In the past Zimbabwean enterprises which desired to be taken seriously by the market were supposed to have postal addresses in addition to their physical ones. This meant securing and maintaining a post office box or private mail bag at the local post office. Fast forward to the 21st century and the in thing is maintaining an internet presence through a website and social media pages.
While this has lots of advantages, most entrepreneurs especially those who are running small and medium enterprises (SME), still regard having a website as a luxury which belongs to the big league of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE)-listed companies such as the Delta Corporations and the Econet Wirelesses of this world. Some have never taken time to investigate the benefits of running a website for their enterprise or brand while others are prevented from enjoying the benefits of an online presence because they believe that having a website designed and hosting are prohibitively expensive. This is despite the fact that they never made any enquiries with website designers and hosting service providers.
Before dismissing websites as an unnecessary luxury and expense, one may wish to know the benefits of a website to enterprises which include the underlisted:
• Round the clock marketing
While brick and mortar businesses have to close for the night, possessing a website ensures that the market has access to information on an enterprise round the clock regardless of their location. If well planned, designed and managed a website enables someone in America to buy some goods from a Zimbabwean company by merely placing specific items in the website cart and paying for them, thereby facilitating trade across the globe irrespective geographical location or time zone. This enables an enterprise to increase its market by serving people beyond its geographical location.
• Creating a professional impression
Marketing a brand is about managing the market’s perception of the brand. Even a small enterprise with a well designed and maintained website creates the impression that it is in the same class as the well-resourced and long-established corporations. It gives the impression of a professional business outfit and this raises its profile on the market. To job seekers this means job security, to suppliers it means many years of business while to the market it creates the expectation of great service experiences and high quality products. Put differently, this means marketing the brand by creating a great perception which stakeholders would wish to be associated with.
• Increasing brand visibility
Every enterprise wishes to be as well-known as the American cola brand, Coca-Cola. One way of increasing a brand’s awareness in its target market is through increasing its visibility. A website assists in achieving this since it is as good as an electronic company or brand profile, which the market can access anytime especially in this information era that is characterised by increased access to the internet through the use of smart phones.
In order to meet a brand or an enterprise’s corporate and marketing objectives, an entrepreneur or marketer should market the company, product or service. A website provides an affordable way of marketing a brand compared to other traditional marketing strategies such as advertising. While running a full page display advertisement could cost thousands of dollars, for less than $1 000 an entrepreneur can a have a great website designed and hosted for a year. This means that for a full year he can market his brand without paying for the placement of his advertisement as he would do with say billboard rental.
• Enhancing customer relationship management
A website has a provision for visitors to provide feedback or make enquiries through mailing using the site’s Contact Us page. If the enterprise has a dedicated resource to mind its website, the person would respond to the communication so made thereby enhancing communication and strengthening relations especially with existing customers. The Contact Us page enables both existing and prospective customers to learn about an enterprise and its brands. Even if they may not have an immediate need to buy the brand, the brand exposure created through visiting the site increases their pool of possible brands to buy when need arises. This means that when the need arises in future, your brand will be among others which the potential consumer will assess before making a purchase.
Making the most of websites for marketing purposes
The most common mistakes which a lot of enterprises make is to get a website designed and hosted and forget about it. This is not unique to SMEs only as even large corporation are equally guilty in this regard. Although websites have advantages over other marketing strategies, if they are left unattended they may not be effectively. If an enterprise is to benefit from its website needs to do the following:
• Having the website designed by a professional designer in order to make the best impression. In business perception is reality.
• Assigning someone to mind the website and respond to visitors’ feedback promptly so that they are encouraged to provide more feedback which is useful in making continuous and incremental changes to your brand thereby making it more acceptable to the market.
• Regularly making changes to prevent boredom especially to frequent visitors. This shows that you did not just put in place a website as a we-too response to other enterprises’ efforts.
• Including a blog where you, the entrepreneur, or one of your team members makes regular posts of issues relating to your industry, which sets your brand apart from others as an expert thereby creating a competitive edge over the competition.
• Making it as interactive as possible to enable visitors to engage with your brand.
• Extending its reach, impact and effect through sharing blog posts using social media such as Facebook and others, which would also draw visitor traffic to the website.
• Using large high quality images especially original ones and not stock images. This makes the site attractive and draws visitors.
• Changing the copyright date at the bottom of each page at the end of each year. This creates the impression that your enterprise pays attention to detail. Most websites still carry the old copyright year which indicates that since putting up the website years ago, the enterprise never bothered to change the year in line with advancing years. The unchanged date is akin to and as embarrassing as a manual calendar in a public office such as a banking hall displaying the wrong date.
• Making sure that the website is compatible with computers, tablets and smart phones as most people are accessing the internet on the go using mostly hand-handled gadgets.
• Ensuring that your website address is simple and easy to remember. This can be achieved by using a name which is close as possible to your brand or enterprise name ease of remembering on the part of the market. The effect of this tactic is to increase the number of visits to the site.