From my NZ Herald Business Column
Are you using the internet to grow and protect your business?
Let me explain through the story of Jimmy, a businessman in the small developing Central American country of Belize. He is snapping at the heels of and winning many customers from the world’s largest cruise ship.
The internet poses important opportunities and threats for you in 2009. This story highlights them.
Several weeks ago I went online to hunt for information on what to see and do in the ports of call for a western Caribbean cruise. We had booked directly with Royal Caribbean for their ship Independence of the Seas and I wasn’t given any information about their shore excursions when booking or checking in online.
It turned out that one of the main attractions in Belize was cave tubing – floating down a river in huge tyres, through caves.
The search results came up with a vast number of comments posted by individuals on different user-generated content sites (such as Travelocity, Cruisecritic, Cruiseclues, Cruisereviews). People from all over the world detailed not only their tubing experiences, but also commented on the different tubing operators. There were lots of uploaded photos, videos and of course the websites of cave tubing tour operators. I found nothing in the search results originating from any of the actual cruise operators such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival or Costa.
Assured by the good word of mouth, a convincing website, and knowing from experience that ship tours would be much more expensive, I booked with Jimmy of www.cave-tubing.com. Actually I reserved, as payment wasn’t required to make the booking.
It wasn’t until we got off the veritable floating New York City of cruises – 4268 passengers – and on Jimmy’s bus with 24 other strangers, then drove through the streets of Belize that comprehension set in.
It was the fact that an individual, without the normal resources we take for granted, whose clientele is singularly international, could create a thriving business using only the internet. That he could compete so magnificently against the Goliaths of business – the cruise industry. That he could battle against their onboard non-stop marketing machinery of sell-sell-sell. All this man did was put up a website and provide a good service and experience to back it up.
But the piece de la resistance was that as Jimmy was saying his final goodbye to the group, his words were: “If you enjoyed your experience, please write about us on your favourite cruising website.”
Are you doing what Jimmy did correctly?
* Website name: cave-tubing.com
* Videos showing exactly what customers will experience.
* Easy to do business with.
* Providing good service and a great customer experience.
* Recognising and utilising the power of the new web 2.0 – user-generated comments and how important these recommendations are for business.
* Replying within 12 hours.
What else can you learn from Jimmy?
Web 2.0: A modern water fountain
Be where your customers congregate. You can’t be an ostrich with your head in the sand. User-generated content has been growing at a phenomenal rate and it’s not just for kids. Chatting with two couples while waiting for the tender to return to the ship, I asked: “Are you friends travelling together?” “No,” they said, “we met online while doing research for our cruise … ”
In 2009 more people will be online longer, discussing, commenting, interacting. With so many websites available for social commentary, you had better be sure your business always puts its best foot forward.
Marketing hype is so yesterday
No one will stand for it today. Remember that when you provide information, people will be able to verify it against comments, other sites and Google maps.
Provide an information highway
Expose your business – have information well laid out, easily scannable on as many other websites as you can – industry, association, directories, portals. It seems to me the cruise line mentality is that they still think they are operating with a captive market.
Size doesn’t matter
Figuratively speaking, doing the internet well allows you to be a David; to grab business from your competitors – even the largest Goliath of companies.
In summary, one of the recipes for a more profitable and successful business is simply to learn, understand and make better use of the inexpensive and easy internet ingredients you already have at your fingertips.