Consumers need compelling reasons to return to a web site. Interactivity and entertainment are two ways big brands are getting value from their investment. Ed Bedington reports If you're not on the net then you're history! ­ that was the rallying cry of the 1990s and, as the bandwagon rolled on, companies fell over themselves in their haste to get a piece of the action. But now the initial euphoria has died down, people are beginning to take a closer look at the web and assess the worth of their investment. Some dotcoms have already bitten the dust ­ such as Boo, Webvan and The Street ­ and nervous companies are beginning to realise that the supposedly all-singing, all-dancing web sites they spent vast amounts of money on might not be doing the business. That's not to say that the web has become a modern footnote to the classic tale of the emperor's new clothes. There are plenty of organisations which have made a success of the internet, most noticably Tesco, but a large proportion of these are generally in the retail field. For most manufacturing companies, making the web work has proved more of a challenge. "In the beginning we had brochure-ware," says PricewaterhouseCooper's e-business consultant Sue Perry. "People saw the web as a place to display their company catalogue or brochure.Web sites were little more than online annual reports." She says this was never the intention of the web's inventor Tim Berners-Lee: "He saw it as a means of communication, a two-way thing, and that has been lost by companies who use it purely one way. "But I think the market is slowly changing. People are now sitting back, looking at how much they've invested and asking what they are getting out of it." Companies have been forced to face the fact that the promised alchemy of the web has failed to materialise and simply having a web site is not guaranteed to yield results. Instead, using the web intelligently can bring important benefits, not only from consumers, but retailers and suppliers as well. However, Mark Dorgan, head of retail at Cap Gemini Ernst and Young, thinks manufacturers suffer a big disadvantage: "They are that much further removed from the consumer than the retailers. People are not going to look for you on the web unless you have a powerful brand that people know and like." Even having a powerful brand though, does not guarantee you will be flooded with hits. The problem with any web site is getting people to actually visit your pages. Nestlé came up with a unique solution to drive traffic onto its Kit Kat site by teaming up with MSN to brand Microsoft's Messenger instant messaging service with the Kit Kat logo and Have a Break' slogan. Brand manager Katy Sykes says: "What we wanted to do was try to own' the idea of having a break online. "It makes perfect sense to link up with MSN Messenger because when people are using it they are usually having a break of some sort, either at work or home on their PC. In return we advertised MSN on Kit Kat packs. So we were able to reach consumers that met each others' profiles." The web site featured a mixture of games, quizzes and downloads in an online virtual cafe. Sykes says the site allows visitors to have fun and interact with the company, providing feedback on products, and to find out more about the brand. The link-up, which ran until the end of June, increased traffic to the site in the first week by 1,600%, and remains high. Heinz's marketing services manager Peter Ebsworth says getting people to visit a site remains one of the biggest challenges for any company. "People see so many web addresses every day you can't just flash an address at them and expect them to look at it. You have to give them a reason to visit it. We are looking to develop more subtle ways to drive traffic." Heinz used pop-up menus during the original Big Brother series on the programme's web site and saw the number of visitors to its Salad Cream site increase considerably. Attracting people to your site may be one challenge, but getting people to return is another. Paul O'Donoghue, head of new business at interactive publishing agency Citrus, says people need to feel rewarded when looking at a web site. "Online, you do not have customers, you have users and these users are a fickle bunch. You have to think out of the box, give the user something that is revelant and compelling and relates to the brand." O'Donoghue says Guinness is a good example, offering a listings and entertainments service linked to the brand, rather than a list of pubs that sell Guinness and information on how great the product is. "This lifts the brand to another level, associating it with good times, nights out, entertainment and fun. The user then feels part of something because they have chosen to participate." Interactivity is one of the best ways to achieve this, according to PWC's Perry: "Interactivity creates that little bit of stickiness. If someone posts something up on a web site, it's similar to seeing your name in print. "People want to come back and see it, and see if other people have responded to it. To have that kind of input into the site makes a big difference," he says. Knowing your audience is another vital factor. Perry says companies need to know exactly who they are pitching the sites to ­ whether it be retailers, consumers or suppliers. Kellogg knew exactly who it was aiming at when it launched the latest Frosties site, giving children the chance to become online secret agents of Tony the Tiger. "The site was designed to build upon the off-line ad campaign, and develop a strong and positive relationship between the brand and its target audience," says Lou Cordwell of site creator magneticNorth. According to the company, the site has been a huge success, recording user times of more than 25 minutes. It allows special agents to thwart the evil Dr Cheetah through a series of interactive games and e-mail Tony with news of their successes. But despite the careful targeting of the web site, it's not only children who are happy to become Tony's special spies. "We have met senior executives who were proud to admit they were Frosties' secret agents and have even had several repeat visits from US military web addresses," Cordwell claims. Karen Lavin, Kellogg's e-marketing brand manager, says: "One of our objectives for the site was to build Tony's appeal