Attracting and Retaining Visitors

Do a quick search to see the number of web hosting companies offering their services on the internet. Make a simple chart of who they are, what they offer, their pricing, and how much they assist in creating and maintaining your website. What are the costs? How would you evolve a strategy that makes sense for you as you consider an online business strategy or a combination of in-store and online purchase capabilities?


The Web changes the nature of communication between firms and customers. The traditional advertiser decides the message content, and on the Web, the customer selects the message. Traditional advertising primarily centers on the firm broadcasting a message. The flow of information is predominantly from the seller to the buyer. However, the Web puts this flow in reverse thrust. Customers have considerable control over which messages they receive because it is primarily by visiting Web sites that they are exposed to marketing communications. The customer intentionally seeks the message.

The Web increases the richness of communication because it enables greater interactivity between the firm and its customers and among customers. The airline can e-mail frequent flyers special deals on underbooked flights. The prospective book buyer can search electronically by author, title, or genre. Customers can join discussion groups to exchange information on product bugs, innovative uses, gripes about service, and ask each other questions. Firms and customers can get much closer to each other because of the relative ease and low cost of electronic interaction.

Although there is some traditional advertising on the Web, especially that associated with search engines, in the main the communication relationship is distinctly different. This shift in communication patterns is so profound that major communication conglomerates are undergoing a strategic realignment. Increasingly, customers use search and directory facilities to seek information about a firm's products and services. Consequently, persuading and motivating customers to seek out interactive marketing communication and interact with advertisers is the biggest challenge facing advertisers in the interactive age.

In the new world of Web advertising, the rules are different. The Web, compared to other media, provides a relatively level playing field for all participants in that:

  • access opportunities are essentially equal for all players, regardless of size;
  • share of voice is essentially uniform--no player can drown out others;
  • initial set-up costs present minimal or nonexistent barriers to entry

A small company with a well-designed home page can look every bit as professional and credible as a large, multinational company. People can't tell if you do business from a 90-story office building or a two-room rented suite. Web home pages level the playing field for small companies.

Differentiation--success in appealing to desirable market segments so as to maintain visibility, create defensible market positions, and forge institutional identity--is considered to be a central key to survival and growth for businesses in the new electronic marketplace. In other words:

How do you create a mountain in a flat world?

An attractor is a Web site with the potential to attract and interact with a relatively large number of visitors in a target stakeholder group (for example, an auto company will want to attract and interact with more prospective buyers to its Web site than its competitors). While the Web site must be a good attractor, it must also have the facility for interaction if its powers of attraction are to have a long life span. Merely having attraction power is not enough--the site might attract visitors briefly or only once. The strength of the medium lies in its abilities to interact with buyers, on the first visit and thereafter. Good sites offer interaction above all else; less effective sites may often look more visually appealing, but offer little incentive to interact. Many organizations have simply used the Web as an electronic dumping ground for their corporate brochures--this in no way exploits the major attribute of the medium--its ability to interact with the visitor. Purely making the corporate Web site a mirror of the brochure is akin to a television program that merely presents visual material in the form of stills, with little or no sound. Television's major attribute is its ability to provide motion pictures and sounds to a mass audience, and merely using it as a platform for showing still graphics and pictures does not exploit the medium. Thus, very little television content is of this kind today. Similarly, if Web sites are not interactive, they fail to exploit the potential of the new medium. The best Web sites both attract and interact--for example, the BMW site shows pictures of its cars and accompanies these with textual information. More importantly, BMW allows the visitor to see and listen to the new BMW Z3 coupe, redesign the car by seeing different color schemes and specifications, and drive the car using virtual reality. This is interaction with the medium rather than mere reaction to the medium.

We propose that the strategic use of hard-to-imitate attractors, building blocks for gaining visibility with targeted stakeholders, will be a key factor in on-line marketing. Creating an attractor will, we believe, become a key component of the strategy of some firms. This insight helps define the issues we want to focus on in this chapter:

  • identification and classification of attractors;
  • use of attractors to support a marketing strategy

Source: Richard T. Watson, Pierre Berthon, Leyland F. Pitt, and George M. Zinkhan,
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