The Internet is a powerful means for organisations to communicate with customers. A well constructed website enhances marketing and selling activities. Marketing is concerned with identifying, anticipating and meeting customer needs. Selling is the provision of solutions to buyers’ needs and requirements.
A website is an extension to a company’s off-line brand. Within the current online environment, many firms across a wide range of industries are not taking the time or investing the appropriate levels of energy in truly researching, listening to and understanding their online audience. Bryant wants to be different, create a website that truly establishes itself as a market leader within the industry, creating a benchmark for competitors to strive for.
The creation of the web by ever-increasing numbers of the population has had a major effect on brand-consumer relationship. Bryant Homes wishes to maximise this relationship with the creation of an interactive website, creating an experience that matches the user’s expectations.
As a leading edge blue chip company, Bryant Homes has embraced the latest developments in Information and Communications Technology. One use has been to create a new way of energising sales and marketing. Bryant needs to understand the mind set of its potential and existing users in seeking success with its online venture. Bryant needs to know: Who are the users, how do they behave? What works on the site, what does not?
The case study examines some of the lessons that Bryant Homes has learnt from the venture to date.
In the late 1990s most major UK companies were seeking to develop an Internet presence, because those without this means of communication would rapidly fall behind competitors with an Internet presence.
Since 1997 there has been a dramatic increase in the percentage of the population online in the UK. The successful organisation
of the future will communicate through traditional and modern electronic means. Existing and potential customers will be able to access both well laid out High Street stores or showrooms and exciting, easy to navigate websites.
Put yourself in the position of someone wanting to purchase a new home, perhaps due to relocating your job to another part of the country. Imagine the frustration involved in having to make a lengthy journey to visit a house only to find that it does not meet your requirements.
With this in mind Bryant Homes has developed a high quality website which was launched at the Evening Standard Homebuyers Show at Olympia, London, in March 1999. It is a useful information source and a good starting point for people wishing to purchase a house. It is also a selling tool and an opportunity to increase brand awareness.
The website’s main dedicated system for customers is named 'Homefinder'. Potential buyers indicate their preferences and Homefinder performs a search against consumer needs and requirements to identify a house type and location to suit their lifestyle. It contains images and floor plans of the entire Bryant Homes product portfolio. Homefinder enables the prospective buyer to:
- view and compare properties
- note their locations and features offered
- request further information
- take the first steps towards making a purchase.
Using this type of 'virtual reality', Bryant Homes provides a way of both visualising and experiencing something long before any work on-site begins. It is the next best thing to being there. The information on Homefinder comes directly from a central database and is updated every 24 hours. Input arrives from all levels within Bryant Homes e.g. from on-site sales, negotiators via the on-site sales system, sales departments and production managers.
Not everyone has access to the Internet. To meet this gap Bryant has produced a Product Portfolio CD-ROM. The CD-ROM uses the same format and content as the website and features an 'electronic walkaround' for the majority of house types. This allows customers to turn through 360 degrees in order to view a room from every angle, thus providing a true representation of each home with the use of real photography. This gives customers the opportunity to view a house type for which there is not a show-home on a particular development.
Bryant has many reasons as to why it is essential to understand the user base. To:
- create on-going relationships with users
- build traffic
- build commerce
- develop marketing, content and communication strategy
- achieve and enhance tangible/intangible objectives
- enable it to follow up customer leads.
Pursuing a sales opportunity is known as following a 'lead'. An important benefit of a lead resulting from the website is that customers pre-qualify the lead themselves by indicating the:
- number of bedrooms they require
- price range of the property they are looking for
- type of property
- area of their choice
- when they are hoping to move.
This information helps Bryant Homes to understand the profile of its customers and to respond to the lead by providing information carefully directed to the customer’s requirements. This can help to reduce costs as irrelevant information is not sent out to the customer. This makes sure that customer expectations are exceeded.
A way of measuring the success of the website is to count how often the site was accessed or 'hit'. Another measuring way shows how many sales are generated from use of the site. By May 2000 the website was achieving just under 1 million hits per month and took its 100th reservation. With the average selling price of those properties reserved through the Internet being over £150,000, it is clear that the internet has to be taken seriously and has a key part to play in any marketing strategy.
The Internet needs to be included in every marketing thought process. As a marketing and sales tool the Internet needs to be treated as importantly as national press advertising.
What are the key lessons that Bryant Homes has learnt so far from using the Internet?
Bryant Homes now recognises the importance of providing this service. A further weakness of the original site was that while there was a section for customer feedback, it was not structured tightly enough. Customers were using this opportunity for a multitude of things, such as offering land for sale; requesting information; or identifying sales leads.
Bryant now recognises that resources such as extra staff need to be provided to service enhanced customer expectations.
The website has achieved one of its major objectives in generating a sizeable number of new leads. Bryant Homes is now exploring ways in which these leads can be followed up. Initially this was done by sending a Bryant corporate brochure or a site specific brochure for more detailed enquiries. In many cases this was purely a duplication of what was on the screen. The company is therefore exploring new ways of following-up leads in a way that makes customers feel they are receiving more than they had been able to access through the website.
While the website has been a major innovation it now needs to be integrated more effectively into the overall advertising mix.
- Conventional ways of advertising such as press advertising and direct mail are still very significant. The website address has now been incorporated into all advertising materials.
- Online advertising - Placing on-line adverts in strategic places on the Internet attracts traffic to the website and potentially more leads/reservations. Placing banner ads and links on related websites such as those of leading building societies and banks increases customer awareness of the site. Bryant Homes is currently looking at ways of developing its online advertising campaign in order to achieve maximum customer interest and obtaining revenue back for Bryant.
Customer relationships online (CRM)
The Internet lends itself well to CRM. One of the most important things that customers look for when choosing to buy goods and services is the relationship that they have with the provider. A good website enables an organisation to build a good relationship with customers. This is done by gathering information about individual customers and storing this on a central database thus starting to build one-to-one relationships.
Originally the site focused on the 'hard sell'. Today, the emphasis is more on creating additional reasons for customers to re-visit the site by making it more interactive and individualistic. It is essential for Bryant to develop a close, long lasting relationship with its customers and to understand:
- What motivates them?
- What do they want?
- What do they need?
- How do they see themselves?
- How do they perceive the Bryant Brand?
As more people become expert users of the Internet, radical changes are taking place in the way that people access information and fact find. In addition, Bryant Homes’ current standard product range is changing.
In order to provide customers with specifications, details and up-to-the-minute views of the range of homes on offer, Bryant Homes is now increasingly using digital imagery to market its product. This gives the customer an excellent opportunity to see what the scheme will look like long before it starts. It also provides an opportunity to produce a CDROM to use as a mail shot for potential customers.
Bryant Homes will use the Internet to create an image library, which will eventually allow suppliers access to all photographs on-line. The company will place all its photography on a dedicated password protected website that suppliers can access and download images from to use in adverts, brochures etc. Images are to be saved in different formats and file sizes depending upon the client’s need.
The Internet provides customers with a way of communicating with Bryant Homes for information or purchasers who need to contact the company.
Bryant Homes must now evaluate the way in which it uses its website to ensure continuous improvement and maximum benefit from this resource.