and to develop a closer relationship with our consumers. I could not be more pleased with the results." Heinz is following a similar path by using short term one-off web sites to promote individual products, extending the off-line ad campaigns online. The current Salad Cream site continues the Vintage 1914 advert theme from the current television campaign. Ebsworth says having short term, mini-sites is the way forward: "We're going to see a continued increase in activity, with short-term site promotions, not permanent sites. "But it's not easy ­ keeping the Salad Cream site fresh and interesting is quite a challenge." Accenture's manager of interactive design Kevin Barrett says companies need to recognise that a web site is not permanent. "It's not a case of designing a web site and leaving it up for two years. They need to innovate, adapt and evolve the site every six months." He says manufacturing companies need to work alongside other companies on the web, helping to generate sales. "Between 60% and 70% of customers will be looking for information, so what manufacturers need to do is supply the information and generate the sales leads for other channels. If manufacturers can team up with retailers they can convert those information seekers into buyers," Barrett says. Neil Morgan, chairman of retail consultancy E-space, says online co-operation is the way forward. "We are starting to see companies putting microsites within someone else's portal, rather than spend a fortune on creating a big web site." E-space is working with Tesco and fmcg companies in a bid to bring the off-line promotions you see in store, online. Morgan says instead of a site to promote the product, they could use what he calls a "click to buy" advert on the Tesco web site, highlighting a special deal on a particular product which customers simply click on to buy. Spending their money on such a promotion instead of on a web site allows the company to see its exact return on investment. The promotions can also be dual purpose, providing product information at the same time as adding the product to a shopping basket. Morgan says he would like to see the system used throughout the web, where a browser could see a manufacturer's special offer, click on it and be taken straight through to a retailer's site with the product in the basket and ready to go. "It's about taking your message to where consumers are already shopping, rather than expecting them to come to you. This is the way it's got to go." But manufacturing companies have customers beyond the end consumer, and use of the web does not have to be exclusive, says PWC's Perry. She says you can have sites that provide areas for consumers and separate, protected areas for retailers and suppliers. "You can have a site that allows suppliers to go there and talk to each other to share info, talk about things like pack sizes, what they think of company competitions and other promotions." Tetley Tea is following this route with the launch of its specialist tea web site, The company describes the site as containing relevant, accurate and objective information about the whole tea market, designed to help their customers grow sales and develop the tea category in and out of home. As well as supplying information on the tea market and tea products, the site also provides password-protected bespoke areas for retailers to communicate direct to Tetley and receive tailored data. "This is not just about selling Tetley, it's about giving people the information they always need," says sales director Andrew Glen. "If it's subjective, then people will just look at it and say it's just an advert for Tetley, and then it's one hit and that's it. It's got to be objective." The site provides specific areas, appropriate for all retailers and caterers, not only the large multiples, providing information at any time, quickly and easily. Glen says smaller retailers will have access to all the latest tea data, find out how they should be displaying their tea products and have access to PoS material. "These are all people who we don't get to talk to on a regular basis, because there are so many of them, we couldn't talk to all of them all the time." Dorothy Sieber, Tetley customer marketing manager, adds that the site should prove useful to everyone, but that it must be evolving constantly. "It's got to be kept fresh, added to and developed. Next year we expect to have much more content than we have now. It's an ambitious site. And we want people's feed-back on it. "We want the site to be the first point of contact for any retailer, or out of home operator, on all questions on the tea market." Providing customer discussion forums and feedback channels is a good way to gather market research, cheaply and efficiently. However, using the web in this manner is not limited to the B2B arena. Procter & Gamble is already offering customers free samples of new products before they hit the shops via the company web site. How long will it be before customers are directly involved in the research and development of a new product via the web? Coca-Cola recently used the web to create an online panel of 100 teenagers in the US, asking them how to remake its sports drink Powerade. This allowed the company to act fast and relaunch its product with B vitamins. It also says the project cut the time and cost of product development by 50%. Another recent trend is the development of online communities ­ a cross between a chatroom and a focus group ­ upon which companies can observe and eavesdrop. However, Perry remains sceptical about the merits of on-line communities, believing them to be too contrived. "Communities tend to grow up around things people feel strong loyalty toward, like their neighbourhood or football team. "No one's going to get excited at joining a community about Kit Kats." Overall, there are interesting developments to see on the web despite being in what Perry describes as a "trough of disillusionment". But perhaps even this is useful, as companies, reluctant to spend vast amounts, are now looking at how to get more out of what they've got. Whatever the future holds, the industry is only at the beginning of a long relationship with the web. As Accenture's Barrett says: "We're seeing rapid change and there is no model to follow. These are exciting times." {{COVER FEATURE }}