot coms for Web sites that were at once useful, informative, and fun. As the dot coms crash, we need not fret about a return to boring Web sites—corporate America is keeping alive the joys of the Web.